Cortisol is our number one stress hormone that plays a huge role in regulating a variety of different processes in the human body. From helping you fight an infection or deal with an injury to giving you a boost of energy to run from immediate danger and focus in times of crisis.
Even though our cortisol levels change throughout the day, they are supposed to be the highest in the morning when we wake up and gradually decrease throughout the day. If there’s an event or a stressful situation occurring at 3 pm, it’s naturally going to spike, but it should be followed by a natural decline.
The problem people around the world are encountering more and more is these levels staying consistently high, even when there’s no immediate danger, injury, or otherwise stressful situation. This is where chronic stress starts overworking the adrenal glands and impairing their production of cortisol and other important hormones, resulting in low energy, fatigue, tiredness, and a weakened immune system at risk of diseases and infections.
What is Cortisol?
This important hormone is produced and released by the adrenal glands, located at the top of your kidneys. It’s a type of steroid hormone that suppresses inflammation, helps control metabolism in your muscles, liver, bones, and fat tissue, and regulates your circadian rhythm.
It plays an important role in regulating stress, metabolism, blood pressure, and even your blood glucose levels. Your entire body has steroid receptors which means that cortisol can easily affect every single function and cell, which is why it’s so important to make sure you’re not over or underproducing its amount. Your body does a constant job of monitoring and controlling your cortisol levels to help keep them in range, and when you’re dealing with high-stress situations and inflammation, it becomes really hard to keep it that way.
What is Anxiety?
On the other hand, anxiety is a health condition that’s described as a group of symptoms and disorders that can severely impact your day-to-day life, making you unable to function while causing tremendous stress to your body system. Its intensity can range from mild to pretty severe, but it’s more about the inflammation and stress that accumulates in the body that can wreak havoc in the background, even if you’re not fully aware of it.
There are plenty of different types of anxiety disorders, but generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common. It shows up as fatigue, irritability, worrisome feelings, inability to focus, feeling restless and wound up, and similar symptoms. When these feelings and experiences keep on happening for a long time, they turn from acute (anxiety over a specific situation like flying or an important meeting) to chronic when you feel the side effects almost all the time.
And even though you might feel like that’s a normal part of today’s life, it shouldn’t be, and you shouldn’t be getting used to it or adapting to it. The reason for it is that a chronic state of anxiety drives chronic inflammation and stress which are harmful long-term and might cause some irreparable consequences.
Cortisol and Anxiety
The tight connection between high cortisol levels and anxiety is an important one as it can showcase how harmful it can be to your overall health and well-being. The heightened state of alertness that cortisol provides as a stress response to a specific event can be helpful, but when it’s coupled with feelings of worry, fear, and overall anxiety, it almost seems like there’s no outlet for the cortisol and it’s impossible to deal with both conditions at the same time
Your body doesn’t differentiate between a stressful day at the office and being chased by a lion, and it always causes an alert state of your nervous system, the so-called fight-or-flight mechanism to activate, which in this case may actually backfire. As the cortisol levels remain elevated, even your anxiety starts building up and this can be the cause of a plethora of serious health issues, such as heart disease, hormone imbalance, digestive disorders, immune deficiencies, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even cancers.
How to Bring Your Cortisol Down?
Probably the most important question in this situation is not how to address the symptoms of aggravated anxiety and high cortisol levels, but how to get to the root cause of the problem and deal with the issue from the ground up. How do you tackle your body’s response to stress and how do you lower your cortisol levels so that they don’t interfere with your quality of life? Here are some of the best ways to do so:
- Find a stress-release outlet – for most people who are highly stressed and anxious, telling them to meditate or soak in a bathtub won’t work. They need to find a stress-release outlet that will first help them become aware of their current stress levels and find a way to manage their condition. Whether it’s running, boxing, or cooking, it doesn’t matter as long as it helps you relax and release some of that stress.
- Smart supplementation – simply cleaning up your diet might not work by itself, and you might need some more powerful tools to help you deal with cortisol levels. These include adaptogen superfoods like maca, reishi, ashwagandha, and Rhodiola, which influence your inflammation and stress levels from the inside out.
- Implement stress-reducing techniques – Once you’ve begun to tackle your stress response, it’s a good time to start focusing on how to prevent it from wreaking havoc on your body. Some of the most important aspects of anxiety and stress could be dealt with by literally soaking in the bathtub for half an hour or blasting music in your apartment. Whatever works for you, try to tune into that and make it a regular part of your routine. It’s only with consistency that changes really begin to happen.
High levels of cortisol have been linked to a variety of health conditions and pairing it up with anxiety only aggravates inflammation as well as the anxiety disorder itself. Work on lowering your cortisol levels and address them on a daily basis. This will be a good headstart on your anti-inflammatory journey.