Cortisol, also called the “stress hormone,” is an important hormone in the body which helps regulate everything from metabolism to blood pressure and blood sugar. It is commonly linked with stress because it is secreted in higher levels during times of stress when the body goes into “fight or flight” mode. Many people had never heard of cortisol until it was revealed that prolonged elevated levels may have an effect on weight loss and abdominal fat. You should pay close attention to your cortisol levels for this reason, and because prolonged elevation of cortisol also means prolonged raised stress levels. Chronic stress has been associated with a variety of health problems, ranging from obesity to heart failure.
When the body is put under stress, the hormone cortisol is released, along with adrenaline and other hormones which cause the “fight or flight” response. This state of being causes a heightened state of awareness, leading to improved memory and cognitive function as well as more blood flow to the main muscle groups in order to fuel a potential fight or to allow the body to work harder when escaping danger. The problem is that modern man seldom needs this heightened response because he rarely has to fight for his life or run away from wild animals as primitive man would have. Additionally, most people today have chronically heightened stress levels due to the pressures of everyday life.
These heightened levels of stress also lead to heightened cortisol levels, often for a prolonged period of time. While cortisol in small amounts causes positive effects on the body, if it is present for too long, those positives give way to more negative effects. Harmful side effects of prolonged cortisol levels include higher levels of abdominal fat, lowered immune function, high blood pressure, low bone density, and a host of others. It is important for you to keep a close watch on the level of stress in your life because high stress may also mean high cortisol levels.
You can combat high cortisol levels by controlling stressors in your life and allowing calming hormones to relax your muscles and return your systems to a state of normalcy. This is not always easy, but you can begin by eating right, getting enough exercise, and drinking adequate levels of water each day. Combine those things with times of relaxation, doing things that you enjoy with people you enjoy. You should also avoid things that cause you added stress, such as certain people or places.
To keep a close eye on cortisol levels, you should learn to recognize the earliest signs of stress. Get in tune with your body and look for symptoms that you may be becoming stressed, such as tense muscles or a more rapid heart rate. When you notice them, remove yourself from the stressful situation. If this is not possible, such as during work or before a big meeting, close your eyes for one minute and breath deeply, focusing on each breath. This will help you to combat chronic or long-term stress and in turn lower your cortisol levels.