Cortisol: What Even Is It?
Cortisol is one of the body’s main “stress hormones”. Along with adrenaline, norepinephrine, and some other key players, cortisol works to get our bodies amped up. But how? Glad you asked. Let’s play out a scene.
You’re walking through the forest when suddenly you encounter: a bear, the cute coworker you’ve been crushing on, AND your student loans – all in one spot. Talk about stress, right? So how does your body respond?
- Your amygdala is the first brain center to process fear and stress. It sends signals out to your hypothalamus to announce that a threat or a stressor is near.
- Your hypothalamus says, “Uh oh. We need back up” and sends corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) to your pituitary gland.
- Your pituitary is like, “Okay, you’re right. This is bad” and sends adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) to your adrenal glands in your kidneys.
- The adrenal glands then send our star player – cortisol – into the bloodstream, allowing the body to stay on “high alert”.
So How Does Cortisol Work?
- It increases the amount of glucose that is available in the bloodstream
- This glucose is meant to provide instant “get up and go” energy to our muscles. It serves as an immediate energy source in case our bodies need it for a fight-or-flight response.
- It makes cells resistant to the action of insulin and increases glucagon
- This means glucose is more difficult to store and thus, remains free for immediate use in the bloodstream. This insulin/glucose imbalance can lead to increased fatigue, cardiovascular issues, diabetes, etc. over time.
- It narrows arteries, raising blood pressure levels
- It reduces the activity of systems that are “non-essential” in a fight-or-flight situation, like the digestive system
- It reduces inflammation
- This can eventually lead to suppression of our immune systems over time.
How Do I Manage It?
The truth of the matter is that it’s pretty rare that we encounter a bear, our cutest coworker, and our debts in one place. This being said, stressors can build up over time and leave us in a state of chronic stress. So how do we fight back against rising cortisol levels?
Management of stress looks different for everyone. Relaxation techniques, consistent sleep/wake cycles, joyful movement, time spent with loved ones, and balanced nutrition can all work in tandem to keep your hormones in check.
If you’re interested in learning more about the role of cortisol in your body and in your overall life, let’s chat. Book a discovery call today to learn more about working with us and how to keep your stress at bay!