Stress. We all experience it and know how difficult it is to control. And while stress can be caused by a variety of things, one thing remains constant: a hormone, called cortisol, is released in the body. Cortisol is one of the steroid hormones made in the adrenal glands. Most cells within the body have cortisol receptors. The hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands (the HPA axis) control the secretion of the hormone. Cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day and night in a rhythm that mimics our sleep patterns, with the hormone release peaking at about 8 AM and falling to its low point around 4 AM.
The benefits of cortisol include controlling blood sugar levels, regulating metabolism, reducing inflammation, and assisting with memory formulation. Cortisol plays a vital part in other body functions, including when and how the body breaks down carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. All of these functions make cortisol a crucial hormone to protect overall health and well-being. Yet, having too much or too little cortisol can result in long-term illness.
Our biggest challenge is reducing the level of cortisol in the body. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic give multiple suggestions for reducing stress and, thus, reducing cortisol levels:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting regular exercise
- Getting sufficient sleep
- Practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, meditation, or massage
- Taking time for hobbies, such as reading a book, listening to music, or enjoying travel
- Fostering healthy friendships
- Keeping a sense of humor
- Volunteering in your community
- Seeking professional counseling when needed
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