Your Cortisol is our primary stress hormone, responsible for increasing “sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream” as well as enhancing “your brain’s use of glucose [and the] availability of substances that repair tissues,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Cortisol plays an imperative role in the functioning of our metabolism by helping to regulate sugar levels and blood pressure. This, in turn, affects your ability to lose and keep off unwanted weight.
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Maybe you are on a mission to shed some extra pounds. You’re doing everything by the book and working out, staying active in non-exercise moments (like taking the stairs instead of the elevator), and eating clean, healthy foods. You keep this up for a few weeks, step on the scale...and little to nothing changes. It can be devastating and altogether frustrating enough to make anyone give up and unfortunately this scenario is not at all uncommon.
If you’re doing everything right and the weight remains stubborn, it’s time to take an honest look at your stress levels. According to Healthline, “prolonged stress can keep stress hormone levels elevated,” and having “long-term cortisol levels are strongly related to having abdominal obesity.” This does not mean cortisol is inherently negative. In fact, it has many benefits and we need it to function, but too much of anything can have negative repercussions.
Repercussions of High Cortisol
When our stress levels are too high, we put our health and happiness at great risk. High cortisol levels can lead to reduced glucose utilization, weakened muscles, less muscle mass, abdominal fat, and osteoporosis, to name a few. If you’re looking to slim down, tone up, and even add some muscle, it’s important to understand how cortisol works and get your stress under control.
You need to ask yourself, what’s stressing you out? Exercising and eating healthy are two steps in the right direction, but will not be enough. In today’s COVID-19 pandemic, stress is abundant. A statement on the CDC site affirms that altered ways of living such as “social distancing, can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety.” That does not mean we have to live in a state of perpetual heightened awareness.
How To Address High Cortisol and Stress
While it will not be an overnight fix, there are actions you can begin to take today to better manage your cortisol levels.
- Meditate - meditation is one of the absolute best ways to increase our self-awareness and manage our emotions. There are many mental health benefits associated with meditating such as “better focus and concentration...lower levels of stress and anxiety” and a stronger aptitude for “fostering kindness.”
- Go for a Walk - outside of your exercise sessions it’s helpful to take at least one short walk a day to raise your NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) levels. This helps raise your metabolism and gives you a better chance at taking off those final few pounds.
- Read - the act of reading has been shown to “make us more imaginative and empathetic” as well as “reduce troublesome mental illness symptoms.” Being with as little as six minutes a day to start seeing positive effects.
- Journal - writing out how we feel can help us relax. By transferring our thoughts and emotions onto a page we are acknowledging and accepting how we feel without reacting to it. According to the APA, journaling “reduces intrusive and avoidant thoughts about negative events and improves working memory.”
- No Screens - have a dedicated amount of time set aside each day, from as little as ten minutes to an hour or more where all phones, computers, and tv’s are turned off and out of sight. Have a conversation, go outdoors, or spend some time doing a hobby. The absence of screens and the incessant flow of notifications will help your brain unwind.
Most of all, continue your exercise and clean eating plans as these will have a huge impact on managing and lowering stress levels. Eating a combination of protein and carbohydrates as a part of your post-workout meal will help replenish glucose and nitrate levels which work together to lower cortisol.
Be sure you are getting enough sleep each night. When we are sleep deprived, our bodies remain in a constant state of alertness. Getting too little sleep puts our bodies at a greater risk “to produce stress-response hormone cortisol,” according to this article. It goes on to state, “after sleep deprivation, subjects in several studies had higher levels of cortisol later in the day, a time when it should be tapering off.”
Another factor to consider is how much water you are drinking each day. Adequate water is crucial for re-hydrating after a workout, proper organ function as well as fat loss and lowered cortisol levels. WebMD states, “studies have shown that being just half a liter dehydrated can increase your cortisol levels.” The article goes on to note that you are more likely to become dehydrated when you are undergoing a stressful period. How much water should you be drinking? The Mayo Clinic suggests a daily intake of about 3.7 fluid liters for adult men, and 2.7 fluid liters for adult women.
All of these factors work together to regulate hormones and help you burn fat and lower stress levels. When you have all of these elements working together cohesively, you are on the right path for mitigating stress and reducing body fat. It can be a constant battle at times, especially in a pandemic. Most of all, be patient and kind with yourself. Take care of yourself and the rest will follow.
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