STRESS Hormones & How They Impact Your Health

In this blog, I dive deep into the intricate world of stress hormones, particularly cortisol and adrenaline, and their profound impact on your health. I invite you to read on as we uncover the mysteries behind these hormones that play a crucial role in our daily lives.

The following information are just a few of the golden nuggets from my insightful conversation. Listen to the entire episode here.

Cortisol and Adrenaline

If you want to train your body to be more resilient to stress (so it doesn’t have so much control over your life), it is important to understand stress hormones. There are two key players in this hormonal orchestra: cortisol and adrenaline, also known as epinephrine. Let’s explore their differences.

1️⃣ Adrenaline responds rapidly to immediate stress, triggering the famous “fight or flight” response. In contrast, cortisol follows a daily rhythm regulated by the brain and the HPA axis.

2️⃣ While adrenaline acts fast in intense situations, cortisol’s effects are slower, influencing metabolism, sleep, brain function, and mood over the long term.

3️⃣ Adrenaline may increase heart rate and induce anxiety, but cortisol is the silent player affecting your overall health.

Cortisol follows a 24-hour cycle, peaking in the morning to kickstart your day, declining throughout the afternoon and evening, and hitting its lowest point at midnight for restful sleep. But, if stress or lifestyle disrupts this natural rhythm, cortisol can wreak havoc. Persistently high levels can lead to anxiety, while persistently low levels may cause fatigue and mood swings.

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Stress The Silent Killer

Stress is no joke, and cortisol is at the heart of it all. It’s a key player in many health issues such as:

🔥 Immune Function: Cortisol keeps inflammation in check, but too much can lower the body’s ability to fight off infections and illness.

🍪 Blood Sugar: Cortisol increases blood sugar (to help us respond to stress), but this can lead to insulin resistance and blood sugar issues over time.

👖 Belly Fat: Chronically elevated cortisol leads to weight gain—particularly around the middle.

💩 Bloating & Digestion: The gut is our second brain and responds to stress hormones too!

❣️ Emotional Health: Cortisol can contribute to anxiety, restlessness, apathy, and other mood changes.

Factors like undereating, over-exercising, staying up late, and scrolling screens before bed can trigger a cascade of stress hormones, disrupting cortisol and contributing to chronic health issues.

I invite you to listen to the Self-Care Goddess Podcast, “How To Make Health Decisions While Sifting Through Conflicting Internet Information.”

Food as a Stress Hack

Did you know that food can be a powerful stress hack?

➡️If we skip meals, the body perceives this as a stress and releases cortisol.

➡️Other stressors (like the pressures of work and life) also increase cortisol. 

➡️Regardless of the trigger, cortisol prompts the liver to release sugar into the bloodstream for a quick source of energy. It doesn’t matter if we need that energy or not. It’s just one of the effects of cortisol.

➡️Elevated cortisol over time can lead to persistently elevated blood sugar and all the problems that follow (like insulin resistance and weight gain)

Eating in a way that supports balanced blood sugar levels signals safety to the body, reducing the overall stress load. Here’s how I eat to combat stress:

🥣 Eat balanced meals on a regular schedule (skipping meals = stress)

🚫 Limit refined sugars (they cause the blood sugar to spike and crash, triggering cortisol)

🥦 Load up on fiber-rich foods (they slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream)

🥤 Stay hydrated (dehydration can spike blood sugar)

Try out the amazing “Stuffed Avocado With Mango Salsa” recipe.

Exercise: Friend or Foe in Stress Management?

Let us now address the age-old question: should you exercise when stressed? There are mixed messages, so let’s explore the facts.

Intense exercise causes a temporary increase in stress hormones BUT:

✅ The cortisol spike during intense exercise reduces the cortisol response to subsequent stressors in life AND

✅ Exercise releases endorphins, which naturally combat stress AND

✅ Regular exercise over time supports a healthy cortisol rhythm.

Some exercises, like yoga and tai chi, combat stress by putting the nervous system into a more parasympathetic state. 

So, for most people, exercise helps to combat stress. Exercise only becomes a problem when it’s extreme and intense—particularly in people who are already stressed by other things in life. It’s all about looking at the big picture!

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Stress Stoppers: Techniques to Halt Stress

Have you heard of left nostril breathing?

🧘‍♀️Yogic traditions teach that the left relates to moon energy: cooling, calming, and reflective. The right relates to sun energy: fiery, energizing, and awakening. So, the yogic practice of left nostril breathing is thought to have a calming effect on the body.

🧠 A more science-y way of explaining this is that left nostril breathing puts the body into a parasympathetic state (instead of the “fight or flight” mode of the sympathetic state). Studies have even shown that left nostril breathing changes brainwave activity on EEG. Pretty cool!

👉👉 What are Stress stoppers? You know that moment when your heart races, your muscles tense, your mind checks out, and everything in your body just wants to escape wherever you are?

It’s our acute stress response, and we call it “fight or flight.”

When I notice this happening (the first step is awareness!), here are some things I do:

💡 Notice my thoughts or emotions.

☀️ Reframe negative thoughts to the positive.

👣 Put my feet to the earth to feel grounded.

🌬️ Take some deep breaths.

⛰️Change my location.

💃 Move my body (dance, shake, jump, walk).

None of this is easy. It takes practice. But learning to stop stress in its tracks is one of the best things you can do for your current health and your future self.

Alternate Nostril Breathing is balancing, calming, anti-anxiety, and very relaxing. Would you like me to show you how? Watch my short YouTube video here.

Intermittent Fasting vs. Calorie Restriction: A Weighty Debate

🤷‍♀️  Which works better?

A new study compared them in a group of 75 people with type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Here are the highlights:

▪️ Participants were randomly assigned to intermittent fasting (freely eating between noon and 8pm daily) or caloric restriction (25% calorie reduction).

▪️ After 6 months, those doing intermittent fasting had lost twice as much weight on average (-3.56% vs. -1.78%).

▪️ Both groups experienced similar improvements in average blood sugar levels (measured by HbA1C).

Caloric restriction is the norm in diet culture, but it’s hard to follow (this study also showed better adherence to intermittent fasting than calorie restriction), and a LOT more goes into healthy eating and weight loss than just calorie counting.

Read my informative blog from the Self-Care Goddess Podcast episode #59, “9 Fasting Myths Debunked”.

Take Home Message

In the words of Hans Selye: “It’s not stress that kills us. It’s our reaction to it.” Reflect on the power you hold in shaping your responses to life’s challenges. I invite you to embark on this journey of self-discovery and well-being. If you resonated with this blog, remember to subscribe to the Self-Care Goddess Podcast on Apple Podcasts here. Remember to prioritize yourself & nurture your well-being!

Listen to the full podcast episode #97 on the Self-Care Goddess Podcast.

Here are this week’s guest’s self-care habits. For past podcast guests check out my Instagram or Facebook page.

For free guided meditation videos and Breathwork demonstrations subscribe to my YouTube channel.

I look forward to connecting with you and learning more about your story and your health and wellness goals. Schedule a FREE introduction call here.