Stress, Cortisol and Your Health…?

Stress…it’s something we all have, so how do you deal with it? Stress is defined as the body’s reaction to a change that requires a physical, mental or emotional adjustment or response. It can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, nervous or anxious. There is “bad stress” but there is also such a thing as “good stress.” This is the stress that pushes you…that drives you…and makes you take that extra hop, skip and jump to reach your goals and success.

You may have heard of cortisol and how it is linked to stress and possible weight gain (mostly concentrated around the mid to lower abdominal region). No one wants that spare tire around their stomach, right?! Well, cortisol may be a contributing factor. I am here to sort out the facts.

Cortisol is a hormone naturally secreted by the adrenal glands. It is normally at highest levels in the morning and low levels in the evening. It’s named the “stress hormone” because it is secreted in higher levels during the “fight or flight” (adrenaline rush) response to stress. When stress is minimal, cortisol can provide health benefits. However, when stress is excessive, it creates harm to the body.

Functions of Cortisol:

  • Proper glucose metabolism
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Blood sugar maintenance and insulin release (especially important in people with Diabetes)
  • Immune function
  • Inflammatory response

Small increases in Cortisol have some positive responses including:

  • A quick burst of energy for survival reasons
  • Heightened memory function
  • A burst of increased immunity
  • Lower sensitivity and higher tolerance to pain
  • Maintenance of homeostasis (balance) of overall body function

However, it is important that the body’s relaxation response is activated in order for the body to return to normal function, following a stressful event.

Chronic stress can lead to higher prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream yielding negative effects such as:

  • Suppressed thyroid function (controls your metabolism)
  • Increased abdominal fat (associated with high LDL- bad cholesterol -levels and higher risk of heart attack and stroke)
  • Blood sugar imbalances (hyperglycemia- high blood sugar, especially harmful in Diabetics)
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Decreased bone density
  • Decreased muscle tissue
  • Impaired cognitive (thinking) function
  • Decreased immunity and inflammatory responses
  • Slowed wound healing

So, the important thing here is to get your stress in control to keep your health in check! A small to moderate amount of stress will yield positive effects, but with chronic stress, the negative effects are overpowering. Find something you enjoy and let your mind be free. Whether it be doing yoga, going running, walking on the beach, playing golf or basketball with a friend, treating yourself to a mani/pedi, massage, or grabbing lunch at a café with a friend, etc… Take some time for yourself and reflect on your goals. You can make your life more manageable by dividing your goals into short and long term, that way everything doesn’t seem so overwhelming! Make sure you are taking the time for healthy meals and snacks to nourish your body with the proper nutrients. We can’t always completely control our stress, but we can control our food selections and mealtimes. When stress is high, many people turn to food (stress or emotional eating) or they do the opposite (forget to eat). You need to find the balance in between the two extremes. Good luck!! I’ll be here to motivate you along the way!