What does Science say: Cortisol & Stress




In these unprecedented times, it is common to feel higher levels of worry, anxiety, or stress during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter Movement. There is no hiding the need to quarantine, financial worries, grief, fear of what the next months could look like can lead to less sleep.  [1]


So what does this have to do with Cortisol? Cortisol is known as the ‘stress hormone’. [2] It is the hormone that is triggered in fight or flight threats. When you encounter a threat in your everyday life, this could be a flat tire or spilling coffee all over your desk, your brain sets off an alarm to your body to release hormones including cortisol.[3]

Cortisol is a necessary hormone that helps regulate our blood pressure, water balance, inflammation, metabolism, memory creation, and in pregnant women plays a part in the development of the fetus.[1]


Cortisol increases sugars in the bloodstream, alters our immune system response, and suppresses the digestive system.[3] Cortisol also connects with the brain regions that control mood, motivation, and fear.[3]

 

After a threat has passed, our cortisol levels go back to normal, however in times of increased stress and worry, our cortisol levels can stay heightened. This could put us at risk for anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and so much more.[3]

 

While we will all experience some level of stress during the pandemic, it is crucial to keep in mind the importance of keeping our cortisol levels low for our health. Diet, exercise, and sleep are the most important. As repetitive as they may sound, these three things are vital to keeping our cortisol levels during the pandemic, low. 

The good thing is, we are all in this together! Become aware of your stress levels by just asking yourself how you are feeling and notice if your body is holding tension. Try something new this week that will lower your stress levels, here are some suggestions.
Go for a hike, alone, or with a friend, practicing social distancing of course. 
Try “Forest-Bathing”
Get to sleep earlier and unplug from electronics 30 minutes to an hour before
Drink more water this week! 
Try that hobby you wanted to do at the beginning of the quarantine
Do nothing for 10 minutes. 

References:


1. Stress, COVID-19, and Your Endocrine Health. EndocrineWeb. Accessed June 15, 2020. https://www.endocrineweb.com/lifestyle-diet/stress-covid-19-your-endocrine-health


2. High Cortisol Symptoms: What Do They Mean? Healthline. Accessed June 15, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/high-cortisol-symptoms


3. Chronic stress puts your health at risk. Mayo Clinic. Accessed June 15, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

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Scarleth Castro,BA Nutritionist, Health & Fitness Educator

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