High Cortisol Levels: My Story (hormone update!)

June 3, 2018

    High Cortisol Levels: My Story (hormone update!). How I have balanced out my cortisol levels over the past few months!high cortisol levels! managing high stress

    A few months ago, I opened up about my high cortisol levels, hormonal imbalance and how I eventually got my thyroid back on track. I have been receiving daily messages asking for an update on all of the above, but to be honest I don’t like sharing updates until I actually have something that I think will be helpful for you guys! I am so grateful that you guys genuinely are curious about my struggles that I share with you here on the blog and Instagram. It isn’t easy when you are going through any type of challenge health wise, but opening up to others and connecting with many of you has truly had such a positive impact on my life and heeling in so many ways.

    For a little background..

    I always knew that my cortisol levels were on the higher side. I had been saying it for a few years before I even got blood work done and did the saliva test earlier this winter. I could just feel it in my bones. My heart would be racing all the time, I was constantly rushing from one thing to the next, I never felt calm or relaxed, my hunger levels were so off (aka hungry 24/7). I was constantly feeling overwhelmed whether that was around food or feeling like I “have to workout”, I was financially trying stay afloat in NYC, etc.! I asked a couple doctors to test my cortisol and each replied saying that I’m too young to have high cortisol and it is common to feel stressed out. I was told, “calm down and you’ll be okay.”

    “Calm down” is likely the worst thing you can say to anyone at anytime, but especially when someone is trying to speak to you about something their concerned about. And when they’re feeling the opposite of calm.

    But I knew there was something there. Something wasn’t right. I trusted my gut and finally was able to test my cortisol both with a blood test as well as the saliva test. Both confirmed that I do indeed have high cortisol levels. There were no dips throughout the day. My levels were high from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to sleep at night. Which to be honest, somewhat surprised me because (knock on wood) I am a pretty good sleeper. I average 8-9 hours a night and wake up 1x to pee (I was told this is from high cortisol but I think I just drink too much ha!).

    So we have confirmation on high stress levels but now what? What even is cortisol?

    Cortisol is the main stress hormone in our brain. I never realized how much cortisol can impact all parts of our life. My thyroid was off, I am still dealing with hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA), which is when menstruation stops for several months due to issues with your hypothalamus, found in the center of our brains. And you are probably asking “what the beep is that?”. Our hypothalamus controls reproduction and pretty much sends the right signals to our uterus to do its thing. But when your body feels like it is being ‘chased by a tiger’, it isn’t going to feel safe. You are in a constant fight mode. And when your body doesn’t feel safe, your reproductive health is at risk and pretty much shuts down. This is what I am still trying to manage right now, and I believe this is the biggest factor in my HA.

    Our cortisol levels should be highest in the morning and lowest at night (something that has been off for me). Some experience dips midday and they’re cortisol may even be too low, causing fatigue and a constant tired feeling. Managing our cortisol is impactful in many ways but it helps to prevent fatigue, brain fog and keeps our thyroid on track. And for us ladies, if we don’t have managed stress then our reproductive systems will turn off.

    I truly believe that the main issue for my personal hormonal imbalance is purely from high stress + cortisol levels. And while I haven’t retested my cortisol levels since November, I do think that my levels have begun to go down slowly but surely. My heart isn’t racing constantly, and I have learned to manage stress better than I ever have in my life. I have always been a go, go, go kind of person since high school and it has really caught up to me.

    I am sharing with you what I have done thus far to help manage my stress and high cortisol. Please note that this is what is working for me and if you have specific questions please consult with your doctor (I recommend a functional medicine practitioner for this).

    high cortisol levels! managing high stress
    at the class by TT – my happy place!
    sunday’s studio – another happy place of mine!

