Cortisol is a very important hormone. When we experience stress, our bodies release cortisol into the bloodstream. A little bit of this hormone is vital in helping us get through a stressful, possibly life-threatening situation. Unfortunately, too much of this hormone can have unwanted causes.
The pituitary gland in the brain regulates cortisol production, which tells the adrenal glands whether or not to secrete the hormone. If this happens occasionally, it’s probably not a problem. In fact, we need this response in life-threatening situations. Unfortunately, a buildup of this hormone in the brain can cause it to stop working properly.
Cortisol Buildup Can Rewire Your Brain
An article on the Harvard Health Blog stated, “Scientists have learned that animals that experience prolonged stress have less activity in the parts of their brain that handle higher-order tasks.” The article continues to explain that the lack of blood flow to these areas shift to an increase in blood flow to the more primitive parts of the brain. These primitive areas, which include the amygdala, are focused on survival.
This shift in activity and blood flow would be the equivalent of you exercising only certain parts of your body. For example, could you imagine doing curls in the gym with only your right arm? Or how would it look if you only performed lunges with your left leg? You would eventually develop muscular asymmetry, which could lead to changes in gait and overall function.
In regards to cortisol, too much in the brain would prevent us from being able to handle more complex situations. We would be more reactive versus proactive. We would be stuck in a fight or flight scenario which destroys our health. This is why it is important to do two things as soon as possible.
First, find ways to reduce your stress. This could be exercise, meditation, counseling, or even enjoying a hobby. Don’t avoid treating stress. You want to be able to handle stress in a healthy manner, not run from it.
Secondly, increase your cardiovascular exercises. Long term cardiovascular training at a medium effort has been shown to increase activity in the prefrontal cortex. In addition to cardio, spending 10-20 minutes a day in prayer or meditation can have similar results.
Dr Spencer Charlet
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