Cortisol

Stress that occurs in our body and minds is an adaption of change in any form. Pressure at work, training hard at the gym, unhappy relationships, these all cause stress, and it's affecting your life. Your stress control centre is the hypothalamus, and it’s the one who decides what needs to happen, instead of your body thinking about how to cope with this change, it sends a chemical to your adrenal cortex to have an answer to the situation, whether it’s the right or wrong answer cortisol still gets released.

The chemicals send a signal to the brain usually saying that it's dealt with the stress, and we can go back to living our lives, but if this stress is ongoing, it comes back and blocks other neural transmitters like noradrenaline and the use of serotonin (the 'feel good' ones). Chronic Cortisol response is what causes things like anxiety, depression, and insomnia, and because the cortisol doesn’t know if its an internal or external stress, eventually the chemical triggers a response that creates fat to help cushion an injury, sometimes this can happen even if the injury doesn't actually exist.

In other external circumstances, your body starts to shut off different energy sources and will catabolise muscle and bone as energy, that’s why when we see people like long distance runners after putting their bodies under so much external stress without enough nutrients in their system, their bodies will eat away at their own muscle tissue (which contains glycogen) for a source of glycogen which can deplete muscle.

We can also alter our cortisol by stressing our cardiovascular system, having things like caffeine, coffee, and pre-workouts can increase your adrenal receptors to pump signals and chemicals to your brain to keep you alert and focused. The downside of adrenaline being released from your adrenal cortex, is that it also crashes, and that’s why you always perk up after your first coffee and then crave another an hour or two later to help give you that 'energy' back.

Another thing that cortisol is responsible for is helping you get to sleep and waking you back up. For those who have a perfect nights sleep, you usually find that you start to get sleepy between 9-11 and wake up between 5-8.  When people suffer from anxiety, stress and insomnia there isn’t a linear pattern of stress, it pretty much goes up and down waking you up at all different times of the night. Depending on peoples lifestyles and careers, this can also affect when your cortisol peaks and drops.

There are different ways that we can overcome excess cortisol:
- either by eliminating its external sources,
- ending bad relationships,
- keeping a work/life balance,
- relaxation,
- correct nutrition, and
- herbal supplementation.