We all experience stress from time to time. Whether it’s due to a big upcoming work project, a first date, or getting into an accident, stress is an unavoidable part of life that our bodies are designed to handle. However, our modern world is subjecting many people to more stress than they can reasonably handle.
Chronic stress causes the body to release excessive levels of the hormone cortisol, which is often known as the “stress hormone” for this reason. If you’re dealing with the effects of chronic cortisol and you’re worried about your well-being, here’s what you need to know about the benefits of lowering cortisol levels through stress management.
What is cortisol?
The “stress hormone” known as cortisol, is produced by the adrenal glands located on top of the kidneys. It is released (along with adrenaline) when the brain encounters a real or imagined threat to your safety. Cortisol boost sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream for the brain to use and limits other bodily functions, such as the immune system and the reproductive system, which are not essential in the face of an immediate threat. Additionally, suppressing the immune system will also reduce inflammation should an injury occur.
Cortisol is an important hormone that serves a critical purpose during times of stress. However, it can be harmful if stress becomes chronic. Because functions such as the immune system are suppressed during the release of cortisol, you’re more likely to get sick when you’re stressed. Over time, the impact of cortisol can have a serious impact on your cardiovascular system, blood pressure, and other key bodily systems and functions.
Why is lowering chronic cortisol important?
Chronic cortisol can lead to a variety of health problems, so it’s important to keep an eye on your stress levels. Many people are struggling with chronic stress due to their work, financial concerns, parenting, and external crises they can’t control (such as climate change) If you’re already struggling with chronic stress, it’s important to realize how much your life could improve if you take steps to lower your cortisol levels.
Allison Forti, PhD, an associate professor and associate director of the Department of Counseling Online Programme at Wake Forest University explains why lowering cortisol levels is so important for overall health and well-being: “When someone lowers their cortisol levels after it’s been chronically high, they may notice cognitive, physical, and psychological changes throughout their entire body.
“Cognitively, you may notice your memory, attention, and concentration improve. It feels like the brain fog lifted. You are able to recall memories easier, sustain your attention on tasks with more ease, and your reaction time (for example, while driving a car) improves.
“Physically, you may notice a plethora of improvements. Your blood pressure and blood sugar may improve. You may notice fewer colds or viruses. Your hair may stop shedding and skin rashes or eczema may improve.
“Psychologically, you may feel less irritable, you may worry less, feel a lightness in your mind and body, you may sleep better, your appetite may regulate, and you may experience less sadness and overwhelm.
“Holistically, you may feel revitalized with more energy, less fatigue, and an increased ability to recover from exercise.”
How to reduce chronic cortisol
So, how can you reduce chronic cortisol and minimise its impact on your health? The answer is simple, but not easy: reduce your stress levels. Depending on your situation, that might mean giving up some of your responsibilities at work, hiring someone to help you with housework, or simply finding more time for the things you enjoy. Here are some ways to help reduce your stress levels:
- Exercise regularly. Adding more movement to your daily schedule can have a positive impact on your stress levels. Regular exercise can also help boost your mood and energy levels.
- Watch your diet. Unhealthy food can put additional stress on your body’s systems, especially sugary and processed foods. By focusing on eating lots of fresh and healthy sustainable foods and minimising processed foods, you can help your body deal with any outside stress.
- Get enough sleep. Being sleep-deprived can greatly increase your stress. Taking steps to improve your sleep quality is important for long-term stress management.
- Spend time with friends and family. Loved ones can help improve your overall well-being and get you out of your head. It’s important to spend quality time with the ones you love, whether you talk to them long-distance or meet in person.
- Decompress with a hobby or favorite activity. If you have lots of responsibilities in your life, then you’re probably not prioritizing your own needs. Regularly making time for a favorite hobby or activity is a great way to reduce your stress levels.
- Try meditation. Many people find that meditation and mindfulness help them control their stress levels. Activities like yoga and breathing exercises can also help.
General wellness is important for reducing chronic stress that can lead to health problems. Although it might be a challenge to fit healthy habits into your busy lifestyle, adding them in is one of the best ways to manage your stress levels. Reducing your stress can help you improve both your mental and physical health so you can live a longer, happier life.
Tim Williamson, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.