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Do You Have a Cortisol Addiction?

Have you ever felt like your body and mind have been hijacked by an invisible force, leaving you exhausted, on edge, and struggling to find balance? The culprit may very well be the relentless grip of trauma, and its insidious companion – cortisol addiction.

Trauma, whether it stems from the challenges of childhood or the harsh realities of adulthood, can cast a long and devastating shadow over our physical and mental well-being.

At the heart of this connection lies a complex interplay between the brain, the body's stress response, and the cascading effects of chronically elevated cortisol levels.

Cortisol, often referred to as the "stress hormone," is a powerful chemical produced by the adrenal glands. In small doses, it can be a vital ally, mobilizing the body's resources to help us navigate life's challenges. But when cortisol becomes a constant companion, its once-protective effects can morph into a relentless stranglehold on our health and happiness.

In this blog post we'll delve into the dark underbelly of cortisol addiction, unraveling the myriad ways in which this hormone can compromise our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. From stubborn weight gain to debilitating anxiety, the consequences of this invisible foe are far-reaching and often misunderstood. But fear not, with the right healing approach and tools, you can break free from the shackles of cortisol chaos and reclaim our lives.

Overcoming the Cortisol-Fueled Drive for Achievement

As a young graduate, straight out of university and navigating the male-dominated corporate finance landscape, I found myself in the common quest for success, validation and recognition. The thrill of hitting ambitious targets, and receiving praise from superiors became an addictive high, fuelled by the constant rush of cortisol. I wore my exhaustion and stress like a badge of honor, believing that the more I pushed myself, the more I would be rewarded and the more worthy I would feel. All this in a quest to be 'good enough.'

But what I didn't realize was that this cortisol-fueled drive was slowly eroding my physical and mental well-being and my boundaries of self care.

Working long hours, starting a business whilst in a full time job, the obsessive need for productivity because I always felt I could be doing better, coupled with an almost constant dread of failure – the truth is, it all took a devastating toll on my nervous system.

It wasn't until many years later that I hit a breaking point, struggling with burnout, debilitating anxiety, chronic stress and deep discontent in the material world and the life I had created and deemed 'normal' that I recognized the toxic cycle I had trapped myself in.

It triggered my healing journey to begin. That was well over 10 years ago and I never looked back. Reclaiming my health and well-being required a radical shift in mindset, learning to find fulfilment in the process of healing these parts of my identity, lossening the grip on external validation or fitting in with 'normal society' and setting better boundaries to protect my energy.

It was a challenging but necessary transformation, and one that has allowed me to thrive without being shackled to cortisol's addictive rewards. The most life changing experience for me, has been learning to use my the primal life force energy in my womb to fuel me forward, rather than my mind - which is, perhaps just like yours, a bit of a wild monkey. Read more about my journey here

How Cortisol Fuels Addictive Behaviours

The science behind the link between cortisol and addictive behaviors is rooted in the complex interplay between your brain's reward system and your body's stress response.

If you're struggling with elevated cortisol levels, a hallmark of trauma and chronic stress, you may be all too familiar with the disruption this can cause to the delicate balance of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which are crucial for regulating your mood, motivation, and sense of pleasure. Studies have found that persistent cortisol exposure can lead to a heightened sensitivity to rewarding stimuli, causing you to seek out addictive substances or behaviors as a means of self-medicating and temporarily relieving the physiological and psychological distress associated with cortisol imbalance. Research has found that up to 75% of individuals with substance use disorders also have a history of trauma or chronic stress, underscoring the powerful link between cortisol dysregulation and the development of addictive tendencies that may be sabotaging your health and well-being.

Here is a list of common addictions that can develop due to chronic cortisol addiction from high-stress lifestyles or traumatic experiences:

  1. Alcohol and substance abuse: The desire to self-medicate and numb the effects of chronic stress and anxiety can lead to problematic alcohol or drug use.

  2. Caffeine addiction: Relying on coffee, energy drinks, and other caffeinated beverages to maintain energy levels and mental focus amid cortisol-fueled fatigue.

