Everybody hates stress, and we try to avoid it when we can. But what is it about stress that makes it something to be avoided? What’s happening in our bodies when we start to feel freaked out?
Simply put, when our environment or circumstances stimulate us to surprise, action, or anxiety, our adrenal glands pump out cortisol. Many cells in the body have cortisol receptors, and thus it’s evident that cortisol has a vital function. This role has been described as provoking the body’s “fight or flight” response.
Fight or flight is the reaction we have when presented with challenging situations. We can observe this in many animals. For example, if a dog senses another dog about to attack, they bristle and either prepare to attack (fight) or run away (flight.) You can see how useful this is. Cortisol drives this reaction, and it stimulates changes in the behavior of bodily systems, including metabolism, blood sugar, memory, and inflammation.
People are much the same. If you see your child scream or about to fall, you feel yourself compelled to action and rush to keep them upright. Similarly, if you have a big report due at work in just a few hours, you might work harder and faster than you have ever before in your professional career. Of course, these are examples of how it works positively. If you have a fear of dentists, instead of “fighting,” you might “run away” and never make an appointment you know that you desperately need.
Useful though the fight or flight response is, when people have chronically stressful lives, this response tends to get “stuck on,” putting the body in a perpetual state of heightened responsiveness. Over time, this can have profound and deleterious effects on our health and happiness.
The details of these health effects are a topic of their own, and we’ll give them their due in some future article. For now, let’s talk about how our diets can lower cortisol levels to the point where they serve their intended purpose, without contributing to constant stress and unhappiness.
Foods That Lower Cortisol Levels
There are numerous foods that help lower stress and cortisol levels. In many cases, the specific mechanism of action is not fully understood. Perhaps the nutrients within the food itself contribute directly to the lowering of cortisol. Perhaps eating these foods is pleasant in itself, and the pleasure of the action reduces stress. Whatever the case, it may be worth a look at some of the foods associated with the lowering of cortisol levels.
Eating the equivalent of one dark chocolate bar per day for two weeks has been scientifically linked to lower stress levels. Dark chocolate is high in natural cocoa that contains minerals like zinc, iron, copper, and manganese; it is also a good source of antioxidants! If you happen to love chocolate for reasons unrelated to stress health, so much the better!
High in magnesium and vitamin C, apricots are a sweet and delicious snack that many enjoy even if they’re unconcerned about its health properties. Magnesium naturally relaxes the muscles, but it gets depleted when we’re stressed. Helping to maintain stress through natural sources like apricot will help our bodies naturally reorient and enter a relaxed state. Vitamin C will be right alongside it to help support the immune system, which can also be compromised when life starts to feel overwhelming.
There are many high-quality supplements that help to regulate cortisol. If found in n powdered form, you can often include in your favorite recipes; make sure to follow the manufacturer-recommended usage and dosage, however. We specifically recommend Cortisol Calm by Pure Encapsulations, Pro-Cortisol Balance by Nutri-West, and Transcendence ReZEN from Transformation Enzyme. Each has a unique formulation of vitamins, nutrients, and medicinal ingredients, which may help attenuate your body’s cortisol production, even in times of stress. Find the one best suited to your unique needs.
In the end, we can’t always avoid stress. Life pitches us many challenges, and these may persist for years without relief. But there are always ways to adjust ourselves to these circumstances and endure them without feeling extreme stress levels.
If you are still struggling, it may be wise to consult with a professional who can help you better identify the source of your stress and anxiety and practical tips to help you find peace in life!