Managing Cortisol Levels for People with Complex PTSD

One of the problems with having been in a chronic state of fear and anxiety for years and years while surviving the abuse, and then while healing from it, is that the cortisol levels in the blood get really high. High cortisol levels make it almost impossible to lose weight, and are linked to all kinds of diseases, as if we didn’t need more negative effects from the abuse.

Here’s some tips I researched to reduce cortisol levels. I’ve added my notes next to them about how they’ve worked out for me:

  1. Avoid caffeine, which can elevate cortisol levels. [I avoid cafeine, which does make me anxous, but still eat chocolate. If I feel the need for a latte, I have steamed milk, which is just as satisfying. ]
  2. Get a good night’s sleep. Cortisol levels are generally lower in the middle of the night while you’re asleep, and sleep deprivation has been shown to increase cortisol levels. [Hard to do if you’re already anxious. But I do modify my life to prioritize not having to wake to an alarm in the morning. ]
  3. Exercise regularly, but avoid intense or prolonged exercise as it stimulates cortisol release. [This is interesting, intense or prolonged exercise does make me really uncomfortable – I feel hyped up, anxous and emotional. When I work out, I now stop and take a walk around the gym if I get like that, and won’t do an exercise that doesn’t permit this kind of break when I need it. It’s really made exercise possible for me. ]
  4. Try music therapy, massage therapy, and dancing, all of which have been shown to reduce cortisol levels. [I like all these things, interestingly dancing is one of the vigorous exercise types I can tolerate well without getting anxous or adrenalized.]
  5. Consider supplementation with vitamin C, omega 3 fatty acids, black tea, or phosphatidylserine. [I don’t know what this last thing is, but I have been taking more vitamin C and Omega 3 fatty acids. I take 6 or more salmon oil capsules a day, after reading how good it is for the brain, especially those of us with gunk.]
  6. Laugh and cry – research has shown that both reduce cortisol levels. [This must be why crying always makes me feel better. I’ve been looking for more opportunities to laugh.]
  7. Eat regular meals and stick to low-glycemic foods to maintain a constant blood sugar level. [Always a struggle, but I think this helps too when I can pull it off. I don’t like sugary foods anyways so it’s not as hard for me as it might be for others, and I actually like whole grain foods. ]

Since it’s been a while since I posted.

Update: Things are a lot better with my wife. We’re communicating a lot more, and she’s reading an excellent book “Pagan Polyamory” which is starting some good discussions. We had a lovely romantic weekend a couple of weeks ago, which went really well. I also read my Car Crash post out at a workshop I was at last weekend. Afterward I felt like I’d overshared, but my friend who was there pointed out that it was a similar time I thought I’d overshared that had resulted in our friendship, so I think it was okay.

4 thoughts on “Managing Cortisol Levels for People with Complex PTSD”

  1. Hi there, good post.

    Wanted to add that cortisol levels with PTSD are a bit more complex. With PTSD, cortisol levels start abnormally low in the morning and then increase higher in the evening. For a healthy person, levels start high in the morning but fall towards the evening. To get an acurate measure on cortisol levels, you can take a blood test at 8am.

    1. Thanks Yuriy, those are good tips. Do you know why they start low in the morning? Is there anything we can do to shift that? It makes sense that so many of us have insomnia in the evenings then. I tend to sleep better in the morning, in the hour or two after most people wake up. If I get some sleep then, I rise refreshed.

  2. One useful thing. I’ve been eating pre-packaged diet meals for over a year now. (eg: Lean Cuisine that you put in the microwave. I add extra frozen veggies to them and cook them a little longer) They are all balanced, with the right amount of protein and fat and as a result my blood sugar is really stable. I’m also not anxious at all. Really, not anxious. It’s probably a bunch of things, including the Omega 3 supplements and regular exercise, but seriously, this is really awesome. Someone needs to do a study on reliable balanced blood sugar and anxiety. There’s got to be a connection.

  3. Hi SDW, this is a great post. I was told many years ago that I had high cortisol levels, which is not surprising, but I didn’t know the connection then. Great tips on reduction, too. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂 And I’m pleased things are going better with your wife. 🙂

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