As humans, stress is not only an inevitable aspect of life, but also a vital aspect of life. Stress can play a positive or a negative role in ones life. A positive stress may promote motivation, inspiration, energy, heightened cognition, growth (mental or cellular), and adequate rest and recovery. Whereas a negative stress response may result in feeling overworked, fatigued, weak, depressed, discouraged and uninspired. Cortisol and adrenaline levels during a negative stress response rise resulting in a disruption in an array of metabolic functions such as, instability of blood sugar levels, lowered immune response, sleep patterns, dysfunctional sex hormones and a potential decline in body composition. And these positive and negative stress responses can derive from the same stressor! For instance, a positive and negative response may originate from finances, a career, family, exercise, nutrition, and so on. The question is: How are you responding to the stressors in your life? Are you controlling them or are you letting them control you? As I've said prior, we all have stress, it's a natural part of life. However, it's our perception and ultimately our decision in how we choose to cope with stress, which in turn will result in how our body deals with it! For instance, one can feel they have a pretty good handle on their stress but their bodies can be telling a completely different story! I'm sure you've heard of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. If stress becomes chronic, cortisol may just be the main culprit as to why you're having trouble reaching your goals. So, how do you know if your cortisol levels are raising an issue? (Pun intended). High cortisol levels are heavily correlated to being more of a Night Owl, feeling tired and wired, perspiring easily, having the inability to get going in the morning, or experiencing high sugar cravings. On the other hand, low cortisol levels are heavily correlated to having low blood pressure, difficulty staying asleep, dizziness/lightheadedness when standing up too quickly or having high salt cravings. Either of these portray an imbalance in cortisol levels and indicate that stress is in need of proper management. And if those symptoms seem a bit ambiguous there's always these Top 4 Symptoms to let you know your cortisol levels are out of wack! Stubborn Belly Fat, a number one indication of cortisol imbalance. The stress hormone is infamous for directing fat to the midsection when levels are imbalanced. As I've said prior, even if we think we have a good handle on our stress but our bodies might say different relates to the issue of stubborn belly fat. The level of stress in which you are used to or seems very normal, may not be as normal as you think. Sit down for a moment and think of what you're daily stressors look like. Do you spend most of the days with something to do every minute on the minute? Are your stress levels high the minute you wake up? Is it constant? Are you able to turn off? Although this may seem like a typical day in the life for you, this is a perfect recipe for chronic stress and imbalanced cortisol levels. Uncontrollable Eating, another vivd example of stress. Are you craving salts and sugars all the time? When we're overly stressed, our cortisol increases our blood sugar levels to provide the energy it mistakenly thinks we need. See cortisol produces this fight or flight response when we experience stress. Whether you're in a safari running from a lion for dear life or you're stuck at your computer freaked out about a deadline that's due, cortisol responds the same. It produces the adrenaline and energy levels. Now, can you predict how that can cause an issue? Let's think about the latter. If you're sitting at a computer stressed out about a deadline for work, do you really need the same amount of energy you would if you were physically running away from a lion? Absolutely not! However, your body does not know the difference, therefore you are left with this residual adrenaline. Since your body did not physically burn off the energy in the fight or flight situation it perceived you were in, you are now craving sugary carbohydrates to refuel. Best practice here is to be prepared for times like these and refuel with protein to help stay satisfied and diminish cravings! Chronic Inflammation. If this this defines your body in its present state, then yes, there is definitely an imbalance with cortisol and stress hormones. Inflammation is a natural process in which the body responds to injury or infection. The immune system recognizes the damaged cells, irritants, and/or pathogens, and so it begins the healing process. However, chronic inflammation indicates a prolonging or nagging problem affecting the entire body due to aforesaid pathogens or an overactive immune response (what I like to refer to as constant sympathetic state). The leading cause of chronic inflammation is actually due to the latter. Some symptoms of chronic inflammation may include pain or stiffness in the joints, redness, puffiness, elevated cholesterol, decreased mood and difficulty with weight loss or weight gain. Regularly promoting a more parasympathetic response in the body on a daily basis can highly benefit an issue of chronic inflammation and create a healthier environment for your metabolism. Poor Sleep & Recovery have a significant affect on overall cortisol levels. Although it may seem unmanageable, you actually have control over your quality of sleep. I know those insomniacs out there are probably rolling their eyes at me right now! But as someone whose suffered tirelessly from insomnia, I'm here to tell you that it is tractable, without medication, and I will discuss a bit later. Poor sleep alone creates stress on not only our minds but our bodies as well. When humans experience what we call Sleep Debt, it will result in decreased cognitive function, increased cortisol production, increased risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity, decreased metabolic rate, increased sugar cravings and increased hormone imbalance. And think about it, when we don't sleep well, since our cognition is low, we're much less likely to make healthy choices and exercise, which in turn will disrupt our sleep, completing the vicious cycle. So, how can we get hold of our sleep and recovery? By creating a more parasympathetic response in our bodies throughout the day. In our nervous system we have two systems: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic system. The sympathetic system is linked to fight or flight and the parasympathetic system is linked to rest and digest also known as our recovery system. When we constantly live in our sympathetic system we are deliberately sabotaging our metabolism. So in order to cope with stress we need to perform more activities that promote a parasympathetic response in our body. This may include yoga, pilates, meditation, massage therapy, deep breathing techniques, light swimming, nature walks, and green tea, just to name a few. The simplest and most effective practice I've utilized is implementing a sleep routine into my schedule every night. An hour before bedtime I will shut off any form of electronic I have and engage in a relaxing sleep routine that works for me. For example, it can be a shower or bath with spa like music, followed by a moisturizing routine and some relaxing stretches and breathing techniques. When practiced regularly, these activities overtime will help boost the parasympathetic response in the body. As a result, this will improve ones sleep, circadian rhythm, mood, blood pressure, heart rate, inflammation, immune system, energy, metabolic functions, body composition, cognition and cellular development. This idea of creating a more parasympathetic response in the body is the common solution in truly helping reboot your metabolism and cortisol levels. Whether your on a weight loss journey, a muscle gain journey or you just can't seem to stabilize your energy levels, try implementing a parasympathetic activity into your daily routine.