The Adventures of Stress

Photo by: John Matychuk

Photo by: John Matychuk

Cortisol is your main stress hormone. When working correctly, cortisol runs on a 24-hour rhythm, typically peaking around 5:00 am and slowing down for bedtime. 

Falling asleep is supposed to be easy. The natural fall of cortisol corresponds with the rise and fall of melatonin - the body's sleep hormone. 

Stress causes a shorter more intense firing of cortisol - along with our other stress hormone adrenaline.  When this happens, a super fast chemical reaction occurs along the hypothalamic-pituitary gland-adrenal axis. The hypothalamus - the part of the brain that communicates with the nervous system - sends a signal to the pituitary gland - an organ the size of a pea at the base of the brain directs certain processes or stimulates other glands to produce other hormones - triggering a fight-or-flight response to drive the body into action. This force comes from the adrenal glands that are quickly discharging adrenaline so you can react fast. After the adrenaline is released, the hypothalamus directs the adrenals to release cortisol keeping you alert. When stress is gone, the adrenals tell the hypothalamus that its ok to start to calm down. 

The problem is the stress is never gone. Think about how much stress we deal with on a daily basis and how available we make ourselves to this stress. Our brains are always on high alert because our bodies are continually releasing cortisol. Our bodies are releasing all of this cortisol in response to all of our stressors. Our stressful lives are causing our brains to tell our bodies to react as if we are in danger. 

We are suffering from the consequences of cortisol being released into our bodies in an unhealthy way potentially causing the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Cognitive difficulties (brain fog)
  • Irregularities in women's menstrual cycles
  • Digestive issues
  • Food cravings
  • Fat accumulation around the body's midsection

In order to maintain good health and to perform to the best of our abilities, we have to learn how to let go and slow down. We cannot pour from an empty cup.

Keep in mind that becoming stress-free should not be stress-full. Try to incorporate meditation or yoga into your self-care routine.


This post was inspired by Leslie Goldman's "The New Energy Crisis" published in the September 2018 issue of Yoga Journal magazine.