| LINDSEY WILSON
How Cortisol (The Stress Hormone) Affects Your Wellness
+ 5 Tips to De-stress This Holiday
'Tis the season for family gatherings, good friends, and yummy foods. The holiday season brings so many joyous moments to our lives and reminds us of the abundance the universe brings to us. No one can doubt the warm feelings brought about by the prospect of your favorite homemade dishes shared with those smiles you cherish throughout the years. Memories that become stories passed on from generation to generation.
But the effort that goes into creating those snapshot moments can become overwhelming when we're focused on trying to make everything perfect and everyone happy. Many often find that those warm fuzzies turn into cold scaries in a hot minute. According to a poll by the American Psychological Association nearly a quarter of Americans reported feeling stress during the holidays due to various factors such as feeling short on time, expenses, etc.
As a response to stress, our body produces a chemical called cortisol. Acting as part of your endocrine system, cortisol is secreted from your adrenal glands which are interconnected to other areas and systems in your body.
Cortisol is a chemical messenger, and one of the most influential hormones present in your body. Did you know that every one of your cells contains a cortisol receptor? That means that each one is affected by the release of the stress hormone1.
This isn't always a negative outcome, however. Cortisol helps in a collection of necessary bodily functions such as:
- Assisting your immune system in controlling inflammation
- Regulating blood sugar in concert with your pancreas
- Balancing your metabolism alongside your thyroid
But, when left unchecked (like in the middle of the holiday madness), too much cortisol can take a major toll on our bodies.
Damage Caused By Too Much Stress
Fight or Flight
The number one bodily function that cortisol affects is your fight or flight response in times of stress. This function is managed by your adrenal system which rebalances your hormone levels when the source of stress is eliminated. However, chronic stress keeps this function active for much longer than necessary, and your body is unable to balance out your cortisol levels leading to the following health issues.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Over half of the American population is vitamin D deficient, and that number is on the rise. High cortisol levels can shut off your vitamin D receptors and cripple your ability to absorb this vital nutrient. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to:
- Rickets in children
- Soft bones in adults
- Osteoporosis and fractures in older adults
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune disease
Heightened cortisol can cause dysbiosis in your gut, meaning an imbalance of good and bad gut bacteria. Stress-induced dysbiosis is believed to play a key role in the development of IBS2.
Excess cortisol can suppress the production of TSH in your thyroid causing your T3 and T4 levels drop significantly3. This typically results in excessive weight gain that can be hard to counteract with diet and exercise.
Because cortisol naturally induces the production of glucose in your blood, too much stress can elevate your blood glucose levels past your body’s normal limit1. This, in turn, cues your pancreas to produce more insulin to balance out the amount of glucose circulating through your body. Over time high insulin levels build up your body’s resistance to insulin and your insulin receptors begin to shut down. At this point, your body isn’t able to balance your blood glucose levels. This chain reaction leads to pre-diabetes.
Overstimulation of your cortisol receptors leads to your body’s attempt to rebalance itself by desensitizing those receptors. One of cortisol’s many jobs inside your body is to act as an anti-inflammatory when injury occurs, making it part of your immune response. When your cortisol receptors are low-functioning because of overproduction, this leaves the door wide open for autoimmune diseases to creep in, such as fibromyalgia, Crohn's Disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
5 Tips for Managing Stress This Holiday Season
1. Move your body
While exercise does initially raise your cortisol levels, exercising regularly will lower the overall production of stress hormones in your body that lead to health problems. Exercise also stimulates the production of endorphins which are natural mood boosters.
Even better news is that you don't have to engage in intense workouts to gain these benefits. A twenty minute walk or bike ride around the neighborhood can have a significant impact on your stress levels. This means you can pop the turkey in the oven and let someone else keep an eye on it while you get some outdoor medicine4.
2. Clean eating
While eating sugary treats (which always seem to be on hand during the holidays) is a go-to for most because it can reduce stress, this is only a temporary fix. In fact, too much sugar consumed too frequently can lower your body's ability to cope with stress5. You might even become dependent on sugar to escape from stress instead of letting your body's mechanisms deal with it naturally. Limit your consumption of refined sugar and carbs during those stressful holiday situations.
In addition to focusing on less empty sweets and carbs, and consuming more nutritious foods like fruits, veggies, oats, and nuts, a helpful tool for combating the effects of stress is a healing and nourishing jar of OWL Broth Elixir. Each recipe is teeming with vitamins, minerals, and flavourful herbs that soothe the lining of your digestive tract. Feed your good gut flora and beat gut dysbiosis with a delicious mug of chicken, beef, turkey, bison, or vegan broth!
Stress - especially the family and holiday variety - keeps you from sleeping and not sleeping keeps you stressed. It's a draining cycle that feeds itself and, during this time of year, can get out of control before you know it. A few pointers to ensure restorative sleep:
- Set a consistent, non-negotiable bedtime
- Practice a soothing nighttime ritual that will lull your body into rest
- End your last meal 2-3 hours before bed (this includes those holiday cocktails)
4. Schedule Intentional Relaxation
Even 5 minutes of focused meditation can help you regain internal peace and refine how your mind and body react to stressors. If you're in great need of a relaxing activity to distract your mind, a 20 minute yoga session might be the order of the day. You know your body best - you decide what it needs, given your situation.
Practicing gratitude on a daily basis is a reliable tool to use when the chaos of holiday visitors and festive plans cloud your mind. Sometimes things don't go as planned and people (even our loved ones) can be unintentionally difficult. Listing out the blessings and positive things in your life can bring clarity to your thoughts and help you manage your response to stressful situations.
Slow Down This Holiday Season
Don’t let the joy of your holiday traditions get sucked away by stressing over the little things. Allow whatever the season has in store (whether good or unplanned) to flow and happen as it’s supposed to. You don’t have to have everything go right in order to make memories that will live inside of you forever. Live in the moment and feel life happen.
- Stress and Your Thyroid: What’s the Connection? (healthline.com)
Julie is a self-made writer on a forever journey of fitness and health. As a high school music teacher, she has seen and experienced the challenges of maintaining good health while simultaneously balancing a career and healthy relationships.
Julie has always lived a healthy and active lifestyle. She loves the outdoors, hiking, and camping. Over the years she has continued to learn smarter and better ways to take care of her body while continuing to do the things that make her smile. Naturally, all of her teacher friends wanted to know how she did it - what was her secret?
Julie found herself explaining over and over everything she'd learned in her research, and sharing her experiences through trial and error. Her friends would take her advice, try some new things, and then come back to ask how to take it to the next level.
"You should charge for this kind of information!" Became a constant phrase, and so began her career of writing to share her knowledge with the world through health and wellness companies looking to spread healing and healthy habits within their communities. Now Julie gets to combine two of the things she enjoys most - writing and wellness - and use them to affect change in a real way.
When not making music with her kiddos, or writing wellness tips for a higher quality of life, you can find her reading, hiking, drumming, and fitnessing