It’s no good being on the best diet in the world if you’re over-stressed and your cortisol is raging!

We get a lot of clients coming to us because they’re baffled. They are eating really healthily, they are exercising regularly, they don’t smoke or drink too much, they may have been to the GP and been told their tests are all ‘normal’  – and yet they STILL feel crap!

And then when I ask them about their stresses – almost every time, they say they are doing too much or they have a lot of stress in their life and can’t seem to switch off or relax.

What is stress?

Stress comes in many forms – it’s not just the obvious busyness of your life. It’s anything that the brain perceives as being a threat. So it can include dietary stressors (like sugar and food chemicals), environmental toxins, infection (especially in the gut) and lifestyle factors. All of which can raise your stress hormones.

We have an evolutionary physical response to stress – our ‘fight or flight’ response. Which was designed to keep us alive when our lives were in danger, such as a lion attack or a famine. Stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol would kick in to enable us to fight or run away.

If we survived, we’d get some rest time (in the cave!) where we could recover. But this ancient stress response isn’t great at dealing with modern day stress. We’re not getting attacked by lions so much but we facing a different type of stress – unrelenting micro stresses that we face day after day. And unfortunately, we only have one stress response to deal with them.

And while it’s always switched on.  We don’t get the recovery time the body needs. The demand for cortisol and adrenalin is pretty constant, and that’s going to affect how your body works. In particular your metabolism, waistline, brain function, mood, monthly cycle, libido, digestion, sleep, immune system, heart and it puts you at a higher risk of more serious disease as you get older.

It’s serious stuff!

And cortisol has a huge impact on all the other hormones. It can raise insulin, suppress your thyroid, suppress progesterone and mess with your brain hormones!

SO, it’s really important to be aware of your stressors, start managing them.

What does Rest and Stress Management do for your Feisty 4 Hormones?

  1. Cortisol – of course rest and relaxation helps to balance your stress hormones. The more you switch off your stress response, the less you need high levels of stress hormones to keep you going.
  2. Insulin – lower stress levels are going to help reduce insulin levels. Insulin and cortisol are closely linked. Cortisol puts sugar in your blood (for that extra energy), so if it’s not doing as much of that, then you’ll have lower levels of insulin too, reducing the amount of fat storing and craving.
  3. Thyroid – lower stress is going to help your thyroid. Why? Because cortisol can suppress your thyroid hormones, killing your metabolism and keeping you from burning fat.
  4. Oestrogen – lastly your sex hormones are going to love it when you relax more! Less cortisol means more balanced oestrogen and progesterone – and that means a better monthly cycle and menopause. More balanced moods, less PMS, anxiety, bloating, and a good night’s sleep! AND you’re likely to feel a bit sexier too!

10 Tips for good stress management

If you’re like most women, relaxation and stress management has probably been down at the bottom of your to-do list, if it’s even on there at all! We are all so busy looking after others.

So the way to balance cortisol is to make sure you are switching off your stress response every day, even if for just a few minutes – and even if you don’t think you are stressed !

  1. Sleep! You have to prioritise your sleep – one of the best ways to reduce cortisol. Not only is this the time your body heals, repairs and recharges, but lack of sleep raises your cortisol levels and increases your hunger hormones!  Lots of tips in my blog.
  2. Me-time – do something every day that you love. Walk to your favourite podcast, have a warm bath with essential oils, read a book, cuddle your dog, listen to your favourite music, do your hobby, dance, run – whatever you love.
  3. Meditation – just 10 minutes a day has been proven to reduce cortisol levels. Try Headspace, or Calm – if you’re new to it, try just 5 mins a day (try this one).
  4. Laughter – get with some friends, or just watch a comedy. Watching old episodes of Friends still does it for me!
  5. Get outside – nature is proven to help lift mood and reduce stress.
  6. Breathe – when we’re stressed we shallow breathe. If we can take some deep breaths for a few minutes, it switches off the stress response (the Sympathetic nervous system) and turns on the relaxation response (the Parasympathetic nervous system).
  7. Exercise – don’t go too intense with your workouts if you’re already stressed (it can just add to your cortisol levels). Try yoga, pilates, walking, weights or gentle cardio instead.
  8. Boundaries – set and KEEP your boundaries. Start saying no more especially to things you don’t like doing, or people who don’t light you up (you know who they are!).
  9. Stay nourished – make sure you are eating well so your body is better able to cope with stress. Lots of fresh organic vegetables, protein and healthy fats at each meal.
  10. Supplements – stress depletes many nutrients so take some good supplements to support you, including B vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin D & K, and Magnesium.

And if you suspect your adrenals are over-stretched, do consider getting your stress hormones tested. We use state of the art urine tsting to measure your cortisol, DHEA and nor-adrenalin over 24 hours. So we can see if your adrenals need some support and what kind. Seeing it on paper can often be the difference for many women – the motivation they need to make changes. So just message me if you want more info on that.

I hope that helps you realise how important it is to rest and mange your stress. Please give yourself permission to put some of this in place for yourself. If you don’t look after yourself first and prioritise rest and stress management, you’ll be no good to anyone else.

See you next time for Step 3 – where I’ll be talking about the invisible hormone wreckers all around us and what to do about them.