    How I have been managing my cortisol levels:

    • Eating a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet filled with carbohydrates, healthy fats and quality protein: eating a balance of carbs, fats and protein has been key in helping me feel better and have also helped my energy levels (sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados, nuts, etc.). I don’t eat a high fat, low carb diet. I don’t keto or practice intermittent fasting (it doesn’t work for me and really messes with my hormones even more). I like to have a balance of everything in my bowl. No food restrictions or stressing over food. This has been huge for me. It has come with weight gain (I just know by how my pants aren’t fitting – I don’t weigh myself) but for the first time IDGAF!
    • Eating more warming foods instead of raw and uncooked foods: when our bodies feel stressed they want warm and comforting foods. We want to feel nourished. I still eat my apples and arugula and avocados of course but try to sneak in as many cook foods as possible and chose that over raw whenever I can. I caramelize bananas and add nut butter over crackers or toast (my fave) and try to have some cooked foods like banana bread or muffins or warm oatmeal for breakfast whenever I can.
    • Practicing more yoga + doing less high intensity exercise: something I have been putting off for years but finally have gotten into a great yoga routine. It also helps that Jord enjoys yoga (he’s amazing at it!) so we are able to go together 1-2x a week. I also cut back on other workouts and when I go to classes such as The Class by TT and barre3, I am always modifying so I can make it work for my body. For example, The Class by TT has about 5 minutes of burpees but instead of those I simply squat instead. I don’t do the jumping jacks and really try to take it easy. I try to keep these classes at 2x a week. While working out can be great for stress release, it actually releases more cortisol into our bodies (even if it from good stress). You may wonder why I even go if I modify and I love comradery of group classes and this is important for me as I work solo all day!
    • Incorporating meditation into my week: I have tried getting into a daily mediation practice but it does not work for me. I have tried apps and mediating at night, in the morning, anytime but I have difficulty shutting my mind off when I do it at home. I have a local mediation studio here in Hoboken, Asana Soul, that I am trying to go to 2x a week. They have mediation at 8:30pm a couple nights a week and it has been the first time I am really able to shut off. I love the guided, candlelit mediation they offer. I also learned that I don’t mediate well while sitting cross legged so I choose to lay down on the mat. Do what works for you! Going at night versus midday or morning also work better for me as it helps me close out my day.
    • Practicing better work/life balance: For as long as I can remember I have always been the “go go go” type. And to be honest, it came back to bite me in the a$$. It has been amazing to grow a brand, follow my passion and work for myself but it took me some time to find the balance in all of this. I had and still have a hard time shutting down on weekends and at night but I have been making a huge effort to only go on email 1-2x a day and I have an auto reply on saying my response will be delayed. This isn’t to be obnoxious but to help alleviate the anxiety I was having when I don’t get back to someone soon enough. Or when someone would follow up with me after less than 24 hours. Email is deleted from my phone and it feels good. As someone who claims to be in the wellness space, I want to practice what I preach! I also have been taking mornings or afternoons for myself where I step away from work and routine and get a manicure (I love Sunday’s Studio), go to lunch with a friend and do something for me.
    • Weekly or bi-weekly acupuncture: you likely see me tag Dr. Lipman in my Instagram stories each week when I go to see him. He is one of my most favorite humans on the planet. He is so warm and nurturing and it is the first time I am seeing results from acupuncture. Not yet in a hormonal way but it has done wonders for my stress and anxiety. As soon as I lay down on the bed with the needles, I zen out and my whole body just shuts off for 30 minutes. We have been putting needles on my head too to help with headaches and really calm me down.
    • Sleeping enough each night: as I mentioned, I am a pretty good sleeper already so it was surprising when I learned how much sleep plays into cortisol. Jord and I both love sleeping in until about 8/9am on weekends and I personally need at least 8 hours to feel my best. We don’t have a TV in our room, which helps us fall asleep faster and I have a no phones in bed rule (which annoys Jord but oh well) and this also
    • Taking licorice root daily: I’m not a huge adaptogen gal unless I am drinking a REBBL, but I do love having a licorice root supplement daily. Since taking it every single day since November, I have felt a lot calmer throughout the day and more zen. I try to take it when I wake up before breakfast.
    • Clearing out any negative energy or people: Since the start of 2018, I have been making a conscious effort to surround myself with those who uplift and inspire me. And to clear out any toxic or negative people from my life. This hasn’t been easy and it comes with distancing myself from those who I do care for and have known for awhile, but it has been so needed for my own health to focus on those who bring light and positivity into my life. There is a lot a lot of palo santo burning in our apartment every night.

