Stress and cortisol are both words that you’ve probably heard before in relation to the human body. But what are they exactly?
Cortisol is a natural hormone released by your body in a stress response. When the brain receives a trigger that there is a stressor acting upon the body, it sends a message to the adrenal glands to release the steroid hormone cortisol into the blood stream.
Cortisol is needed to help the body function in certain states of mind. Flight or fright, metabolism and blood pressure, are all examples of functions within the body that can be regulated by cortisol. When we do tasks that might accelerate our heart rate like exercise, getting scared or even sitting an exam, your body will react by releasing this hormone, and it is that signal to the adrenal gland that ensures we are releasing just the right amount.
One of the main roles of the body is to ensure that we maintain homeostasis (a correctly balanced environment). There are times when these signals do not respond ideally, and this homeostasis is disrupted and, in this instance, would mean there is too much or too little cortisol production. Cushing’s syndrome develops if there is too much cortisol production. The symptoms of this include weight gain, rounded face, irregular periods, facial hair growth and fragile skin. On the contrary is Addison’s disease, were the production is too little. Tiredness, weight loss, vomiting and overall weakness are all signs of underproduction.
The amount of stress tolerable for the body is very individual and stress does not always have to be a bad thing. Positive stress is a great way to keep us motivated and performing at high levels. Feeling nervous before a big game, the jitters before a job interview, and being scared if we are put in danger, alert out body to respond in the appropriate way and perform at our best. Exercise is a common example of positive stress we put on out bodies. While it directly works as a positive stressor to improve our strength, muscle mass gains and overall fitness levels, it releases other hormones that will neutralise and reduce the side effects of the bad stressors like anxiety and depression.
If you do feel like your body is not producing an appropriate level of cortisol, firstly ask yourself how stressed you feel. If you tell yourself that you are constantly feeling stressed, write down all the things that are adding to it. Firsts step is to eliminate what you can from this list, naturally take away negative stressors from your life. Next is to include small daily rituals like stretching, breath work or mediation to calm the mind and decrease the stress signal. And thirdly would be consult your GP and have them monitor further through blood tests.
Like most topics we discuss here at KineticsCorrect, we like to encourage you to be able to take the time and listen to your body. The more you start to understand your body and how it works, the more you will be able to recognise when your body is taking on too much stress, what initiates good vs bad stress and how you like to maintain optimal cortisol levels. Taking that extra 10-15mins a day to sit, breath and stretch may be all your bodies needs to feel like that weight has been lifted off your shoulders.