The fight or flight reflex is truly a matter of life or death. But what if your body is continually drowning in cortisol? It is possible to have too much fight or flight in your life. How can you tell when the cortisol is going above and beyond its job description?
Last blog, we talked about how consistently elevated cortisol levels go from lifesaving to disrupting your life. With chronic stress, your adrenal glands can get overtaxed from constantly producing cortisol. Called adrenal fatigue, your natural cortisol rhythm becomes irregular and you can struggle to make other hormones and keep up with the demands of the body. Adrenal fatigue symptoms include trouble getting to sleep and waking up, mid-afternoon slumps, anxiety, mood swings, weight gain, brain fog. These are just some of the symptoms you may experience when your cortisol level isn’t level.
Quick research will show that adrenal fatigue is not a medically accepted condition, and that a simple self-diagnosis of this can be dangerous, as another underlying, undiagnosed condition may exist, such as Cushing Disease. Here is what we do scientifically know: All of the body’s main systems are negatively impacted by too much cortisol too much of the time.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the adrenals secrete several hormones. Cortisol is a hormone that helps control the body’s use of fats, proteins and carbohydrates and suppresses inflammation. Other valuable roles include regulating blood pressure, increasing blood sugar; and decreasing bone formation. This hormone also controls the sleep/wake cycle.
Other related hormones secreted by the adrenals include epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), which are also linked to fight or flight. The adrenals respond to signals from the pituitary gland, which reacts to the hypothalamus. These hormones can increase the heart rate and force of heart contractions, increase blood flow to the muscles and brain, relax airway smooth muscles and assist in glucose metabolism. They also control the squeezing of the blood vessels to help maintain blood pressure and increase it in response to stress.*
These are just three of six hormones that these small glands produce. Their potency cannot be ignored and incorrect amounts of just these three hormones can make your life difficult. If you have had a lot of continual stress and are wondering if your adrenal glands or cortisol are negatively affecting your life, here are some steps to take:
1.) Get your cortisol level tested.
2.) Determine the cause(s) of your continual stress and take steps to alleviate at least some of it/them.
3.) Speak to a physician or holistic physician/specialist about supplements to help regulate cortisol.
4.) Regulate your caffeine intake to consistent levels.
5.) Work on getting good sleep – have a sleep study done if necessary.
6.) Cut out sugar, refined carbs, alcohol and other inflammatory foods.
7.) Address an emotional trauma you may have experienced and seek help.
8.) Exercise moderately and consistently.
9.) Aim for a positive work/life balance.
Addressing the imbalance of cortisol can seem daunting. Cortisol plus its several hormone friends all packed into the adrenal glands packs a powerful punch. Being aware of its power is the first step to finding regulation and peace in your everyday life.