I want to share my personal experience with cortisol “the stress hormone” with you and how it impacted my life. Just like most of you, my life is BUSY – I barely have time to take a bathroom break let alone keep up with healthy cooking, cleaning, and running errands. In fact when I do manage to find some “downtime” to spend time with friends, get my exercise, do some self-care, and attend to the hobbies that I love – even those need to be scheduled in.
Can you relate? I bet most of you can! OR perhaps some of you haven’t even had a spare second to think about it – that was ME last year! So busy with ‘crushing’ the never-ending TO-DO list, I wasn’t even aware that my body was ‘running on empty’. I was inching my way to exhaustion – I wasn’t getting enough sleep and my cortisol levels were climbing on the daily.
What does cortisol have to do with stress? The adrenals are two small glands that sit on top of the kidneys and produce several hormones, among them, cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released into the bloodstream by the adrenal glands in short bursts, in response to stress (or low blood glucose). It’s responsible for controlling the body’s blood sugar levels, regulating metabolism, acting as an anti-inflammatory, influencing memory formation, controlling salt and water balance, managing blood pressure and helping the development of a fetus in pregnant women. With cortisol managing all these important functions, you’re probably wondering why it’s a bad thing when extra cortisol is released – this has to do with homeostasis, meaning, the body needs the right balance to carry out its processes and to function optimally.
Normally, cortisol (along with epinephrine “aka” adrenaline) would be released from the adrenals and would exhibit the “fight-or-flight” response to a brief stressful situation. This is when the body increases its production of energy and limits the body processes that are not essential for immediate survival. This is only temporary and the resulting biochemical and hormonal imbalances would resume to their normal state once the stressor is resolved, but with our constant fast-paced a high-stress lives, our bodies are pumping out cortisol almost non-stop, and this can lead to some major health concerns.
What happens when too much cortisol is released into the bloodstream? Chronic stress and consistently elevated cortisol levels can negatively affect the body many ways:
- Interfere with learning and memory
- Lower immune function
- Lower bone density
- Increase weight gain & obesity
- Increase blood pressure
- Increase risk of heart and/or CV disease
- Increase cholesterol
- Increase risk of depression
- Increase risk of mental illness
- Fertility problems
- GI problems
- Blood sugar imbalances and diabetes
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Thyroid disorders
So how did I learn to take CONTROL of my CORTISOL? I was on a work trip, at the airport returning home from yet another stressful week of work, when I un-expectantly had a panic attack. For those of you who have experienced one of these, you can relate…. It’s a TERRIBLE feeling – it actually feels like you’re dying (not that I know what that feels like, but as I imagine it). Sudden dizziness, sweating, heart racing, shortness of breath, loss of vision – it’s a bit scary – and the fact that people think you’re over-exaggerating or ‘tripping-out’ doesn’t help at all. I managed to get the situation under control (after missing my flight) and had paramedics ‘clear’ me for the next one, but I was uneasy about what had just happened and ultimately thought there was a problem with my heart. The following day I visited my doctor who did some checks and looked at me and said…. “You’re under extreme exhaustion, stop and rest, or you’re going to do some real damage to yourself”.
I’ve since dedicated time into learning more about stress, cortisol and the effects on the body in my practice and have committed to taking control of it in my personal life by way of stress management activities, supporting supplements and regular cortisol level testing.
Let me tell you how EASY it is to test your OWN cortisol
in the comfort of your own home!
I was super excited when I learned about LetsGetChecked for a couple reasons. First, western medicine has a time and a place, but let’s be honest, it’s not exactly designed to be preventative and sure as heck isn’t proactive when it comes to these things. Even after convincing, these doctors are most likely not going to set you up for a cortisol test, in fact, the advice I got was to “just lower your stress” – which I guess was the better option compared to those harmful prescription pills. Second, is convenience, because as I mentioned from the beginning, we are busy! We have no time to be waiting around in germ-ridden doctor’s offices – and why should we when we can do it ourselves in the privacy and comfort of our own home?! Even better, we choose WHEN and how OFTEN we want to test!
The process for testing is EASY.
My at-home wellness test kit arrived straight to my door and included everything I needed to perform the test:
- Instructions on how to activate your kit & conduct the test
- Band aids, wipes, and sterile swabs
- Blood collection vial
- Biohazard bag
- Prepaid shipping envelope
No one knows your body better than you do, and with the power of knowing WHICH routine lab tests to order, you can save a significant amount of time and hassle by simply ordering your lab tests online. The great thing about LetsGetChecked is that you can order the test kits YOURSELF – no need to order through a practitioner like most labs, although I do recommend speaking with a practitioner if you’re unsure of what you’re looking for, need some guidance, or some assistance with the collection process.
Here are 5 EASY STEPS to taking CONTROL over your own HEALTH!
- Visit the LetsGetChecked website to order your at-home wellness test.
- After you receive your test kit in the mail, activate your test kit on their website.
- Collect your sample by following the instructions included in the kit.
– Wash your hands with warm This will help get the blood moving throughout the hands.
– Clean your selected finger(s) with the sterile wipe provided, then dry with a tissue. I find the upper side of the middle or ring fingers work best for me.
– Prick the side of your selected finger on your non-dominant hand with the lancet. Your arm should be pointed downwards above the vial that is provided.
– Fill the vial to the line to ensure the lab is able to properly test and deliver your results.
- Seal your sample in the biohazard bag provided then place the bag in the test box. Mail your box back to the company using the supplied prepaid return envelope as soon as possible.
- When your results are ready, you’ll receive an email and be able to view them online through your account. You will receive a call from a medical advisor who offers direction and support, or can opt to contact them instead, should you have any questions.
Something to note is that each test has specific instruction on when to take the test. For instance, my Cortisol test requires that I take it fasted, first thing in the morning and sent to the lab immediately after. This information, along with a complete list of testing offered is found on the LetsGetChecked website.
I want to mention that I did have difficulty drawing my blood this morning and required more pokes than the 4 lancets that were provided. Luckily, I had extras in my home office, but for those of you who have problems drawing blood, you may want to have a few extras handy just in case. I have poor circulation and low blood pressure which may have been factors – or maybe I just have thick skin ;P . Here are some tips for collecting enough blood for your sample vial:
- Have someone assist you with the collection.
- Ensure that you’re well hydrated.
- Rinse your hands in warm water prior.
- Soak any callouses to soften the skin before collection.
- Exercise or swing arms to promote blood flow.
- Prick the side of the middle or ring finger on the non-dominant hand for best results.
- Place your finger on a firm surface when puncturing, to ensure proper depth.
- Promote blood flow by massaging from your wrist down to your fingertip and/or ‘milking’ your finger.
I’m eager to get my results back, and when I do, I’ll share them with you as I’m hoping to see my cortisol at a healthy level, although stress felt fairly high at the time I collected the sample. You’ll also get to see how clear and easy the results are to understand as well as learn about my stress management activities and techniques, including which supplements support me through times of high-stress.
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