Simon Zealot vs. Cortisol: Round 1

           Lately I’ve been overwhelmed by a host of stress factors, including altered sleep patterns, increased workload, mild heat exhaustion, minor legal trouble, financial loss, health problems, car troubles, and, last but not least, the end of a long-term relationship. As is not uncommon, these events have spurred small but significant increases in my consumption of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine as well. The end result, now confirmed through a bit of research, is a marked decrease in my overall cognitive functioning caused by actual damage done to my brain by prolonged exposure to increased levels of cortisol; damage which I am confident can be, and will, of course, have to be, reversed.

           Scientists have found that each one of the above stressors, including the above mentioned classic dietary staples of the stressed (coffee, booze, and cigarettes), all cause an increase in the body’s production of the infamous stress hormone cortisol, an imbalance of which has been linked to “low energy, muscle atrophy, poor bone repair and increased bone loss, thyroid dysfunction, depressed immune system, poor sleep quality, poor skin regeneration and impaired growth hormone release.” Prolonged exposure has been shown to weaken and degrade the brain’s hypothalamus, which is an area essential to both memory and learning. This explains much of the troubles I myself have been struggling with recently, but, like any good superhero, when one encounters an unsolved and pervasive problem such as this one, it’s obviously time to leap into action.

           My research up to this point has not proved very promising. In my efforts to find some degree of relaxation I had initially assumed that, like many of my peers, I could simply turn to video games, marijuana use, and chronic masturbation, but most of the clinical studies I’ve read suggested that these things only cause to further increase levels of the dreaded cortisol hormone, with regular pot smoking also being linked to significant decreases in testosterone production, lean muscle mass, testicular size, and general sense of well being. Although the results of many of these marijuana studies have been disputed on the grounds that human effects are far less predictable due to increased levels of tolerance in habitual users, my informal observations of hippy culture seem to support this idea that there might be some degree of positive correlation between, if nothing else, pot smoking and lowered levels of testosterone.

           So what can we do to fight against the rise of this brain killer cortisol? Obviously, step one is to simply relax, although, as we’ve seen, many of the things we might turn to for that are not as safe as we had assumed. Obviously, maintaining adequate amounts of sleep and exercise, breathing deeply and slowly, as well as avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, are all very important factors in our battle against cortisol, yet doing so will be complicated by the fact that heightened stress levels directly interfere with our management of all of these things.

           Meanwhile, while masturbation has been shown to be unproductive, sex, although responsible for an initial boost in oxytocine, epinephrine, and other related hormones, including cortisol, has been found to decrease cortisol levels in the long run, so I guess it’s a good thing that no one’s ever been additionally stressed out by efforts to obtain sex, right? However, Instead of worrying about intercourse, try and appreciate the far less complicated pleasures derived from hanging out with friends and family. After all, some good laughs, sincere conversation and a simple hug will also do wonders for your health.

           Finally, there are at least two potentially uncomplicated dietary modifications we can turn to for immediate relief, which are increasing one’s consumption of high quality, non-processed, carbohydrates, like those found in fruits and vegetables, which also just happen to be high in antioxidants and essential nutrients such as vitamin C, which, if taken in mega-doses, may also help to counteract the effects of the cortisol.

           However, the quick fix is never the best answer, so I'm pursuing a theory that all cortisol producing stress can be treated like any other unwanted inflammation. Physical inflammation is typically our immune system's response to an unwanted foreign substance entering the body, but this sometimes misfires, causing the body to attack itself instead. One such mistake is seen in the process of withdrawal from any chemical substance one might find themselves addicted too, such as caffeine, nicotine, love and heroine. As cortisol appears to primarily be an anti-inflammatory, the solution to stress may be as simple as getting one's mind to either truly accept one's circumstances, and one's self, as something that need not be treated as an invasive threat, and from such a space confidently affirm and assert our control over the situation, so as to stop what appears to be yet another misplaced attack on one's own health and well being. This is, of course, easier said than done, but far better said than unacknowledged.

          Unfortunately, that’s all I have right now, but I’ll return to this essay as more information comes my way. Good luck and Namaste.

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