Proven by many studies, meditation has the power to lower mental and emotional stress. Although it is important to note the profound effects it can have on the physical body’s response to stress such as the steroid hormone cortisol.
What Is Cortisol?
Cortisol is most well known for its use as the stress hormone. It is produced and released by the adrenals (that are located on top of the kidneys) when the body perceives stress. This is one of the main hormones active when the flight-fight-or-freeze mode is activated. Find out how meditation can help you master stress.
This mode is a reaction the body has adapted to keep us alive. Although not all stress is bad stress. Coined by endocrinologist, Hans Selye, Eustress is known as the good stress our body feels.
It stimulates the production of cortisol although our bodies are able to return to a proper hormone balance once the task causing eustress is completed. Problems begin to arise when our body is in distress. Chronic or often states of anxiety, fear, or stress cause the body to be in a damaging chronic flight or fight mode.
In our primal roots, the flight or fight mode was triggered due to a dangerous animal encounter, falling trees, or a possible territorial fight. Cortisol causes an increase in your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, suppresses the digestive system as well as the reproductive system and can lower your sensitivity to pain.
When cortisol is released into the bloodstream it immediately sets in motion the release of glucose in order to give you a burst of energy. Blocking the release of insulin cortisol guides glucose to be available for immediate use while your body perceives it’s in danger.
Other uses of cortisol include regulating blood pressure, overseeing how your body utilizes sugars, fats, and proteins, decreases inflammation, boosts energy levels and plays a effects the sleep-wake cycle. Click here to learn how meditation can boost your energy levels and actually cause you to need less sleep.
Effects of High Cortisol
High cortisol levels can cause a list of negative health effects including:
- high blood pressure
- irregular menstrual periods
- a flushed face
- muscle weakness
- increased thirst
- urinating more frequently
- weight gain especially in the face and abdomen
How Meditation Lowers Cortisol Naturally
Researchers at the University of California, Davis studied cortisol levels within the salvia of participants before and after a 3-month immersive mindfulness retreat. The participants were measured pre-retreat and for pre-existing mindfulness scores.
Post-retreat the mindfulness scores did not vary much although any volunteer with a personal increase in mindfulness also showed a drop in cortisol levels.
Another study measured the cortisol levels of 30 volunteers before and after a 4-hour mindfulness meditation program. Before beginning the course, volunteers had their blood drawn and completed a general health questionnaire that measured somatic symptoms, anxiety and insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression.
Another round of tests was completed after the 4-day mindfulness course taken at the same time of day as the first. The results showed a dramatic decrease in cortisol in the blood after post-meditation. This can then decrease stress as well as psychiatric disorders, peptic ulcers, and migraines.