    I can probably keep going on and on here but I think this is a hefty amount of info/solid update for you. As I mentioned, there is still no update with my period. I promise when I have an update, you guys will find out ASAP.

    Love you all and sending you all the love!

    xx, Rach

    I love seeing you what you make my recipes!
    Don’t forget to use the hashtag @rachLmansfield and #rachLeats on instagram!

    17 Responses

    1. Love this post! Just wanted to share that I also have HA and my story sounds similar to yours. I was able to recover, get pregnant and now have a happy 1 year old baby girl. The book “No period now what” by Nicola Rinaldi was life changing for me! Good luck on your journey…sounds like you are on the right track 🙂

      1. I second this. Join Nicole’s Facebook group. I had to stop working out COMPLETELY. Nothing but leisurely walks and light yoga. It’s so hard but if you truly want your period back, this is what it takes. Your body just needs to know it can trust you again. Also, full fat dairy is key to reproductive health. Whole milk and yogurt, cottage cheese, whatever you like eat it every day. If you don’t like the taste, mix it into a smoothie. It took me about 6 months of little to no working out and gaining 5-8 lbs to get my period back. I was pregnant on my third cycle. Another great book that helped me mentally was The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein. Good luck ❤️

      2. I also recommend No Period, Now What! I had a long road that ended with figuring out I also had HA after stopping BCP. I followed the advice of cutting down on workouts to just yoga and walking, and also relaxing and eating more. I had to make my diet less restrictive to include previously “forbidden” foods. After doing that, I got my period in about 5-6 months and then became pregnant 6 months after. Whether you are trying to conceive or not, the book was so, so helpful in regaining cycles and pinpointing my specific issues. I can certainly relate what you are feeling and thanks for being brave enough to share. It’s hard and there are so many ups and downs but you will figure out what works for you! ?

    2. I’ve been going through HA too for a few years now. I have a hunch my cortisol may be high as well. It’s tough when other people don’t understand why I dramatically changed how much I exercise (I used to run daily) and why I now eat more diverse foods more often (I hear ya on no longer fitting into my pants). Hopefully it all pays off for us both. Best of luck to you! 🙂

    3. Reading your post helps me to know I’m not alone. For about a year I’ve been searching for what has been off with me hormonal. I was recently diagnosed with Hashimotos/thyroiditis and am finally getting answers. I’m also dealing with adrenal fatigue and it has been such a hard road. My doctors kept telling me I was just anxious and stressed because I was a new mother. I felt completely alone at times which made it even worse. My heart would race when I’d just be sitting down. I delt/deal with lightheadedness, fatigue, dizziness, and brain fog. I wasn’t sure what was going on but I started eating better and doing a lot of similar things you have’s a slow process but I’m starting to feel better. It’s hard to find your way back from hormone issues and I
      Have been frustrated at times because I’m used to being in complete control my body. Thank you for sharing and I pray for your recovery from these issues!

    4. YAAAASSSSS GIRL!!!! Soooo excited for you to be working on you in so many different ways on your journey! I was reading the article & had a huge smile on my face for you- just sounds like a sense of relief has started to come for you as you’re exploring your new normal- Way to go!!!

    5. LOVED this post!! Thank you for sharing (as always). So happy you’ve started to see progress and find things that work for you!


    6. THANK YOU SO MUCH for this post! It helped me a lot. I tried to incorporate it to my everyday routine. I also have hormonal imbalances (due to anorexia) and lost my period over six months ago. I had a terrible relationship with food which left my body in critical condition. I love your posts and watch your ig stories everyday. (I also have to say I tried to make that flaxseed bread lately and I LOVED IT). I will be trying some more of your recipes soon. I would like to thank you for all the positive energy you give. Thank you for sharing your story. It gave me hope. Hope you will be able to find that balance in life. Sending love from Poland. Have a blessed day! 🙂

    7. Thanks so much for sharing Rachel!! I struggle with high cortisol too and am currently diving in headfirst to try to manage it. I love your recipes and positivity! Love and prayers for your journey.

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