Friday, February 5, 2016

Why Cortisol is your greatest enemy (and what to do about it)

For several years I lived in what I considered to be a constant state of high stress.  I'm talking about the type of stress that you can physically feel in your body.  First, I was operating on very, very little sleep. Secondly, the nature of my work was high stress. Essentially, people reached out to me when they had complex issues. My phone was always on. Sometimes I would wake up to a phone call from a disgruntled employee on a Sunday night. Other times, I was on business conference calls that ended at 11:00 pm at night or later. Once I factor in all the traveling involved I'd realized that your lifestyle could actually be affecting your health.

Luckily for me, I didn't suffer any health issues (that I know of) but the signs of stress were very visible to those who knew me.  Friends would often ask me if everything was ok after seeing the signs of long-term stress.  The problem with living a high stress lifestyle is the increase in the cortisol hormone.

I urge you to label cortisol as your number one enemy because of severity of impact it has on your body.  Being in a stressed state doesn't just feel bad, it actually triggers a series of reactions that can have catastrophic effects.

Cortisol raises blood sugar which leads to insulin resistance.  When you're stressed out, you'll probably experience weight gain.  That's 'cause your blood sugar is disrupted because of your constant stress levels. To make matters worse, cortisol will also increase your cravings for sweets. Ever notice that when you're stressed out, you tend to reach for non-healthy foods?  That's cortisol at work.   If you notice that you've been holding on to extra weight that won't go away, take a look at your stress levels.  I recall on episodes of The Biggest Loser when a contestant wouldn't loose weight even though she was exercising like crazy.  Bob or Jillian would interject with their recommendation to deal with the mental factors (stress) stopping their bodies from operating normally.

[Cortisol breaks down muscle tissue and bone]
When we think about eternal youth, one of the biggest strategies should be to maintain healthy bone density + muscle mass.  As we know, lack of muscle tone not only looks bad, but it causes us to burn calories at a much slower rate.  Building and retaining muscle should be at the top of your priorities.  But, every time your body releases cortisol the mechanisms that take place causes the body to metabolize muscle mass. Worse yet, it also interferes with bone formation.  Stress literally ages your body without you even knowing it.   In one expert's opinion, osteoporosis is induced by gut inflammation and high cortisol.

[High Cortisol Shortens Telomeres (cell aging)]
We brought up the topic of telomeres in a previous post on the importance of vitamin D.  Basically, telomeres are an indicator of youth.  The younger (and healthier) you are, the longer your telomeres.  As you age, telomere length goes down.  The good news is that we can actually alter the length of our telomeres through a healthy lifestyle.  It's been proven that regular meditation can actually increase your telomere length.  I heard a doctor explain that a woman can reduce her cortisol levels by 50% if she conducts breathing exercises for 5 minutes in a quite room while instrumental music plays.

The simple act of conscious breathing makes a world of difference in our physical and mental state.  Think about it, when we're stressed out, our breathing is short and constricted.  The more relaxed and at ease we are, the deeper and more rhythmic our breaths.  When engaging in deep breathing, we're sending a very strong signal to our brains that we're in strong state of calm.  When that happens, our bodies respond accordingly.

Spending time with friends is another way to reduce stress levels.  When I worked non-stop, I didn't have time to meet with friends, which probably made my situation worse.  We also know that excess cortisol is excreted through the urine so, once again, I beg you....drink your water.

Lastly, please, please follow my advice of creating your feel good routine.  The purpose of the feel good routine is to give you direct access to quickly moving you from a state of stress to a place of elation.  Like, if someone where to come up to you, post feel good routine, and ask you how you are, you'd answer "I'm feeling absolutely amazing!" 

I have a playlist that can alter my mood within minutes.  I'm also aware that watching funny videos will have me feeling good in no time.  Being in an environment that's clean and decluttered makes me feel incredible.  And when I have a productive day, or if I go out for a long walk,  I know I'm producing lots of serotonin (the feel good hormone).  

I want you to live every day knowing how destructive stress is to your health and life.  Even if your day's aren't overly stressful, I believe we have elevated levels of stress operating in the background like an Iphone app left open after using.  It isn't enough to assume that you have low stress, you must actively create "feel good feelings."  I challenge you to be very diligent in creating and making sure you follow your feel good routine as much as humanly possible.


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