Many men experience chronic stress, leading to an onslaught of adverse physical and mental health effects.
These negative effects stem from pervasively high cortisol levels, stress, or fight-or-flight response.
There are big steps you can take to reduce the chronic stress in your life overall. For example, planning regular vacations and weekend getaways to destinations you enjoy can be a good way to lower your cortisol levels over the long term.
There are also more immediate short-term steps you can take.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is something your adrenal glands release when you’re feeling threatened. Cortisol is also simply known as the stress hormone. Cortisol is meant to help your body deal with danger or traumatic situations. Cortisol, when appropriately released, can help your body release glucose for energy and pump blood faster.
Your cortisol levels can be naturally higher when you first get up. They gradually decline throughout the day as it gets closer to bedtime.
Prolonged cortisol outside of threatening situations becomes a problem.
Chronic stress and continuously high cortisol levels contribute to weight gain and high blood pressure. Other symptoms of high cortisol include low mood and diabetes.
Cortisol helps control your immune system and inflammatory response, so it’s a crucial part of your health on a holistic level.
Specific symptoms of chronically high cortisol are:
- Suppressed function of the thyroid
- Lowered immunity
- More abdominal fat
- Problems with cognition
- High blood pressure
- Less muscle
- Reductions in bone density
- Blood sugar imbalances
Causes of High Cortisol
Someone who has ongoing high cortisol may be diagnosed with Cushing syndrome.
Some of the factors leading to the development of pervasively high cortisol or Cushing syndrome include:
- Stress: The main culprit behind high cortisol is stress. Stress signals cause your adrenal glands to release hormones. When you’re under constant stress, your cortisol function doesn’t turn off as it should.
- Pituitary issues: The pituitary gland is located at the base of your brain, controlling hormone secretion. Problems with your pituitary gland can cause it to produce too much or too little of certain hormones.
- Tumors on the adrenal glands: Adrenal glands are above your kidneys. Tumors here can be benign or malignant.
- Medication effects: Certain medicines such as those used to treat asthma and arthritis are linked to high cortisol levels. Prednisone and cortisone are two examples.
How to Lower Your Cortisol Levels
If you feel like you’re constantly experiencing stress and it’s taking a toll on your body, along with taking time to relax, travel and connect with your loved ones, there are things you can do too.
First, try to make sleep a priority. When you don’t get enough sleep regularly, it can cause your cortisol levels to be high. To make sleep a priority, have a time you wake up and go to bed every day, even on the weekends. A regular schedule is one of the best ways to improve your sleep quality.
Create a bedtime routine for yourself, limit caffeine after lunchtime. You should also exercise earlier in the day and not too close to bed.
Speaking of exercise, you do want to make time for regular physical activity, but don’t overdo it. Cortisol spikes shortly after intense exercise and then go down again. Regular exercise helps reduce the negative health effects of stress, but if you overdo it, the effects can be the opposite.
Being mindful and recognizing stressful thinking can help you. Men are often reluctant to consider their mental health, but this can have adverse effects on every area of their well-being.
Start working on training yourself to be conscious of your thoughts, breathing, heart rate and other signs of stress. Then you can start to find ways to regain control over your feelings of stress, rather than feeling like you’re a victim of them.
If you do feel stress coming on, begin to practice deep breathing exercises. Studies prove deep breathing can manage stress and reduce cortisol.
Do things you enjoy. We’ve touched on this throughout, but along with traveling, maybe you have a hobby or just spend time with people who make you laugh and feel good. Doing things we enjoy is such an important part of our overall quality of life, but we get stuck in the daily grind and don’t prioritize our own happiness. When you’re feeling a spike of stress, remember that it’s good to smile, laugh, and enjoy yourself.