Many people know and have heard their doctor talk about the importance of eating healthy and exercising as part of a healthy lifestyle. A third and often overlooked component to a healthy lifestyle is stress management. Cortisol, our most powerful stress hormone, is responsible for telling our body how to react in times of stress.
When stress happens, cortisol levels rise to give you a surge of energy to help escape “danger.” This hormonal response doesn’t distinguish between good stress (a challenge at work) and bad stress (unemployment). With any stress, cortisol raises your blood sugar and blood pressure while lowering immune system response. The resulting “fight or flight” energy burst can feel good for about 10-20 minutes. When it's gone, it leaves you feeling tired but wired.
Keeping blood cortisol levels even is an important part of feeling good, staying healthy, and managing weight. Too much cortisol prompts the body to store fuel in the form of fat, usually around the waist. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to keep your cortisol levels under control.
Aside from drastic swings in response to stress, cortisol levels fluctuate normally according to things like time of day, foods eaten, and exercise schedules. Knowing this can help you control stress triggers through diet changes, exercise habits, and finding ways to relax consciously.
Due to frequent hormone changes with their monthly menstrual cycle and with pregnancy and menopause, women especially experience cortisol levels change, sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis. (Read Managing Weight During and After Menopause)
As always, if you have concerns about stress or its effects on your health, talk with your doctor. Testing and/or treatment options may be recommended depending on your signs and symptoms.