Poor lifestyle choices can contribute to increased cortisol levels, even if you aren't actively "stressing" about something. Whether the stress is real (like someone stopping suddenly in front of your car) or imagined (such as anxiety for a meeting with your boss) --our body releases high amounts of the hormone cortisol.
If you suffer from a mood disorder such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or if you have a digestive issue such as irritable bowel syndrome, you can bet your body is cranking up this powerful hormone. The key question is, when do you know when your stress has gone too far?
Constantly overproducing cortisol and adrenaline day after day can eventually lead to that feeling of being "burned out", also known as adrenal fatigue. The result is chronic exhaustion, lack of stamina for exercise, more allergy symptoms, lack of concentration, sleep disruption, blood sugar imbalance, weight gain, depression, increased cravings and weakened immunity. Although it will take time and patience, your recuperation strategy can be as simple as these steps.
Keep the sugar and stimulants out of reach.
Although the quick-fix-it for fatigue at work is an energy drink or a coffee, it will often do more harm than good if you are in a burnout state. Cortisol, in particular, activates a strong response in the brain to match our perceived stress with a desire to eat comfort foods -- the tasty treats we associate with pleasant experiences, often from childhood. Unfortunately, consuming these high carb, high sugar foods can cause a resulting spike in our insulin level, leading to an increase in bellyfat and further disruption of your cortisol patterns (and the cycle continues).
As for coffee, if you must have it then do so before 1 pm and never toward the end of the day. You can also try to replace them with a selection of steeped teas or flavoured herbal teas. Some of my favourite nourishing, adrenal boosting teas include: Nettles, Lemonbalm, Oatstraw and Alfalfa (or any combination of these).
Take an extended break from technology.
While you can't always run away to recuperate on a beach with some sangria and seven days of R&R, you can set some boundaries between you and your technology. Turning off your blackberry, work emails and even putting your laptop away after 8p.m. on weeknights and for most of the weekend is a great start. You would be surprised how much these simple things keep you on 'high alert' and can get your stress levels going at every notification and incoming ring. Instead, swap them for an MP3 player, a good book, or a pair of running shoes and head outside when you feel overwhelmed to get some air and unwind.
Get into meditation.
Meditation is as easy as listening to the sound of your breath or repeating a word or phrase for 10 minutes each day. We now know that meditation may actually reshape the brain, modify our responses to daily situations and train the mind. It is particularly relieving health conditions associated with stress, including insomnia, high blood pressure, impotence, infertility, indigestion, irritable bowel disorder, skin conditions and many others. Along the same lines, writing in a private journal daily or several times a week will help you get that feeling of an internal hurricane of thoughts out and on paper.
Give adrenals a boost with these key supplements:
I. Vitamin C: Vitamin C is naturally highest in our adrenal glands, and even 20 minutes of stress can deplete our vitamin C stores.
II. B Vitamins: Stressed or fatigued individuals should take extra B vitamins, especially vitamin B5, which helps the body adapt to stress and supports adrenal gland function. When taken at bedtime, vitamin B6 is also useful for correcting abnormally high cortisol release throughout the night and for improving disrupted sleep patterns.
III. Herbal Medicine -- Licorice: Licorice inhibits the breakdown of cortisol, which means it can help to increase the levels naturally present in the body and aids adrenal gland rejuvenation. Do not take this herb if you have high blood pressure. Keep in mind this supplement is ideal if you find it hard to get out of bed, or to accumulate enough energy to drudge through the day, versus feeling just wired but tired.