With the holidays fast approaching and new years resolutions coming shortly after that it’s easy to stress out and sweat the small things. The only problem with that is your body’s response. Your body reacts to stress in ways that actually make you stress out more.
It gains weight, it gets tired, it holds water and before you know it your body has sent you into a bout of anxiety or depression.
Learning why this happens is the first step in taking action against chronic stress and its affect on your body. In this blog post we go over the basics of cortisol the “stress hormone” and what it does in the body so that you can take the necessary steps to stop stress from happening.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands during times of stress. This is why it’s commonly referred to as the “stress hormone.” Most bodily cells have cortisol receptors so when the adrenals secrete the hormone it’s sent throughout the body and attaches to those cells. The attachment to those cells is critical for normal daily functions of the body. Cortisol has been shown to keep blood sugar levels in check, regulate the body’s metabolism and reduce inflammation. It also plays a role in the body’s balance of water and salt; think bloated and holding water or high blood pressure because of too much salt. That all being said… the right amount of cortisol stimulation is critical for your health.
Cortisol naturally rises and falls throughout the day and night and is stimulated during exercise to help breakdown muscle tissue so that you can rebuild it bigger and stronger with proper recovery. (Remember this little tid bit for later.) However, it is also stimulated with stress or situations we view as stressful.
Constantly stimulated levels of cortisol can over time burn out your adrenal glands so they cannot secrete enough for your bodily needs but in the process you will have the side effects of overstimulation.
These side effects range from weight gain (especially around the abdomen,) decreased bone density, problems sleeping, loss of muscle mass, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, weakened immune system and in most cases little to no results with efforts to lose weight through exercise and diet.
Unfortunately for us stressful situations seem to be everywhere we turn. Whether its family, finances, career, relationships, self-esteem or body image problems our little adrenal glands pump out cortisol with every situation. Now lets take into account our fitness industry that promotes radical diets, quick fixes, extreme exercise programs and the mentality that fitness is life and your cortisol levels are going to spike just thinking about it.
Extreme diets are considered a stress on the body. Extreme workout programs are considered a stress on the body. Combine the two and you have a recipe for disaster.
Now lets dig a little deeper… back in the beginning of the blog where I wrote that exercise stimulates cortisol, it does for a reason. The reason we exercise is to breakdown muscle tissue so that when we leave the gym we go home and focus on recovery so we can stop the spike of cortisol and rebuild our muscle tissue. Rebuilding muscle tissue leads to a faster metabolism and fat loss over time. Unfortunately since our exercise programs usually come with an extreme diet nowadays you’re actually not getting the adequate nutrients to start this recovery process and therefore your cortisol levels are not coming back down. Now we can take it a step further and say you’re going back into the gym later on for an extra session and re-stimulating your body to pump out even more cortisol even though you never brought your levels back down from before. Can you see how this could be a vicious cycle that would just burn your body out rather than help you lose weight and get healthy? This is the problem that most of us are dealing with and without the proper education of how our bodies work most have had no idea.
Handling stress so your body has the chance to recover and rebuild each day is critical to your weight loss success as well as success in your relationships, business and overall wellbeing. So what can you do?
The right amount of exercise can be an amazing stress reliever. Getting in a workout that is a combination of cardiovascular training and resistance training is the trick. Be efficient with your workouts and find a workout that combines both components. Don’t let the workout go longer than an hour if its high intensity or longer that 90 minutes at a lower intensity (think hot yoga,) and keep it to 4-5 times per week. Once you’re done with your sweat session make sure you hydrate and get the right foods in to fuel what you just put your body through.
Eating good wholesome foods and enough of them is the key. A 1,200 calorie diet paired with strenuous exercise will leave your cortisol levels heightened and eventually lead to adrenal fatigue and possibly thyroid issues. A good rule of thumb is to eat a minimum of 12 calories per pound of body weight if you’re trying to lose weight. This amount will sustain your basal metabolic rate (BMR) so your body doesn’t think its being starved and goes into panic mode. Make sure these calories are coming from natural food sources (think things that come from the earth or can be raised on a farm) not pre packaged convenience foods. Focus on eating for performance and recovering from your workouts rather than eating for weight loss which isn’t sustainable long term.
Sleep is critical for relieving stress. Being rested alone makes it easier to handle the crazy stuff life throws at us. Everyone is different when it comes to how much sleep they need to feel good throughout the day but a solid 7-8 hours never hurt anyone. Cortisol levels also drop while you’re sleeping which makes it easier for someone trying to lose weight to reach their goal. Sleeping away the fat and letting your body fully recover should be good enough reason to go to bed a little bit earlier.
All of our lives are hectic and we are constantly surrounded by people needing something from us. That gets exhausting in its-self. It is crucial to your mental sanity and stress levels to take time alone to sit (maybe sleep) and recharge. Take yourself out for a cup of coffee or go walk by yourself. Whatever it is, give yourself at least 20 minutes a day where you can disconnect from your phone, tv and computer and just think to yourself. Sometimes we become stressed over the most insignificant things and it takes walking away and thinking through to realize we are programmed to stress when it’s not a big deal at all.
As the holidays approach and you start to set expectations for yourself and your family; please remember to take care of your health first so you can truly enjoy these next few months. Don’t let the holidays or any situation stress you out till the point that it affects you negatively.
Until next week,