Until I became a patient in Dr. Carr's practice in NC (before he moved to CA), I had a number of doctors, including a boatload of assorted specialists relating to the injuries from my long ago car accident, and not one of them ever spent more than about 60 seconds talking to me about stress. I didn't even know what cortisol (the stress hormone) was until I started seeing Dr. Carr, and I sure didn't know what an important role it plays in our overall health.
My cortisol levels are now checked on a regular basis. My levels are likely always to be somewhat elevated because: a) I deal with chronic pain, which stresses the body, and b) I have dealt with lifelong anxiety and depression issues, which also put a strain on both body and mind. My depression and anxiety are far better now that I am hormonally optimized, but it is and likely always will be a work in progress.
Dr. Carr has told me more than once that optimally, the cortisol level should be about 10 or under. Mine at last check was 10.9, which I consider to be a major accomplishment! Two years ago, my cortisol level was 19.7, and in the time since, I have made major, deliberate changes in effort to get the levels down.
I detailed a serious bullying issue (yeah, that actually happens to women our age) in a previous blog post. At the time that all of that occurred, my cortisol level was hugely elevated, and since getting those awful women out of my life, my cortisiol level has dropped nearly in half. Those women really were making me sick! An interesting footnote to the story......since that blog post was written, one of the women involved in the bullying tried to reconnect with me though a mutual friend. I emailed the woman directly and told her in no uncertain terms that my life was richer and more meaningful than a year and a half ago, and that my self respect left no room in my life for people who went out of their way to hurt, humiliate and ostracize me the way she and her friends did. It's a closed chapter in my life and I am very much at peace with the way I handled it.
I've taken steps to step out of the routine once in a while and really "play". I budget to do it so it doesn't cause financial stress, but I consider it an important part of my overall health. My last "mini-vacation" was doubly the fun because it came up unexpectedly. I got a last minute ticket to see Barry Manilow (go ahead and laugh, he was hot when I was a teenager!) in Raleigh, and I spent the night at a hotel right across the street from the concert venue. I drove up early in the day so I could rest my back in the afternoon, and being so close to the venue I didn't have to leave to go over to the concert until close to curtain time. The show as WONDERFUL!!!! Barry's still got it :), and I had a blast. The next morning, I happened upon a really great arts and crafts festival in a beautiful park on a beautiful day. I had to use my cane to get around because my back was pretty painful, but it was more than worth it. Two of the best days I've had in a long time, and a great way to celebrate spring. I make a concerted effort to get together with friends that I am comfortable with, people I can laugh and be silly with. I also make time to pursue my hobbies of knitting (it's really a great stress reliever, and I have used it for years to manage pain levels), reading (and you can immensely cut down on the cost of that hobby by availing yourself of library resources), and I have recently become interested in Zentangle. I can't overemphasize the importance of having a passion. I also work out regularly, cardio, interval training, light weights. It's good for the mind and body.
I also take supplements to manage my cortisol levels. In the morning, I take Adrenevive and at night I take Cortisol Manager, both have played a crucial role in managing my stress. I also meditate, although I must admit I am not as consistent with it as I would like to be (but trying not to stress over that!)
I ran across this article in Reuter's this morning, that a study has been done on the effect of cortisol level on brain cells. The article talks about how the information learned in the study can help develop new drugs, specifically antidepressants, in the future. Wouldn't it make more sense to spend some of those resources on bioidentical hormone optimization, educating patients on ways to reduce stress, and studying the importance of supplements in managing cortisiol levels?
Take some time to really think through ways to manage the stress in your life. If you have a chronic pain issue in your life that is not being addressed, see your doctor about it. I am blessed to have a pain management physician who understands the mind/body connection and is my biggest cheerleader in my efforts to manage my cortisol levels. If there are people in your life who are making you crazy, get rid of them or find ways to minimize your contact with them. If you are over scheduled, prioritize and delegate. I learned a long time ago to stop being general manager of the universe. Be a supportive friend and cultivate healthy relationships. Don't take on and try to solve all your friend's problems, I've already tried that and it doesn't work. Most importantly, be your own best friend. Stop beating yourself up (and you know you are doing it !). Work on being at peace.