Stress, adrenals, cortisol, and why there’s junk in your trunk
Stress has become a way of life; work, relationships, bills, the list goes on and on. Our bodies first developed stress as a response to danger; it was a way to protect us. Early humans used stress as a way to react to predators, it helped them survive. Today, it’s rare to be chased by a saber-tooth tiger, or have the war tribe from the next village attack you; but stress has become a very real, very unhealthy, and very dangerous part of our everyday life.
When your brain perceives a threat, it signals your adrenal glands to immediately release hormones to prepare your body to deal with the situation; typically, this is known as the “fight or flight” response. Depending on how you are wired, when stressed, you may run for your life or dig in and GET IT ON!; the response is often innate and beyond your conscience control.
The adrenals are glands that are situated near the kidney. These glands produce adrenaline and cortisol, the two main stress hormones. According to the Mayo Clinic, adrenaline increases your heart rate and blood pressure and gives you an extra boost of energy.
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone. When the body feels stress, either physical or emotional, cortisol is secreted out of the adrenal glands and into the blood stream, again preparing the body to deal with a stressful encounter. The release of cortisol has a number of effects on your body, including:
- Increasing the glucose in the blood stream
- Increasing the amount of glucose available to the brain
- Providing more substance to the body in case repair is necessary.
In addition to preparing the body for conflict, cortisol also slows a number of bodily functions not immediately required to address the conflict. These functions include: suppressing your reproductive, digestive, and immune systems; cortisol also slows the growth process and sends messages to the area of the brain controlling mood and fear.
Typically the reaction to stress is short-term. Stemming from the prehistoric days, once danger had passed, the body returned to normal. However, today’s stress is different; often it is not a quick response to a short-term issue. For example, you rarely wake up and have to run away from immediate danger; and if you do, you have bigger issues than being stressed-out! Today’s stress is usually more passive and long-lasting; resulting in serious health issues, including heart disease, mood disorders, pre-mature aging, depression and obesity.
Cortisol is a natural reaction to stress, your body doesn’t determine the severity of the stress when reacting, it just reacts. So, you can see that when we are experiencing prolonged stress, your body will continue to release cortisol to prepare to deal with the perceived situation. In all actuality, by releasing these hormones, your body is reacting in a way that it “thinks” will help you. However, constant exposure to stress and constantly releasing cortisol into your bloodstreams wrecks havoc on your body; this often includes gaining weight.
The excess glucose, due to cortisol, in your body causes the body to store fat. It has also been shown to cause the body to store “dangerous” fat; meaning the fat is often stored in areas like the abdomen, and is a common contributor to heart attack and stroke. So really, when you are experiencing prolonged stress, or what your body perceives as a constant threat, it is reacting how it should. However, the extended duration of today’s stress causes the body to continually release cortisol, which not only increases glucose production, but also decreases the function of the digestive system. Since cortisol affects glucose production, it also increases insulin production, another hormone that promotes fat-storage in the body. Compounding the issue of weight gain, stress often causes an increase in appetite. So stress tells your body to release glucose, which over time causes weight gain, and it tells your brain to eat more food, again promoting weight gain.
Controlling your stress level is an important factor in controlling your weight and overall health. Meditation, deep breathing, and exercise are great ways to control and relive stress; more severe cases of stress may require a doctor’s visit and medication.
7 simple steps to de-stress now
- Meditate You don’t need to sit Indian style, close your eyes, and breath deeply to enjoy the benefits of meditation. All though sitting alone in a cool darkened room can definitely help de-stress; it can also be very difficult to master at first. If you try this approach simply start by trying to sit quietly for 5 minutes with your eyes closed. Let you mind wander. Try this every day for a week. After the week is up add 5 more minutes to your meditation. Work your way up to 30-40 minutes. If this is to difficult at first try going on a walk and focusing on life around you.
- Pass on the coffee Try tea instead. Coffee raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Switch over to a green tea, chamomile, or any other herbal tea with low levels of caffeine.
- Get a massage Do I really need to explain how awesome this is? If you are weird about someone putting their hands on you try self massage. Use a foam roller if needed.
- Music break Put on some headphones and zone out for a bit. Try and do this while on a light walk. Music has an innate quality about it that really speaks to the soul. If you’re up for it, go up on your roof and lay down. Try this at night while staring at the stars. Put on your Superman cape just in case you fall off.
- Show up early If you are headed into work or have an appointment to get to try to show up 10 minutes early. This will let allow you time to settle in before you have to get crack’n.
- Single task For a week or so just get ride of your to do list. It probably looks more like a grocery list anyhow. Write down 1 important thing you want to get done for the day and just do that.
- Try something new Go have some FUN! Try something you have never done before. Go on a date at a new restaurant. Just go have some frickin fun would ya!
CLICK HERE… unless you hate good music.
Keep it loose, keep it tight –Amos Lee