The Ultimate Guide to Mastering Your Cortisol Levels

Have you been feeling like you need a break from your everyday routine and busy lifestyle? Well, if you need an excuse to take a day’s break from everything to rest and recharge, you’re in luck. National Relaxation Day is August 15th - an entire day dedicated to relaxing. 

If we don’t give ourselves enough time to relax and rejuvenate, stress doesn’t relieve, which leads to your nervous system and stress hormone cortisol going into overdrive. In this blog, we'll delve into the intricate relationship between relaxation, cortisol, and how you can invite more relaxation into your life. 

Let’s Understand Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Often referred to as the "fight or flight" hormone, cortisol prepares our bodies to face challenges. In small doses, cortisol is beneficial as it helps us by increasing blood sugar levels, enhancing metabolism, and sharpening focus. While cortisol plays a crucial role in survival, chronic high levels that aren’t managed can have harmful effects on our health.

The Stress Response and Cortisol Release

When we encounter a stressful situation, our bodies release cortisol as part of the stress response. This reaction evolved to help us deal with immediate threats like being in danger, or running from a predator. However, these days, our stressors have evolved to include work pressure, financial concerns, and personal issues. Our body reacts to these similar to how our ancestors would have reacted to being chased by a tiger. When these issues begin to pile up, it leads to chronic stress, which leads to a continuous stream of cortisol release.

Effects of Chronic Cortisol Release

Chronic high levels of cortisol can affect both physical and mental health in a number of ways. Some of the effects of chronic exposure to high levels of cortisol include:

  • chronic fatigue
  • digestive issues 
  • weight gain, especially around the abdomen 
  • mood disorders such as anxiety and depression 
  • reduced libido
  • reproductive and fertility issues 
  • increased blood pressure, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke
  • weakened immune system
  • sleep issues such as insomnia or waking throughout the night
  • muscle pain and tension 

The Solution: Relaxation and Stress Relief

The importance of stress relief and relaxation should be very clear by this stage of the blog. When we engage in relaxation techniques, we counteract the harmful effects of chronic stress by reducing cortisol production and promoting a sense of calm. Some proven methods include:

  • 20 minute nature pill: studies have shown that spending just 20 minutes in nature can relieve feelings of stress. Whether you want to sit and be still, exercise, or take a stroll, get out in nature. 
  • Meditation, deep breathing and mindfulness - these techniques have been shown in studies to reduce cortisol levels and improve the stress response 
  • Physical Activity - exercise lowers cortisol levels. However, fasted exercise may increase cortisol levels, so be sure to have a bite to eat before your workout. 
  • Socialisation - spending time socialising has been shown to lower cortisol levels. So be sure to spend quality de-stressing time with your loved ones and friends 
  • Creativity - engaging in your favourite creative activity whether that be writing, music or art can also lower cortisol levels

Let’s take advantage of this day to do something for yourself and improve your physical and mental wellbeing. In a world that glorifies being busy, “grinding” and being go go go - remember that relaxation is an important part of wellness and is a necessary part of taking care of yourself. If you have more stress than you can handle on your own, it’s a good idea to speak to a mental health professional.

So this relaxation day, put yourself first and find whatever your favourite relaxation techniques are and indulge in those.

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