The Actual Enemy

Stress. I hate that word. It rises up and slaps me in the face. Hard. It reminds me that I am not in control.

I long to face life with grace, grit and determination. Unhindered. Free. But all too often, whether the world sees it or not, the stress of life lands me on my butt.

That’s okay. Stress is not actually the enemy. Cortisol is.

Cortisol is a hormone produced in our adrenal glands. Under normal circumstances our body regulates a daily cycle of cortisol. It pumps out the highest levels in the morning to prepare us for the day ahead. It hits a low as we get ready to sleep, preparing our bodies for the sweet land of slumber.

Cortisol is also known as the “stress hormone.” Our bodies release an extra dose of cortisol when a tension filled situation arises (a fight-or-flight event). A short-term release of extra cortisol makes a positive impact on the body. It improves memory, reduces our sensitivity to pain and increases energy and stamina. In short, a quick dose of cortisol is a knight in shining armor.

Prolonged overexposure to cortisol, whether it’s a constant trickle or a relentless fire hose, is a dragon breathing down our back. The effects singe and destroy.

  1. Cortisol damages our brain and does a number on our memory. It sets us up for Alzheimer’s.
  2. It suppresses our immune system, making us vulnerable to both inconvenient and life-altering illnesses.
  3. It plays havoc with our mood, our ability to be patient, self-controlled, and kind.
  4. It causes us to gain weight. It increases ghrelin, the hormone that creates the feeling of hunger. It decreases leptin, the hormone that allows us to feel full after eating. Not a good combination.
  5. It sets us up for diabetes, depression, high blood pressure and osteoporosis.
  6. It sabotages our sleep.
  7. It damages the cells in our body and shortens our lifespan.
  • Where do you feel cortisol’s greatest effect? Extra pounds? Chronic fatigue? Dwindling joy? Restless nights? Brain cells on strike?
  • Areas you feel cortisol’s greatest effect:

Default Setting

We all have a default setting when it comes to stress and the impact of cortisol over- production.

  1. Caffeine – we gulp it down in many ways.
  2. Carbs – we crave the temporary “brain boost” we get from our favorite snacks.
  3. Pills – we take all kinds for pain, sleep, blood pressure, depression, anxiety (Please do not read between the lines. I thank the Lord for prescription medication. It is a part of God’s healing plan. There are times, however, that we’d rather swallow a pill than do the work of health and healing.)
  4. Ruts – we cave, allowing unhealthy routines and habits to form, mini vices that provide a quick fix.
  5. Moods – we rant and rave, pout and complain.

Our default setting is our personal set of unhealthy (and healthy) habits to deal with the barrage of daily strain and demands. Our unhealthy habits attempt to alleviate what ails us, but most are short-sighted, causing more pain and loss in the long run?

  • What’s your default setting? Does Romans 7:15 (NIV) ring true? “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
  • What was your default setting five years ago? Ten years ago? What would you like to change about it?

Pray. Not to be changed. But to see clearly/truthfully. And to be open to the process of change God wants to initiate.