Daily Cortisol Balancing Habits and Rituals (For Stress Awareness Month!)
This blog in a nutshell:
If you struggle to wake up, are dragging through the day with low energy and/or feel tired and wired at night, these are signs of cortisol (“stress hormone”) imbalance, and an indication that your adrenal glands need some extra TLC. Developing cortisol balancing habits is an important first step to relieve symptoms and optimize your hormone health!
Are you experiencing symptoms of a cortisol (‘stress’ hormone) imbalance?
Considering the fast-paced, high pressure society we live in, many people have normalized symptoms like anxiety, fatigue, brain fog, frequent sickness, headaches, cravings and/or disturbed sleep–which are all classic signs of a cortisol imbalance and overworked adrenal glands!
The adrenal (“stress”) glands are responsible for producing over 50 hormones including cortisol, as well as regulating our sleep/wake cycle, blood glucose / insulin levels and maintaining our natural immunities against illness!
Normal levels of cortisol are essential for daily functioning, but problematic symptoms start to arise when the adrenal glands must work overtime to meet increasing demands for energy, especially during periods of heightened or prolonged stress. These symptoms can become even more problematic at mid-life, when the adrenals become the main source of hormone reserves in the body!
So how do we balance cortisol levels and keep symptoms at bay?
...By prioritizing stress management and strengthening our adrenals!
If you've experienced significant or prolonged stressors in your life and suspect cortisol imbalance(s) could be at play, we encourage implementing the following 3 cortisol balancing habits.
#1: Level up your AM Rituals!
In healthy individuals, cortisol levels should naturally be highest in the morning and noon (to help us “get up and go”), then drop gradually during the second half of the day to prepare us for deep, restorative sleep.
Unfortunately, common morning habits such as excess caffeine (especially on an empty stomach), social media scrolling, high intensity workouts and skipping meals put additional strain our adrenal glands, increasing cortisol output and intensifying "high" cortisol symptoms like increased appetite, cravings, anxiety / nervousness, heart palpitations, brain fog and an inability to focus or relax.
These cortisol spikes in the first half of the day negatively impact our body's ability to remain in balance throughout the rest of the day, and can result in constant fatigue and feeling “tired and wired” or unable to sleep at night.
Keep in mind: most people do not have "optimal" cortisol levels, meaning they may start the day with LOW levels and have HIGH levels at night, OR they may have LOW cortisol levels throughout the entire day. In any case, the lifestyle approach to balancing cortisol levels is similar...
We must start our day with habits and rituals that calm the nervous system, declutter the mind and nourish our adrenal glands. With consistency, these morning practices help us build resilience to the slings and arrows of daily stress and prevent problematic symptoms from developing down the line!
Try a 30min digital detox in the AM: replace screen-time with “positive-reinforcement” behaviors like making the bed, stretching, meditating, 5 min journaling (gratitude, brain dump), reading, mindful movement or spending focused time and attention with family. (Our co-founder, Rye Burch, shares her 5-10min journaling practices HERE, which is a great way to start your morning, sans phone!)
Reduce caffeine: start your day with non-caffeinated beverages like water or herbal tea and wait 1-2 hours before consuming caffeine (to avoid spiking cortisol levels too high). Pair caffeine with a balanced meal to avoid gut and blood sugar disruption. (Learn why we suggest herbal tea instead of caffeine on an empty stomach, HERE).
Exposure to light: the benefits of morning sunlight can't be understated for your hormonal health, energy and mental clarity! BONUS if you can get morning light exposure while on a 5-10 minute walk to further calm your nervous system...and leave your phone at home if possible. (Learn about the benefits of vitamin D HERE, read caption for detailed suggestions).
#2: Balance your Plate / Balance Blood Sugar
If you're dealing with stress and symptoms of hormone imbalance, looking at WHAT and HOW you're eating is vitally important!
Regularly skipping or waiting too long between meals and eating in a rushed or distracted state can throw blood sugar levels out of whack, driving up cortisol, and disrupting your appetite hormones, which can contribute to insulin resistance!
At the same time, eating too many sugary/processed foods and refined carbs will spike blood sugar (and cortisol levels), contribute to insulin resistance and potentially high androgen hormone levels, including symptoms like mood swings, anxiety, cravings, acne, hair loss and fatigue!
