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How to shape up (or ship out) your cortisol for better hormone balance

I recently posted over on Instagram that I was calling in the troops to help better manage my cortisol levels, since it’s something I feel the need to constantly reassess.  Some of you asked if I would share my tips and since I’m a lover and a giver I’m keen to give you a little more on what works and why.

If you’re unaware as to who cortisol is or what its role is, here’s the 101.

The two main groups of hormones I’m most interested in are your stress hormones and your sex hormones.  Cortisol is the king of the castle and one of your main stress hormones.  As the boss, it is designed to save us from danger, to be released when we are under pressure to allow us to cope and bring on the fight or flight alongside adrenaline.  But you see, given it’s super bossy nature, it impacts our sex hormones (mostly progesterone) and over time can lead to oestrogen imbalance – after all if progesterone can’t do it’s job to kick start and maintain the luteal phase (from ovulation to the next period), oestrogen will continue to climb and lead to oestrogen dominance which comes with a host of symptoms including ovulation pain, weight gain and long cycles.  You might like to read more about that here.

Cortisol is one super tricky hormone to manage since our lifestyles are fast paced and jam-packed.  It means that rather than cortisol and adrenaline being fired during times of danger, they are firing all day long, leaving us frazzled and fried.  So in order to maintain better hormone balance, we must constantly reassess our surroundings and adjust to suit.  I’ve got a few tips I’ve found over recent months to really help take my management of cortisol to the next level.

High cortisol will look like the following symptoms:

  • Low libido & low testosterone levels (yes women need testosterone too – to make other sex hormones).
  • Oestrogen dominance
  • Rapid weight gain – especially around the middle
  • Poor Sleep
  • Low immune system and frequent illness
  • Unhealthy cravings
  • You feel anxious or over emotional – depressed even

We can get addicted to the feeling of high cortisol, because we get into the habit of it driving us.  Many patients tell me the love the rush they get when the leave jobs to the last tick of the clock because it means they will get the job done.  Good in theory, but not so great long term.  Our stress response is being conditioned to be on high alert – All. The. Time.  It sure isn’t supposed to be this way.  The long term effects mean we age quicker, our hormones continue to mover further from the balance they crave and we are cranky, tired raging monsters!

Managing cortisol isn’t too difficult with the right tools.  If you can implement the right tools, you will see quick results.

  1. Reducing Stress – goes without saying, but for my patients the number one action tool is first becoming aware of stress and stress drivers.  So often we fall into the habit of being stressed, we don’t know how to be any other way.  Let me help you there – head to www.debunkingstress.com and change up your life to really overcome stress and it’s claws.
  2. Diminishing exposure to radiation – that means finish reading this blog and then it’s time for you to power down (haha)!  Subjecting ourselves to hours in front of the computer, on our mobile phones and so on drives our cortisol wild.  Some suggest scheduling ‘batching’ – that is when you limit the amount of time spent on your phone or answer emails and check them say 9am, 12pm and 5pm or similar.
  3. Exercise right for your body – for high cortisol, it’s short and sharp intense workouts, not long runs on the treadmill.  Also whilst I’m on electrical workout machines – they too are cortisol heightening.  Step outdoors or participate in more active means of exercise rather than stationary bikes, treadmills or climbers.  Since I’ve started back at the gym (specifically CrossFit for me), I’ve noticed an immediate shift in my ability to manage stress, my body, my sleep and my overall attitude.  Like I said – short and sharp.
  4. Recovery – allow your body rest days between intense exercise.  I like to exercise no more than 4 times a week for this reason.
  5. Eat frequently – being hungry only adds to your body’s stress, yet so often we revert to old school, outdated ways of trying to manage weight and see food as the enemy.  Starvation will only add to the problem.  Including enough protein at each meal is key – especially straight after your workout.  The older we get, the more this applies as our metabolism slows. I find this tricky, which is why I’ll often use a protein powder like bare blends to help out.
  6. Sleep! – quality counts and is so often underrated for balanced hormones.  Make sure your room is dark to really get a rejuvenating sleep.
  7. Listening to music – this is said to reduce cortisol by up to 60% (I give more tips like this in Debunking Stress).  It helps release feel good hormones and has a calming effect on the brain.
  8. Get the right mix of supplements – B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, chromium (YES you need this, contrary to some weird stuff going around on the net at the moment), calcium and alike are all essential for healthy cellular function.  There are many supplements that are important for the same reason.  Start off with a high quality multivitamin if you are unsure where to begin or ask your healthcare professional for what you may specifically require.

The biggest trick for managing cortisol is to get good control over your stress.  We can only treat symptoms for so long before the root cause has to be addressed.  But sometimes it really is a matter of looking at it from both ends of the spectrum (root cause AND symptoms) to really get a good grasp on overall health and wellbeing.  After all, if you can balance your hormones, you can balance your life.

Don’t forget, I do have a swag of resources to really help you identify and shift yourself towards greater health.  Well & Good – my go-to guide that not only helps you understand your body better but helps you look at your symptoms to really identify what is going on alongside tools to fix the root cause.  For more info, head here.

 

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