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Cortisol and the You Recharge


Stress has been identified as a significant factor that either increases the severity of existing illness or can cause illness. Even if it doesn't cause illness, it can lead to feeling less inspired on a daily level, a state of mind that is called "burnout". Burnout is a significant phenomenon in our modern society. People overwork or have adverse circumstances at work, and then lose energy although they continue to function. As such, burnout does not constitute a psychiatric disorder, but it does contribute to reduced enjoyment and quality of life, of wellness.


What is Burnout?

The Mayo Clinic is one of the leaders in understanding burnout as a pattern of symptoms, and the need for a systems approach. However, what Tori spoke to was the role of stress and consequent inflammation and disease, and the involvement of the cortisol response. We talked as to how people may be able to modify the cortisol response, to prevent stress from impacting wellness.

Cortisol molecule

Cortisol molecule


What is Cortisol?

Increased cortisol is a reaction to stress. The increased production of cortisol is caused by a hormone called CRH, Cortico-tropin releasing hormone. CRH gets produced and sends a message to the front portion of a gland called the pituitary gland, that sits at the base of the brain, about the size of a pea, and directs many functions. The pituitary directs stress response, growth, reproduction, the thyroid, metabolism, water and salt concentration in the kidneys, temperature regulation, and pain relief. A busy little powerhouse of activity!

When CRH reaches the front pituitary, or anterior pituitary, it signals corticotropin to release into the system. Corticotropin increases cortisol production. At the same time, the kidneys are signalled to retain more water, the blood vessels constrict raising blood pressure, and the HPA Axis is turned to "on". The HPA axis is the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis, and when it is turned to on, it changes how we are adapting to stress. The change affects hormones, digestion, the immune system, mood and emotion, sex drive, and energy storage and expenditure.


How do I reset the HPA axis? 

Great question!

When the HPA axis is not working in your favour, all sorts of bothersome things occur. You retain water. Digestion gets thrown off. Sex drive disappears. Energy levels become unpredictable. Emotions can flare too easily. Hair can thin, as the body takes the hormone precursors and makes cortisol, instead of progesterone, leading to hair loss in women. In men, less testosterone means less ability to build muscle mass. Increased cortisol also increases fat gain around the waist. 

So how do we reset it?

Waiting area


There are some key things to do to reduce stress and reset your HPA axis:

  • (1) recognize it: check in with loved ones, yourself, or a clinical scale

  • (2) take a deep breath and acknowledge and feel the effect on your body

  • (3) carve out a time in your day where you relax: a yin yoga class or meditation at home

  • (4) engage the parasympathetic nervous system: deep breathing that includes belly breathing, mindfulness, yoga nidra, yin yoga, or other approaches

  • (5) exercise to burn off stress if the flight or fight response is happening

  • (6) consult a naturopath, or functional medicine doctor, on key supplements to down regulate cortisol

  • (7) see a therapist for support if you are facing a significant shift in your way of life

  • (8) get a business or career or wellness coach

  • (9) create an excellent sleep pattern for deep sleep and renewal

  • (10) walk in natural setting

  • (11) add breaks to your day

  • (12) use heart math to cultivate a kind and gentle space

  • (13) communication with kindness and coach others in creating a calm work environment

  • (14) get involved in creating more calm spaces at work or in your community

  • (15) eat healthily, reduce or cut out caffeine: studies have shown that, for women, eating yogurt daily, or simply drinking more water daily, calms emotional ups and downs

  • (16) do things that you enjoy


Wishing you the best  ~


Dr. M.