Signs Your Cortisol Levels Are High

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands that play a vital role in the body's stress response. The 2016 publication of Handbook of Hormones by Yoshinao Katsu and Taisen Iguchi referred to cortisol as the stress hormone because it is released in response to physical or emotional stress.

In fact, cortisol plays several important roles in the body. It helps regulate blood sugar levels by promoting glucose production in the liver, which gives the body a constant supply of energy during periods of stress, per the Cleveland Clinic. It also plays a role in the body's immune response and can protect the immune system by restricting inflammation. The hormone also regulates the body's metabolism by controlling the body's use of fats and proteins to provide the body with energy.

Cortisol levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day, with higher levels in the morning and lower in the evening. However, chronic stress can lead to consistently high levels of cortisol, which can negatively affect both overall health. The good news is that there are several signs of high cortisol levels.

Signs your cortisol levels are high

One of the most common signs of high cortisol is weight gain. In fact, high cortisol levels have been linked to increased appetite and a preference for high-calorie food, which can lead to weight gain, especially around the midsection, according to a 2018 study published in the journal Current Obesity Reports. Another sign is difficulty sleeping. Although cortisol levels naturally vary throughout the day, when cortisol levels are consistently high, it can disrupt the body's natural sleep-wake cycle, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Mood changes, such as euphoria, irritability, and depression, can also be indicators of high cortisol levels, per a 2021 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine. Cortisol can interfere with the production and function of neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to behavior changes.

In addition, cortisol can increase blood pressure, a condition known as hypertension. Think of it this way, blood pressure is the force exerted by the blood against the walls of the arteries as it circulates through the body, explains the Mayo Clinic. When this pressure is too high, it can cause more serious health issues.

How to reduce cortisol levels

Since chronic stress is a major contributor to high cortisol levels, finding ways to relax and reduce stress can be very helpful to lower cortisol levels. Deep breathing exercises and yoga are great ways to calm the mind and reduce anxiety and tension in the body, says Healthline. In addition, regular meditation may also help lower cortisol levels in the body, says a 2020 study published in the Health Psychology Review.

According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, low-intensity exercise has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including reducing cortisol levels. On the other hand, high-intensity exercises have been associated with higher cortisol levels. Therefore, it's best to engage in low to moderate-intensity exercise for between 150 and 200 minutes weekly.

Plus, getting enough sleep is crucial for reducing cortisol levels. After all, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to higher cortisol levels in the body and other health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.