Low Cortisol

Strategies for stress | A quick guide to balancing stress for more vitality, health and happiness


Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. We need stress in our lives. When we’re challenged in the right amounts, we adapt and grow stronger. We’re able to take on more and new challenges and we become more resilient.

Chronic stress on the other hand is when we are exposed to stressors all the time without adequate time for recovery or rest – because it’s during this recovery period that we repair, renew and get stronger.

Stress comes in many forms, physical, mental, emotional, physiological, and chemical. Some we can control and some we cannot.

Different stressors affect different individuals in different ways. Many of our stressors are perceived and our life experience will influence how we perceive stress in our lives.

In times of stress, our body switches into the sympathetic nervous system, also known as fight, flight, and freeze. This leads to the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol from our adrenal glands. These hormones cause our heart to beat faster, blood vessels to dilate, changes in our digestive system, and an increase in the amount of glucose in the bloodstream.

When we come down from that stress, we switch back into the parasympathetic nervous system, our rest and digest state, that is if we come down from it.

We switch between both systems throughout the day, like a dial turning one system up and the other down. Yet our body can not differentiate between a life-threatening situation or our boss shouting at us and both situations can lead to the same stress response in the body.

Too often our current lifestyles have us in a state of chronic stress, which means that we aren’t switching back into the rest and digest state often enough to recover. We just keep filling our cup until it overflows, leading to a loss of resilience and a heightened stress response.

Good stress vs. Chronic stress

Stress follows the concept of hormesis. In small or mild amounts it is beneficial and makes us stronger but too much can damage our health and wellbeing. Without stress or with too little stress we feel weak, unfit, bored, depressed, unchallenged, and unexcited. Good stress is the type that leads to us feeling excited, and motivated. It doesn’t feel like distress.

Our current lifestyles typically create chronic stress, which can lead to many health setbacks, including:

  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of energy
  • Upset stomach
  • PMS
  • Amenorrhea
  • Muscle tension
  • Cellular damage
  • Weakened immune system
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness or depression

Too much chronic stress can also increase your risk factors for heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.

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Types of stressors

Women are naturally more susceptible to stress imbalance because of the many societal expectations and roles that we take on. This leads to a large number of external stressors, things that happen outside of our bodies but still lead to our physiological stress response. This may include deadlines, cultural expectations, coping with difficult relatives, and financial responsibilities.

On top of that,there are also internal stressors that disrupt our normal health patterns:

  • Emotional stressors – anxiety, depression, anger and other strong negative emotions
  • Physical stressors – over and under-eating, drug and alcohol misuse, excessive exercise and difficulty sleeping
  • Mental stressors – forgetfulness, negative thinking and boredom
  • Chemical stressors – toxic chemicals from the environment & cleaning products and chemical imbalances in the body.

Do I have too much stress?

Chronic stress is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it can disrupt the other hormones in your body.

This includes changes in your body’s ability to control your blood sugar, disruption of progesterone production, loss of libido, reduced immunity, increased aging, the delay or prevention of ovulation.
Chronic stress can change your period, increase PMS symptoms, and even lead to your period disappearing.

Since chronic stress can affect so many other hormones there are many symptoms of too much stress:

  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Feeling you could cry
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased motivation
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Carb cravings or binging
  • Reliance on coffee, soda, energy drinks
  • Skipping meals

  • Consumption of more than 3 alcohol-based drinks per week
  • Poor sleep or insomnia
  • Waking up during sleep
  • Depression
  • Upset stomach
  • Muscle tension
  • Hair loss
  • Infertility
  • Low libido
  • Skin problems
  • Poor immune health

Food and supplements for increased stress levels

Stress can deplete certain micro- & macronutrients within the body. This includes protein, magnesium, B-vitamins, and zinc. To better support stress, it’s important to aim for adequate protein at every meal and consider supplementation of the other vitamins and minerals when under stress. Check with your health practicioner before taking any supplements.

Low Cortisol

Daily stress burden

Things that could add to it:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Blood sugar imbalance
  • Lack of key nutrients
  • Poor digestive health
  • Poor sleep, circadian rhythm dysregulation
  • Unresolved trauma
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Phones & social media
  • Sitting all day
  • Commuting
  • Toxic cleaning products & cosmetics
  • Toxic relationships
  • Always saying yes

Things that could help reduce it:

  • Balanced blood sugar
  • Optimized nutrition
  • Optimized movement
  • Optimized digestive health
  • Optimized sleep & circadian rhythm
  • Read a book, watch a film, do art, sing or dance
  • Taking walks, especially in nature
  • Time for yourself.
  • Listening to podcasts, music
  • Focus on your breath
  • Eco & hormone friendly products
  • Not taking things personally & clear boundaries
  • Say no when your body says no.

Strategies for reducing & balancing daily stress

  • Optimize nutrients, blood sugar, digestive health, and sleep
  • Breathwork & meditation – Try square breathing: inhale for 4 counts, hold your breath for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, hold your breath for 4 counts
  • Movement & exercise – Any type that you enjoy!
  • Connecting with friends and family
  • Affection, physical touch, and orgasm – Kiss, cuddles, hugs, massage, sex
  • Practice gratitude – Make an effort to find things you are grateful for daily
  • Define and live by your values and things that are important to you
  • Plan time for yourself, self-care
  • Simply rest
  • Try creative self-expression – Dance, do art or sing
  • Build-in more optimism – What can you learn and improve from your current experience?

My Top 4

  1. Balance your blood sugar. How’s your blood sugar? (Take my Quiz!) If you’re under chronic stress it’s most definitely been affected. Getting it back in balance can help build more resilience.
  2. Try gentle yoga inversions, such as bridge pose or legs up the wall. Careful with high blood pressure! Don’t know what they are? Look them up on YouTube.
  3. Balanced breathwork. Take a moment to stop and pay attention to your breath. Then find a rhythm that feels comfortable, allowing your inhale to match up with your exhale. Stay there for a few rounds of breathing. 
  4. Mind your thoughts. Thousands of thoughts a day cross our minds. We can choose to focus on the ones that serve us and let the others come and go, as just thoughts, without attaching any meaning

Recommended Reading:

Emily Nagoski, Amelia Nagoski (2019), Burnout- Solve your Stress Cycle

Bonus Listening:

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, manage, or treat disease or serious conditions. Always check with your doctor before making any changes. It’s important to consult a well-informed health practitioner for personal advice about your situation before relying on general information we’re all wonderfully unique.

Laurie Villarreal, FNLP, CHWC, FNS, LMC, CPT, RYT

Hi, I'm Laurie, a functional nutritionist and board certified health coach, athlete, dog-mom, and biohacking adventure-lover. After having struggled for years to find lasting solutions for my own debilitating hormone-related symptoms, I created my online practice to begin helping other active, driven women get the support they need. I now help  women around the world elevate their health, energy, business and life by optimizing their hormones with personalized nutrition and lifestyle tweaks. Together, we discover new tools and strategies that keep you showing up at your best so you can play even bigger in your life and work.

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