There’s no avoiding stress. In the short term it can be motivating – but prolonged stress has its price. The level of cortisol, one of the three main hormones associated with stress, is naturally higher on waking, steadily reducing as the day unfolds.
In times of relentless stress, however, cortisol levels remain elevated throughout the day, giving rise to a variety of common symptoms which include weight gain around the middle, poor immunity, decreased cognitive function, fatigue, poor sleep quality and low blood pressure.
Typically these are cumulative and are more apparent from the mid thirties onwards rather than a decade earlier.There are some signs that are typical of someone living with the effects of long-term stress. They often feel tired or under the weather, are poor sleepers, waking at 3 or 4am for an hour with an active mind, having a roll of fat below the navel that they can’t shift in spite of dieting, functioning well under stress and responding positively to caffeine.
Stress hormones are triggered by anything we perceive to be stressful, whether big life issues or simply being late for work. The physiological response to stress is similar whatever one’s circumstances in life – you don’t need to be running a FTSE 100 company to suffer from the ill effects of long-term stress.
Here are some simple ways to offset excess cortisol associated with prolonged stress
Increase your magnesium intake
This can be depleted in times of stress. A common symptom of low magnesium is tight muscles, especially calf muscles, and constipation. Top up magnesium levels with plenty of green vegetables and have a small green juice daily (with food, never in place of it). You might consider taking 200 or 400mg last thing at night to aid sleep quality, especially if you are used to waking up in the wee hours. Too much can lead to diarrhoea so start doses low.
Become smarter with caffeine consumption
Caffeine can be useful especially after a night of broken sleep, but relying on it can further trigger cortisol production. Try cutting down by 50 per cent, then another 50 per cent after four days and then stop completely. If you have just one hit a day, first thing in the morning, try having it with food rather than in isolation to offset reliance.
Add protein to your lunch
Adrenaline can be produced seemingly without a trigger, perhaps getting a second wind late afternoon after feeling really tired during the day. Aside from avoiding caffeine it is possible to offset this by eating a little protein with complex carbohydrates every time you eat, ideally having three main meals and a small snack in between.
Change your exercise routine
People with raised cortisol are often drawn to high intensity exercise or extreme activities but this can simply trigger yet more cortisol. Swap the HIIT session for Pilates or yoga, reduce the intensity of exercise and consider meditation.