Stress is a fact of life. We all experience stress at some point. Some stress can even be a good thing — helping fuel our drive to conquer challenges, accomplish goals and push us to grow.
But studies consistently show the negative effects of too much stress, particularly for men. The demands and pressures of modern life — whether work, family, technology, finances, etc. — can lead to unhealthy levels of stress, causing our body’s cortisol levels to spike or otherwise get out of whack. When our cortisol levels are out of balance, it can have numerous adverse health effects including increased anxiety, depression, headaches, fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, insomnia, weakened immune system, and more.
Let’s explore more about cortisol, how our body reacts to stress and how you can maintain healthy cortisol levels.
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Known as the “stress hormone,” cortisol acts as your body’s built-in alarm system. Released by your adrenal glands when you experience heightened levels of stress or anxiety, cortisol works with certain parts of your brain to control mood, motivation, and fear.
When your body is on high alert, cortisol can alter or shut down bodily functions that aren’t needed in the moment to handle the stressor. This could include things like your digestive and immune systems. As an example, think of being chased by a wild animal. Your body is going to put all its energy toward getting to safety. The last thing you’d be worried about is eating lunch or catching a cold.
When the danger, stress, or tension passes, your cortisol levels even out, and your body’s systems return to normal.
In addition to helping you cope with stress, cortisol plays a key role in other bodily functions including macronutrient absorption, blood pressure regulation, decreasing inflammation, increasing blood sugar, and controlling your sleep/wake cycle. All vital functions to a healthy human body.
Cortisol levels often are highest in the morning and lowest at night, steadily declining throughout the day. This natural cycle makes sense, as your stress levels start to climb when you wake up, requiring cortisol to help you prepare for the stresses and challenges of the new day.
As the end of the day approaches, we start to settle down, readying our bodies for sleep. This is when cortisol levels should be their lowest, allowing us to rest and recharge through the night.
Of course, as we all know, our days aren’t always that simple.
Although stress is a normal — and sometimes necessary — part of life, the human body cannot differentiate between legitimate, perceived, positive, or negative stress. This means that whether a stressor or threat is real or not, our brains will trigger a cortisol response regardless because they cannot distinguish between actual and perceived threats.
When your body remains under constant stress, whether actual or perceived, the cortisol alarm bells just keep ringing. When cortisol levels are too high for too long, the hormone can cause far more harm than good, leading to an array of health issues and risks like we mentioned earlier. That’s why it’s important to incorporate ways to better manage stress and maintain healthy cortisol levels.
Here are several effective tips to maintain healthy cortisol levels and better cope with stress.
We can’t stress enough the importance of diet to overall health — and that includes maintaining healthy cortisol levels. An unhealthy diet filled with added sugars and processed foods raises your cortisol and places you at greater risk for conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. Instead, focus on consuming a healthful, balanced diet and limit your sugar intake. Additionally, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Dehydration can lead to higher cortisol levels.
It may sound like a no-brainer suggestion, but it can be easy to overlook. One of the best ways to better regulate your cortisol levels is to mitigate or limit your stress. As you’re able, try to remove yourself from stressful situations and explore techniques to better cope with stress. Learn how to recognize your stress triggers to proactively reduce instances of anxiety, worry and tension when they arise. Relaxation and mindfulness techniques also can help lower your stress to better maintain your cortisol levels.
It’s well-known that regular exercise helps reduce stress, as well as improve sleep and overall health. That said, intense workouts do increase cortisol to cope with the extra stress placed on the body during exercise, but it decreases hours later. This is an essential part of building muscle. As you get stronger, this spike-and-drop response lessens. Still, exercise is an essential piece to maintaining healthy cortisol levels. Just remember that overdoing it with exercise can have a negative effect.
It may sound trite, but hobbies are a great way to manage stress and, by extension, your cortisol. Science backs this up, as studies have found that participating in activities outside of work that you enjoy helps lower stress and cortisol levels. Whether playing music, hiking, art, reading, or any other activity that brings you joy can help you unwind and distract from stressful or anxious thoughts and situations.
A regular evening routine that includes limiting screen time, caffeine, alcohol, and other fluids before bed will train your body to relax and achieve higher quality sleep with minimal interruptions through the night. Although everybody is different, most people need between seven and eight hours of sleep a night to feel fully rested and recharged at the start of the day.
In addition to a healthy diet, certain supplements can also support stress management and lower cortisol levels. Mdrive supplements, including Mdrive Start and our popular Mdrive Boost & Burn, are formulated with KSM-66 ashwagandha adaptogen extract, which is clinically tested to help your body adapt to stress and naturally balance out your cortisol levels.
As you look to incorporate these into your daily routine, remember that lasting change comes from small lifestyle shifts over time. Consider adding these tips into your day one at a time to build up to a consistent, positive impact on your cortisol levels.
We can’t completely eliminate stress from our lives. However, understanding the role of cortisol and how our bodies respond to stress is crucial to improving how we adapt to it so we can stay at the top of our game every single day.
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