Stress has to be the number one reason my patients see me. We are all stressed.
I try to explain to my patients that it isn’t a matter of whether it’s bad stress or good stress (i.e. a new house, job, or baby) or how well you believe you handle the stress. Stress is stress, and stress takes its toll on the body. PLEASE allow me to help you. I have seen this first-hand: if you don’t fix the cortisol issues when they’re high, eventually your levels will plummet and you do NOT want that. It takes months to recover from high levels, but it can take over a year to recover from low levels. Most people know the lifestyle changes they should make, but, like myself, a lot of my patients are “grinders”- they try and push through. The problem is that your body can only take so much. Eventually, you’ll crash… and I did. Trust me… it gets worse. You will have trouble waking up in the mornings.
Chronically high cortisol levels lead to a decrease in the production of testosterone, estradiol, progesterone, and thyroid hormones, as well as to a decrease in the amount of free hormone that’s available for the body to use.
It also causes inflammation, which interferes with those hormones getting inside your cells where they can do some good. That’s why when your cortisol is off you can feel anxious, moody, irritable, and depressed. You can have trouble sleeping and have night sweats. Your sex drive goes down (men experience ED), your hair starts falling out, you feel cold, and you can’t think properly. That’s why some people who present thinking they are hypothyroid, or are in menopause or have reached andropause, actually aren’t suffering from any of these issues- their problem lies with their abnormal levels of cortisol, resulting from stress.
Additionally, chronically abnormal cortisol levels can lead to insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome, which is associated with carb cravings, weight gain around the waist, high cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk for diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. It also increases the risk of dementia/Alzheimer’s Dz.
Hopefully, you are starting to see the picture:
- Chronically abnormal cortisol release is a serious matter
- You won’t get better until you address your cortisol
- It’s important to take an integrative approach to achieving optimal health
- It’s complicated, but you’re worth it!
What can you do?
First of all, test for cortisol dysfunction. Check your salivary cortisol level first thing in the morning, at 12 noon, at 6 pm, and at bedtime. Knowing when your level is high or low is the first step in addressing the issue. There are adaptogenic herbs that can really make a difference in your cortisol levels and in how you feel. But the truth is that lifestyle changes remain the mainstay of recovery.
If you can’t avoid certain stressors, then modify how you respond to them. Meditation, prayer, yoga, tai chi, breath-work, and relaxation exercises all help lengthen the time between a stimulus and your reaction. The most important thing to remember is that there is no magic pill; no quick fix. Once you get to this point, this has been going on for a very long time, and that’s why it takes months to over a year to recover. Having said that, if you make the changes necessary, you will continue to improve.