Instead, fill your plate with the "SEXY 6" hormone supportive foods, as our health coach, Jess Suchan calls them. This includes: clean proteins, healthy fats, whole food fiber, the rainbow of veggies, nutrient dense carbs and flavorful boosts/seasonings that will keep you satisfied, support hormone production and metabolism, while also keeping blood sugar levels balanced and reducing cravings!
Follow these guidelines:
- Prioritize clean proteins like grass-fed beef, organic poultry, pasture raised eggs, wild-caught fish, spirulina, and high quality protein powder. As much as possible, AVOID hormone-injected meat and dairy.
- Eat real, whole foods like fruits and vegetables (frozen is great too), nutrient-rich carbs like quinoa, sweet potatoes, rolled oats, and Ezekiel bread.
- Load up on anti-inflammatory fats (olive/coconut oils, nut butter, avocados, nuts, and seeds, etc.).
- Instead of skipping meals during busy times, keep healthy snacks on hand, such as mixed nuts, flax crackers and hummus, avocado, eggs, and veggies with a dip.
EXAMPLE ACTION STEP:
Eat 1 mindful meal per day (away from distractions): practice being present by going somewhere calming and eating slowly. This reduces cortisol levels and improves digestion and satiety by allowing your hunger hormones time to effectively communicate. (Learn how to develop this practice HERE, with our Health Coach, Jess).
Have a bite of protein and fat before your carbs: this simple hack can slow down the rate at which carbs are absorbed into the bloodstream, preventing blood sugar spikes and crashes that lead to energy dips and brain fog. It also improves satiety!
+ Learn how to build a "blood sugar balancing" meal with Jess, HERE
#3: Incorporate Adrenal-Supportive Plants & Mushrooms!
When focusing on cortisol balance and strengthening your adrenal glands, stress management should always come first, but enhancements such as medicinal mushrooms and adaptogenic herbs (which have been used for centuries in Eastern medicine) can help modulate the body's stress response to combat the effects of chronic physical, emotional and/or mental stress!
Adaptogens are defined as non-toxic herbs, roots and/or mushrooms known to help the body ‘adapt’ to stressors and return to a stable state. They are available in many forms (capsule, powder, liquid) and often contain a blend of more than one adaptogenic herb. Some of the best recognized adaptogens include Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Rhodiola, and Reishi Mushroom. Regularly and intentionally supplementing with adaptogens can improve your moods, sleep, energy and vitality!
Additionally, medicinal (non psychoactive) mushrooms contain polyphenols, polysaccharides, beta-glucans, and antioxidants, which go a long way to support your immune system. With consistent use, mushrooms have been shown to reduce anxiety and stress, improve focus, boost energy and cognitive function, and support digestion and skin health. Certain mushrooms like Reishi (referred to as “the queen of mushrooms”) are also considered adaptogens.
At YHB, we love using adaptogenic blends that can easily be mixed into our morning beverage so that no matter how busy or chaotic your day gets, you’ve already taken one action step to support your nervous system and prioritize a sense of CALM! PLUS, using an adaptogenic blend in place of coffee (or mixed into ½ a cup of coffee), is a great way to reduce your caffeine intake to further support cortisol balance. We also love tinctures, which go under the tongue or in water for fast absorption.
Keep in mind: quality is key when it comes to any supplements or herbs, and it’s best to opt for a brand that is transparent about their ingredient sourcing.
NOTE: consult your healthcare practitioner before use if you are pregnant, nursing, have a liver disorder or disease or any other medical condition(s) or are taking medication!
ADAPTOGENIC TINCTURES WE LOVE:
*NOTE: The Wishgarden herb tinctures below are great paired together, as are the Mary Ruth Tinctures. We don't suggest buying all 4 tinctures, since they have some cross-over ingredients.
- Wishgarden Herb's "Deep Stress Adrenal Rescue"
- Wishgarden Herb's "Kick Ass Daily Immune"
- Mary Ruth’s Organic Ginseng Vitality - best taken in the first half of the day (use code "YOURHORMONEBALANCE15" for 15% off)
- Mary Ruth’s “Adrenal & Focus Herbal Blend” - (use code "YOURHORMONEBALANCE15 for 15% off)
We also love JOYA adaptogenic blends, which come in 4 daily functional superblends: "CALM," "DEFEND," "FOCUS" and "RESTORE" including adaptogenic herbs and superfood ingredients (use code "BALANCE for 10% off).
