Reducing Cortisol: How to Keep Your Stress in Check
Reducing cortisol in your body and brain is crucial to your well being in addiction recovery. In this article we look at the effects of healthy amounts of cortisol and the effects of too much cortisol.
Cortisol is a hormone our body produces in large amounts in response to stress. Whilst in certain situations cortisol can be helpful in keeping us on our toes, performing better etc, excessive amounts or prolonged exposure can be very damaging.
Firstly, let’s look at why reducing cortisol is so important, especially for those of us in recovery from addiction.
Studies show that a staggering 85% of people with addiction problems return to substance use within one year of treatment. Now, we are not saying that everyone who relapses does so because of stress. However, there is substantial evidence to support that stress is a massive influential factor in many instances of addiction relapse.
Because of the effects of stress on the body and the mind, reducing cortisol is something we at Recoverlution feel is important. We have therefore dedicated whole sections of our content to reducing stress levels and increasing wellbeing.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a naturally produced steroid hormone. This hormone is made in the adrenal glands and then released into the bloodstream. The cue for its release comes from our brain.
Almost every single cell in the human body has a receptor for cortisol.
When cortisol is carried around the body via the bloodstream it attaches to cortisol receptors within our cells. The effects of cortisol vary depending on the cell and receptor it attaches to, and the amounts of cortisol released.
Something to understand is that cortisol is actually a healthy thing, but only when it is released in healthy amounts. When we produce too much it becomes problematic. This is when looking into healthy ways of reducing cortisol becomes paramount.
Cortisol plays an important part in many of our bodily functions and affects our brain cognition.
The effects of healthy amounts of cortisol include:
- Regulating our metabolic rate through controlling our blood sugar levels
- Regulating our salt and water balance
- Has an influential effect on blood pressure
- Triggers the birthing process and in the development of unborn babies
- Reduces inflammation
- Influences the formation of memory
Cortisol is steadily secreted in our body’s throughout the day. It tends to be at its highest level in the morning. However, when we become stressed or anxious, additional cortisol is released.
Too much cortisol is rarely a good thing, unless facing a genuine ‘fight or flight’ scenario.
The problem with our body and our mind is that it can become over sensitive to stress, especially when frequently exposed. As a result, our adrenal glands can release too much cortisol when there is no genuine need for it. This can then result in a vicious cycle of releasing cortisol due to stress, and then feeling more stressed because of its release.
If cortisol production is negatively affecting you, then this is when methods of reducing cortisol levels will become invaluable
What happens if I have too much cortisol?
Prolonged exposure to stress can result in too much cortisol being released into your system on a regular basis. This can not only impact on your physical health but also be detrimental to your mental health
The effects of too much cortisol include:
- High blood pressure
- Changes in metabolism resulting in weight gain especially in the face, chest and abdomen
- Increased urinary output and dehydration
- Sleep disturbances
- Constant feelings of tension
- Weakened muscles
- Flushing of the face
- Skin problems, including increased tendency to bruise and stretch marks
- Mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, impaired memory
- Impaired or lowered immunity
- Impaired decision making
- Irregular periods (in women)
- Reduced sex drive (men and women)
Perhaps you can now understand why reducing cortisol levels is not only important for your health but also important in maintaining a good quality of life in recovery from addiction.
Understanding the biology of addiction relapse - Why reducing cortisol levels is crucial
Addiction relapse is a very misunderstood occurrence. All the same it happens, and with great frequency.
To those who have never suffered from addiction it can be baffling why a person would return to drug and alcohol use. Those of you who know, understand this feeling all too well!
The most common reasons cited for addiction relapse include:
- Depressive mood
- Substance related triggers and temptation
- Lack of positive environment ( eg family, relationships, support, career, housing etc)
- Unresolved trauma
- Drug and alcohol cravings
You can probably see that many of the above reasons can be interlinked. However, we can only tackle one thing at a time.
If we look at stress and how this can impacts on mood, relationships and quality of life, we can see that there is a common thread.
During active addiction we become used to high levels of stress. Coming into recovery there is so much to sort out. Early recovery is often a very stressful time of adjustment and of unlearning and learning.
For some of us boredom can come into play. This can happen when the stress we have been running on is suddenly removed with nothing positive to replace it.
This is why looking for ways of reducing cortisol that are natural, healthy and add to your quality of life are invaluable.
Reducing cortisol levels the natural way
When looking to reduce cortisol levels to normal healthy levels, it is helpful to identify key areas of stress in your life.
There are many ways of quickly reducing stress, and we have covered these topics in related articles. Subscription to our Wellness hub will give you direct access to Breath work teachers, yoga instructors, accredited therapists and so much more. These methods, however, only truly work when they are regularly practiced.
Sometimes the only way to overcome large stressors in life is to consider the bigger picture and what is best for your recovery and wellbeing.
For example if a job or a relationship is a constant source of stress, regardless of methods you have tried, it may be time to move on.
Whatever steps you take in reducing your cortisol levels, ensure that you have a positive outlet in place. Also ensure that you have positive support to help you through any changes you need to make.
Stress can cause many of us to make rash decisions, so it is always best to talk things through either with your support network, a trusted friend or a counsellor.
Author - Sammi
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