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6 Signs You Have Elevated Cortisol and What to Do About It

If you've been feeling stressed, run-down, and struggling to keep your energy levels up, you might have elevated cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, which is released in response to stress. But when cortisol levels remain high for too long, it can lead to several health problems. In this blog post, we'll examine six signs that suggest you have elevated cortisol along with practical tips on how to manage it.

1. Tired and Wired

Do you feel exhausted but unable to unwind and fall asleep? Do you find yourself feeling jittery and anxious even when you're not in a stressful situation? This is a classic symptom of elevated cortisol levels. To cope, focus on relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, and make sure to get enough sleep every night.

2. Waking up often at night

Another sign of elevated cortisol levels is frequent awakenings during the night. When cortisol levels are high, your body remains in a state of alertness, making it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Try creating a relaxing bedtime routine that includes turning off electronics, taking a warm bath, reading a book, or listening to soothing music.

3. Elevated blood sugar

A lot of people only consider their blood sugar if they have, or think they might have, diabetes. When cortisol levels are high, it can lead to insulin resistance, which in turn, causes elevated blood sugar levels. This can cause a whole host of issues if left untreated, and can eventually put you at risk of Type II diabetes.

4. Strong sugar/carb cravings

High cortisol levels can trigger sugar and carb cravings because these foods release endorphins that help us feel better. To keep these cravings in check, focus on eating protein-rich snacks like nuts, seeds, and hard-boiled eggs, and try to limit processed carbohydrates.

5. Irregular/Painful Periods

Cortisol can have a direct impact on reproductive hormones, which can lead to menstrual irregularities and painful periods. To manage this symptom, increase your intake of calcium and magnesium by eating leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

6. Unexpected Weight Gain

Finally, high cortisol levels can lead to weight gain, particularly around the belly. To manage this symptom, focus on maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Strength-training exercises can be particularly helpful in reducing belly fat.

Habits that NATURALLY lower your cortisol levels

  • Deep Belly Breathing: Breathing exercises have been proven to reduce cortisol levels and calm the mind.

  • Yin Yoga: Yin yoga is a slow-paced and gentle form of yoga that involves holding poses for several minutes to stretch the connective tissues and calm the nervous system. Take my 8:15pm class on Tuesday nights in person or virtually at Soul Tribes to put you right to sleep!

  • Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to lower stress levels, boost immunity, and improve sleep quality. It can be found in supplement form or brewed as a tea. It's important to speak with your doctor before starting any supplements but Ashwagandha can be helpful in reducing the cortisol levels.

  • Magnesium: Magnesium is a mineral that is involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including the regulation of cortisol levels. A magnesium-rich diet can help to improve sleep quality, decrease anxiety, and lower cortisol levels. Foods that are high in magnesium include almonds, spinach, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas.

  • Reduce Caffeine Intake: Caffeine can increase cortisol levels even in small amounts. While it's tempting to start your morning with coffee, keep it in moderation. Try replacing some of your coffee with green tea which contains the calming amino acid theanine.

  • Improve Sleep Hygiene: Sleep is crucial for restoring our bodies physically and mentally. Make a conscious effort to start turning off all electronic devices an hour before bed and creating a dark and quiet sleep environment. This will help you get the necessary rest your body needs to keep cortisol levels low. Read my blog post, 7 Steps to a Better Sleep, for more tips on this.

  • Natural Light Exposure: Light therapy is known to improve circadian rhythms and lower cortisol levels. Try to get out in natural sunlight at least 30 minutes a day, or invest in a light box that mimics natural light and can be used indoors compensating for its absence outside.

Elevated cortisol levels can cause a range of physical and emotional symptoms, but there are things you can do to manage it. By focusing on relaxation techniques, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and being physically active every day, you'll be able to keep cortisol levels in check and start feeling better soon. Incorporating deep belly breathing, yin yoga, ashwagandha, magnesium, reducing caffeine intake, improving sleep hygiene, and natural light exposure, will contribute significantly to the body's overall health, mental clarity, and even mood. Taking care of your cortisol levels can transform your life and help you lead a more balanced and healthy lifestyle.

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