FUNCTIONAL MUSHROOMS WE LOVE:
Four Sigmatic Mushrooms has a comprehensive line of functional mushrooms including the following (non caffeine) elixirs we recommend to our clients: Cordyceps Elixir (energy, great pre-workout), Lion’s Mane Elixir (brain function), Chaga Elixir (immune system, ideal for travel), Reishi Elixir (calming, relaxing). Use code "YHBalance"for 10% off.
EXAMPLE ACTION STEP:
Incorporate adaptogens into your AM rituals: mix adaptogenic mushrooms into your latte for "chill," place a ginseng tincture under your tongue for energy or try a rhodiola capsule for mental clarity. Find what works for your body!
Are you ready to get handle on your stress and balance your cortisol levels?
As you can see, there are MANY ways to reduce our stress and take steps to support the adrenal glands, but it’s important to focus on making small but attainable changes to your lifestyle / nutritional habits that won't create additional stress! It can take several months or years to work ourselves into a state of adrenal exhaustion, so it may take time to heal and develop more nourishing daily practices...
Before you do anything else, we suggest checking in with yourself (asking yourself questions), and examining how your current behaviors or beliefs may be impacting your health and contributing to stress:
→ Do I believe I need to do intense workouts every day to stay fit?
→ Do I feel obligated to say yes to everything because I don’t want to let people down?
→ Do I avoid taking time off because I believe it is a waste of time or not productive?
→ Am I regularly making time for fun and self-care?
Then from a practical perspective, take inventory of your daily diet:
→ Am I incorporating a variety of colorful fruits and veggies into my diet (eating the rainbow?)”
→ Am I drinking too much coffee?
→ Am I turning to refined sugar and carbs for fullness/stress relief/energy?
→ Am I consuming too much news and social media?
**Awareness is key!
(You can also download our hormone rebalancing journal HERE to track your symptoms and develop the practice of asking yourself questions to make progress with your hormone health goals!)
From here you can identify a few steps you’d like to take to begin healing your adrenals. Is that taking a day off working out or swapping high intensity workout for yoga or a walk? Is that adding a simple leafy green salad to your dinner each night? Is that adding an adaptogenic supplement to your morning routine? Is that cancelling plans to recharge and make more time for YOU?
Whatever you choose, be proud of yourself for making stress management a priority!
TEST Don't Guess!
One of the main reasons we’re proponents of saliva hormone testing is that it captures bioavailable (“active”) hormone levels found in the target tissue of the body where hormones do their work! Meanwhile, standard blood tests measure TOTAL hormones, including those still bound to proteins in the bloodstream, which are inactive – and tell us very little about the symptoms that are actively being experienced (which is why so many women are confused when blood hormone test results come back “normal” even though they know their symptoms are hormonal!).
Saliva testing is non-invasive (no needles) and considered by many functional medicine doctors to be the ‘gold standard’ for measuring adrenal function via a 4pt. diurnal curve (you’ll collect saliva samples 4 x over the course of 1 day to see where cortisol levels rise and fall)—which helps identify patterns related to mood, sleep, energy, and appetite!
Check out our “Build Your Own testing + Rebalancing Package” to get to the root of hidden hormone imbalances and learn how to relieve your symptoms naturally (all packages include a saliva test measuring estrogen, progesterone, DHEAs, testosterone and 4x cortisol levels)! NOTE: we highly suggest adding on a custom rebalancing guide to get a step by step breakdown of your results along with specific lifestyle, nutrition + supplement/herb suggestions to rebalance. We also offer 1:1 phone consultations, offering extra support moving to action with your hormone health goals.
(Our saliva test kits are mailed to you directly for convenient collection and include a pre-labeled shipping envelope to mail your samples directly to our lab for analysis. Once results are in, we’ll notify you via email and provide your rebalancing education, custom guide and/or a link to schedule a consultation - depending on what you purchased).
Got questions? EMAIL US Info@yourhormonebalance.com
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