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3 steps to balanced Cortisol

(spoiler: not with coffee and a doughnut)

We all know Cortisol as the stress hormone. It rises to prepare us to fight or run away and lowers to allow us to rest, digest and repair. While being involved in the daily stress response it also has a 24 hour cycle which lowers to allow us to get some shut eye and rises to wake us up in the morning.

I think Cortisol is an extremely underrated healing opportunity. It affects every other hormone in our body, so it's very important that the ebb and flow of Cortisol works like a finely tuned machine. Especially if you're having any issues with your sex hormones, Cortisol should be the first thing you look at.

For many of us, trauma and constant stressors can turn up the dial for Cortisol and leave it there. Without the important "recovery" part of the ebb and flow, our hormonal system eventually burns out.

Does this sound like you?

  • Water retention or puffiness

  • Dysregulated sex hormones

  • Difficulty building muscle

  • Exhausted no matter how much you rest

  • Difficulty falling asleep

  • Difficulty staying asleep

  • Stubborn last 15lbs of fat

  • Waking up in the morning feels like torture

  • Excess weight around the belly

  • Short fuse (easy to anger)

  • Feeling apathetic

So how do we get Cortisol back in a balanced state?

Here's some simple tools. And down below, we'll look at a realistic scenario (me 5 years ago), and how you can break the cycle like I did.

1. Strengthen the Vagus Nerve

The Vagus Nerve is what puts the breaks on Cortisol. Constant stress weakens the vagus nerve, so to release the gas pedal and get Cortisol back into it's natural ebb and flow, we need to strengthen the Vagus Nerve.

Choose any of these Vagus Nerve workouts to do each day.

  • Gargling

  • Humming

  • Facial ice baths

  • Box breathing

2. Sync Your Circadian Rhythm

Getting your 24 hour Cortisol cycle in sync will not only give you better sleep, it will also regulate your stress response during the day, making it easier to come down after a stressful episode.

Use these tools to strengthen your 24 hour Cortisol cycle

  • Go outside and view the sky without eye protection, first thing in the morning

  • Avoid caffeine after 3pm

  • Avoid bluelight 2 hours before bed time (blueblocker glasses are great for this)

  • Watch the sunset whenever you can

3. Balance Blood Sugar

When blood sugar dips low, Cortisol is released to bring blood sugar back up. So if we want to keep Cortisol down, a great way to do that is by avoid blood sugar dips. The best way to avoid blood sugar dips, is to avoid blood sugar spikes, which cause the body to overcompensate with a dump of insulin.

Follow these tips to keep blood sugar from going on a roller coaster ride

  • Eat breakfast (with protein)

  • Don't drink coffee on an empty stomach

  • Combine fat, complex carbs and protein at every meal

  • Eat every 3-4 hours

  • Avoid refined carbohydrates (especially without the company of fat and protein)

Realistic Scenario

You woke up late, you're exhausted, stressed and don't have time for breakfast. On your way to work you hit the drive through to grab a coffee to wake you up. It gives you a pick-me-up and allows you to catch up on work, and because it suppressed your appetite, you're able to work through lunch. Around 3:00 you start feeling your eyelids close and reach for a bagel or chocolate bar to perk you up. You get another boost of energy that takes you to the end of the day. You're heading home, still riding the buzz from your snack but feeling huuuungry. You hit the drive through because you can't wait another second for food. You order 2 meals and scarf them down. You get home feeling overly full and pass out watching tv. You wake up on the couch at 9 and have your second wind. You catch up on things around the house, watch some more tv and finally feel ready to go to bed around midnight. You wake up late the next day, groggy and tired, just to do it all again.

Here are some small changes that will break the cycle.

  1. You woke up feeling stressed, so you gargle while you're brushing your teeth to strengthen your Vagus Nerve and put the breaks on Cortisol.

  2. Instead of coffee in the morning, you grab some egg bites, apple slices and herbal tea.

  3. You hum along to your favourite songs to strengthen your Vagus Nerve and release endorphins.

  4. Without the caffeine to suppress your appetite you'll be hungry in a couple hours. Order a salad with chicken and sweet potato from the local eatery. Walk to get it and gaze up at the sky to absorb the daylight.

  5. Because you filled up on fiber and protein, your metabolism is burning nicely. When dinner time rolls around, you're feeling hungry, but it's not an emergency and you've got the energy to make dinner.

  6. You don't over eat, because you're body isn't SCREAMING for food, which means you don't slip into a food coma.

  7. Your body isn't confused about what time it is because you went out and got some daylight in the middle of your day, which means you have energy for for a little at home Pilates class.

  8. You put on your blueblocker glasses to watch your favourite show. 9 pm rolls around and you feel tired because the bluelight didn't disrupt your melatonin production.

  9. You get a solid 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep because you're Cortisol is regulated and your body is tired from some exercise. You wake up on time, refreshed and proud of yourself

I used to be the person in the first scenario and my hormones were an absolute mess. If this is you, know that you can recover. And you don't need to make any drastic changes. Consistency is key and a few targeted supplements can go a long way.

If you'd like to see where your Cortisol is at and get a personalized strategy for getting it back in balance, along with your other hormones, you can sign up for my 1:1 program or purchase the DUTCH hormone package.

Hope that help!

X Nicola

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