  3. Sugar and carb cravings: Seeking out quick energy sources and comfort foods to provide a temporary mood boost and distraction from the physical and emotional toll of cortisol imbalance.

  4. Excessive exercise: Compulsively working out as a means of managing stress, releasing tension, and chasing the "runner's high" associated with endorphin release.

  5. Workaholism: Throwing oneself into work as a way to avoid processing traumatic experiences and maintain a sense of control amid the chaos of cortisol-driven anxiety.

  6. Gambling and risky behaviours: Engaging in high-stakes, adrenaline-fueled activities to temporarily alleviate feelings of restlessness, boredom, and lack of fulfillments.

  7. Emotional eating and binge-purge cycles: Using food as a coping mechanism to soothe emotional distress and provide a temporary sense of comfort or control.

  8. Social media and technology addiction: Constant smartphone use, social media scrolling, and gaming as a means of escaping reality and seeking external validation to fill the void left by unresolved trauma.

The Allure of the Cortisol 'High'

In the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, the body's natural stress response kicks into high gear. The brain triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that fuels the "fight-or-flight" reaction, providing a surge of energy, heightened alertness, and sometimes a strange sense of euphoria.

This short-term cortisol spike can even lead to a temporary loss of appetite and effortless weight loss, leaving the individual feeling light, energized, and almost invincible.

However, this cortisol high is fleeting, and the body's attempt to maintain this state of heightened arousal eventually backfires.

Over time, the chronic overproduction of cortisol can wreak havoc on the body's delicate systems, setting the stage for a cascade of physical and emotional ailments.

The Consequences of Chronic Cortisol Addiction

If you feel like you're constantly on the edge, with an endless to-do list and a body that just won't cooperate, the culprit may very well be an insidious foe – chronic cortisol addiction. This stress hormone, once a protective ally, can become a relentless tyrant, hijacking your physical and mental well-being when left unchecked. As the body becomes increasingly dependent on the presence of cortisol, the long-term consequences of this "cortisol addiction" begin to manifest.

The hallmarks of chronic cortisol toxicity include:

  • Stubborn weight gain, especially around the midsection

  • Diminished sexual desire and libido

  • A puffy, moon-shaped face

  • Elevated estrogen levels and hormonal imbalances

  • Suboptimal thyroid function and energy levels

  • Persistent inflammation and water retention

  • Premature aging, with wrinkles and sagging skin

  • Constant tension, tightness, and difficulty relaxing

  • Sleep disturbances and an inability to truly unwind

  • Heightened sensitivity and a short fuse

  • Thinning hair and balding

  • Cold hands and feet, poor circulation

  • Slower healing of wounds and injuries

  • Blood sugar fluctuations and dysregulation

  • Taking even minor issues far too personally

  • Trouble concentrating and maintaining focus

  • A dramatic, emotional, and easily-triggered demeanor

  • Teeth grinding and tight neck/jaw muscles

  • Frequent illness and a weakened immune system

  • Digestive problems, bloating, and poor nutrient absorption

  • Persistent anxiety, worry, and a sense of impending doom

  • Loss of appetite in the morning, despite fatigue

  • An unrelenting need to be productive and achieve

  • An excessive fascination with dark, disturbing content

  • A tendency to anticipate the worst-case scenario

  • Hypercritical and harsh self-judgment

  • The compulsive need to "work it off" in the gym

Breaking the Cycle of Cortisol Addiction

Breaking the chronic cortisol addiction requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the root causes of your nervous system functioning and hormonal balance - unresolved trauma.

Somatic healing and energy work can help you process and integrate traumatic memories, allowing the body's stress response system to gradually return to a state of balance. Practices like grounding, meditation, and breathwork can also regulate cortisol levels and promote deeper healing and relaxation.

Addressing nutritional deficiencies and supporting the body's biochemical pathways through targeted supplementation can help to restore hormonal balance and resilience. Ensuring adequate intake of adaptogens, B-vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, for example, can support the body's natural stress response and mitigate the effects of chronic cortisol exposure.


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