Cortisol’s b**ch

cortisol

It’s no coincidence that stressed spelled backwards is desserts.  There’s often a correlation between the times we find ourselves completely lacking discipline in our perpetual war against sugar to when we also happen to be under duress. These moments of weakness can be attributed to our close frienemy, cortisol.  In small amounts, cortisol is actually beneficial to our health. It’s released into our bloodstream from the adrenal glands when the body is spiking in stress levels. It aids in our survival by providing a quick increase in energy and strengthens immunity while dulling sensitivity to pain. However, surely you are no stranger to the common belief: too much of a good thing, ain’t so good. Cortisol can be a raging locomotive on a permanent track.  We may never stop it, but we can certainly slow it down with a few simple lifestyle changes.

Let’s evaluate today’s modern society. Words that first come to mind are fast-paced, abrupt and demanding. The adjectives relaxed and carefree are almost laughable if ever used in the context of “modern society”. I realize that this is a sweeping generalization, so if you’re a “stop and smell the roses” type of person my hat goes off to you (and please teach us your ways oh wise grasshopper).  Unfortunately the majority of us identify with a high stress lifestyle. It’s no wonder we’re finding our cravings beyond our control and to be more frank, becoming cortisol’s b**ch.

When experiencing higher and prolonged levels of cortisol in our bloodstream we can look forward to suppressed  thyroid functionality, blood sugar imbalances, increased blood pressure, lowered immunity and most devastating of all, more jelly in the belly! When we’re stressed our body reverts to it’s survival instincts that were needed when our ancestors struggled to live through famine, disease, and saber tooth tigers. The body’s solution? Consume calories and then store the fat. Modern day translation: goodbye salad, hello jelly donut. Evolution hasn’t reached a point at which the body can differentiate between which type of stress we’re experiencing. It treats them all as equal crises and pumps cortisol through our veins with a take no prisoners approach. Before we have a chance to brace ourselves, we’re catapulted into a  sugar tornado reminding us that we’re no match for cortisol’s wrath.

We cannot change the structure of the society we live in (unless you’re Oprah), but we can realistically aim to positively change the manner in which we cope with its stresses. Adequate sleep is the first contributing factor which assists in regulating stress levels and thus, keeping cortisol at bay. How many hours are you getting per night?  Seven to nine hours of sleep a night are recommended for adults. We’re getting around two whole hours less than we did 40 years ago! Lack of sleep does evil things to your body. Things you don’t even notice because you’re too preoccupied with morphing into the pink energizer bunny. Less sleep causes a boost in your levels of ghrelin (a hunger hormone) which reminds your brain when it’s time to eat. If that’s not sinister enough, it also lowers the hormone called leptin which notifies your brain when you’re full.  Carve out enough time to sleep, recharge your batteries and revel in the perks of sufficiently circulating hormonal levels (less hunger while satiated with less food ). Ohhh yeaaah.

Combat cortisol with good old fashioned exercise. Before you panic and think, I have no free time as it is! Rest assured that any amount of exercise time you can squeeze into your day is superior to the alternative of well, nothing.  Studies have revealed that even 10-15 minutes of physical activity a day can greatly decrease your cortisol levels. If you can manage a scenic walk in the great outdoors, even better. For example I use this as a trusted barometer to conclude whether I’m justifiably or unreasonably angry after a dispute with my significant other. If I come home happy, it means the irritation was minor and the picturesque walk has zenned me into a monk-like state. If I return still feeling angry it means its a serious issue and my boyfriend knows to interpret this as, RUN!

The last piece of the puzzle is to find healthy outlets for pent up stress. Otherwise our stress becomes trapped poison. Take a load off our overworked bodies by selecting an alternate outlet. What brings you peace? Is it sculpting, painting, writing or is it meditation? Discover what will reignite your spark of happiness, while doubling as a way to shed stress. Turn to your new found outlet as often as is required for you to catch extra Z’s. Reclaim your strength and battle against sugar for yet another day. It will also put the kibosh on the inner workings of your body enlisting help from it’s main man, cortisol.