CortisolCortisol is a steroid that is produced by the adrenal glands. It is released as a response to stress, but it is also released in response to fasting, eating, exercising and waking up. It usually is released at its highest levels in the morning, then less is released in the afternoon and evening.
If you don't have enough cortisol, this can lead to problems with how your brain, immune system, muscles and blood sugar function. A serious deficiency of cortisol leads to Addison's disease, a potentially fatal hormone deficiency.
Too much cortisol can lead to fat buildup around the abdomen, high blood sugar, muscle atrophy, bone loss, immune shutdown, brain atrophy, fluid retention and high blood pressure. Outward symptoms can include fatigue, foul mood, memory loss, depression, reduced sex drive, sleeplessness, anxiety, poor concentration, crying, restlessness, wanting to be left alone, and feelings of hopelessness. High cortisol levels can contribute to cancer, ulcers, heart attacks, diabetes, strokes and skin disease.
StressStress is anything that garners a response from the body. The response usually involves releasing hormones, such as adrenaline, to help the body prepare to respond to the stress. For instance, if you were being chased by a dangerous animal, a rush of adrenaline would help you run faster and for a longer period.
Stress can be a good thing to help the body prepare for dangerous situations, but many people have too much stress because of the demands of their job, or they worry about the future or other things they can't control. Because cortisol is released during stress, chronic stress can lead to chronically high levels of cortisol.
Maintaining StressMaintaining your stress to an appropriate level can help you maintain your cortisol level as well. One of the best ways to manage stress is exercise. Even though cortisol is released during exercise, it will help you sleep better and release any "nervous energy" you have that can cause added stress.
Stress management techniques can help you clear your mind and avoid negative thoughts of fear and worry that cause stress. High levels of cortisol often happen when people experience feelings of defeat or hopelessness that come when they obsess about things out of their control. Techniques to overcome these negative thoughts include meditation, quiet prayer, tai chi and even massage.