If you are busy a lot of the time, but you can’t relax, you could be ‘tired but wired’. If you’re tired and you get sick a lot, you probably think it’s just because you’re working too hard and not getting enough sleep.
You’re partly right.
It’s also because of your hormones. We tend to think hormones are mostly in charge of our periods and fertility, which they are. But they’re responsible for a few other things too.
Take cortisol for example. It’s your number 1 stress hormone and essential to your survival. It’s produced by your adrenal glands which are like little caps sitting on top of your kidneys.
When your cortisol is working well you wake up feeling ready for your day. You feel calm and have all the focus and energy you need to get things done. You sail through the month and you’re rarely ill.
If you can’t tick all those boxes right now, read on to find out why not and what you can start to do about it.
How cortisol works
Here’s what you need to know about cortisol.
Cortisol controls your hunger, digestion, blood pressure and sleep patterns. It also helps you think and act quickly when you need to respond to danger. Like a fire alarm switch it’s designed to be pressed only in an emergency.
Nowadays everybody’s cortisol switch is always on and it’s not good news, for women especially.
When you are startled or even running late, your instincts feel fear. In response to that fear, the part of your brain that controls your hormone system sends out messages telling your adrenal glands to produce more cortisol.
The extra cortisol increases your blood pressure so it can bring fresh oxygen to the brain. (That’s what helps you think and respond quickly in an emergency.) It also floods your cells with glucose (sugar) so you have a surge of energy to speed you up.
Stress used to be a rare occurrence, but these days it’s hard to get away from it.
Too much cortisol
Here’s how it starts to go wrong.
Everyone has a hormonal feed-back system. It tells your brain when everything is under control so it can relax and stop sending out the cortisol stimulating ‘fight or flight’ messages.
When you’re overloaded by stress your feed-back system stops working properly and your cells stay flooded with excess cortisol.
This is how it makes you feel:
- Busy! (hello high blood pressure!)
- Stressed (you over-react to small things)
- Anxious or ‘hyper-vigilant’
- Overweight around your middle
It’s not surprising you find it hard to get a good night’s sleep.
Tired but wired?
The long-term effects of high cortisol are more serious: diabetes, heart disease or even cancer.
That probably sounds like a worst-case scenario and a long way off, but the short-term impact isn’t great, especially for women.
Running on empty
Everyone knows the story of the boy who cried ‘wolf’. When your brain keeps telling your adrenals to produce cortisol they stop listening. They’re simply worn out. No wonder you feel tired.
Cortisol is your emergency hormone that keeps you alive when you are under threat, so your body has a back up plan. In simple terms, it very cleverly ‘steals’ other hormones and converts them into cortisol instead. The ‘stolen’ hormones affect your reproductive system, and that shows up in your periods.
This is how you feel:
- Ill all the time
- Low sex drive
Your reproductive system takes a big hit when your cortisol is low however old you are. Your doctor might have mentioned peri-menopause or you could be resigning yourself to IVF to help you become pregnant (if that’s what you’re trying to do).
None of this is really great news for women, but it’s so common it’s almost the new normal.
How do you know When your cortisol is in balance?
When your cortisol is in balance, it rises in the morning to help you get active at the start of the day. It should remain fairly stable until it reduces slowly in the evening in preparation for sleep.
This 24 hour daily pattern is called a Circadian Rhythm.
Work with your circadian rhythm instead of against it, and your body will thank you for it.
This is how you feel when your cortisol is in balance:
- Clear and decisive
- Happy and productive
- Relaxed and able to ‘go with the flow’
- Healthy and able to resist illness
- You have healthy periods
Why evenings are important
Night-time is when your hormones get a chance to repair, balance and get back in sync with each other. They do this naturally when you are asleep.
If your sleep is delayed or interrupted then you end up low on your positive hormones which can lead to feeling tired, plus you might even feel depressed.
As humans we are designed to wind down as the sun goes down. Artificial light allows you to stay up late, catch up on email and do on-line shopping. You cook and eat later too.
The extra stimulation from all of these things causes an up-swing in your cortisol. With high evening cortisol it’s not surprising if you have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep or simply getting a good night’s sleep.
If you are tired in the morning and high energy in the evening, it’s likely that your cortisol is out of balance.
Natural ways to balance cortisol and stop feeling tired
Luckily there are many ways to balance cortisol naturally.
The simplest (and the hardest) things are changes to your daily habits:
- Minimise screen time in the evening
- Install f.lux to remove over-stimulating blue light
- Create an evening routine that includes relaxation time before bed
- Switch to calming exercise – yoga or pilates
- Learn mindfulness or meditation
- Turn off or take breaks from notifications
- Wake up with an alarm clock, not your phone
- Create a simple morning routine so you don’t have to rush
- Set aside one day a week to relax and take it easy
Nutrition and herbs are natural ways to stop feeling tired:
- Reduce alcohol and caffeine as they stimulate cortisol
- Stabilise your blood sugar with good protein and lots of vegetables
- Calm your nervous system with B vitamins and herbs
- Nourish your hormones with with omega oils
- Balance your adrenals with adaptogen herbs such as rhodiola, ginseng and ashwaganda
- Relax before sleep with ‘nervine’ herbs such as lavender, chamomile and valerian.
A woman in her early 30s came to see me last year for low immunity, tiredness and anxiety.
She described herself as having ‘brain fog’ and found it difficult to remember things. She was a lawyer and worked long hours in a demanding job. High intensity exercise provided stress relief and to gave her energy.
Here are the three steps that helped her feel normal again.
- Nutrition: protein at every meal, spirulina in a daily smoothie and omega oils in her salads. Plus supplements to include rhodiola, ashwaganda, ginseng and maca.
- Relaxing exercise: switch to yoga and pilates for exercise to calm her nervous system.
- Homeopathic remedies and homeobotanicals to strengthen her immunity, balance her hormones and reduce her anxiety.
A ‘new woman’
Within a few months she told me she felt ‘pretty much like a new woman’.
“I think back to when I was first starting to see you and how ‘over things’ I totally was. It has been an incredible journey and I’m so happy you’ve been there every step of the way.”
Later in the year she was delighted to find herself pregnant. She’s also made a powerful decision to change her career to a new and positive direction.
Are you ready to feel ‘pretty much like a new woman’?
IS HOMEOPATHY FOR YOU?
I can help you:
Stop catching everything that's going
Have trouble-free periods
Get ready for pregnancy
Sail through your menopause
Get a good night's sleep
Have nice clear skin
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