You're Not Crazy, it's Cortisol!
When someone experiences difficult times and considers the need for someone to talk to or receive therapy, they are less likely to seek help from their physician or other professional if they fear that person viewing them in a negative or judgmental light, creating fear and adding to the additional stress they already feel.
Fear and stress produce the steroid hormone cortisol in the adrenal gland in the zona fasciculata, the second of three layers making up the adrenal cortex situated atop the kidneys. The release of Cortisol is controlled in the brain by the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland. Medication and adrenal gland problems can also elevate cortisol levels.
Cortisol plays an essential function in the body. When released into the bloodstream, Cortisol can affect several different parts of the body to protect us from real and perceived danger! Responding to threats or stress, increasing the body’s glucose metabolism, controlling blood pressure and the reduction of inflammation are also helped by Cortisol.
If the body over or under reacts, it can produce too much or too little Cortisol.
Symptoms of too much Cortisol:
- Weight gain
- Thin skin that is slow to heal
- Acne and rashes
- For women, facial hair and irregular menstruation
- Mood swings
- High blood pressure
- Digestive problems
Symptoms of too little Cortisol:
- Pain in the abdomen
- Continual tiredness
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
In addition, everyone comes to the conversation with their preconceived notions about dealing with a wide variety of symptoms and emotions due to the stress of divorce.
- They may believe they already have friends or family to confide in.
- They may fear therapy costs too much for them to be able to afford.
- They may worry appointments take too much time or results are not as fast as they desire.
- They previously tried therapy and feel it did not work.
- They believe “talking” about their problems isn’t helpful
- They may feel uncomfortable talking to a “stranger.”
- And many feel therapists don’t say anything; they “sit there and judge you.”
- They may believe Therapists don’t care about you, and they do it for the money.
- They may think only medication can make them feel better.
- They may believe that speaking with a professional is like “airing out their dirty laundry” in public.
Any of these thoughts may prevent people from seeking the help they need.
If you are contemplating divorce you will need to address your fears and be aware of any physical symptoms you may be experiencing.
During a time such as divorce, Cortisol is also necessary as a natural, healthy response to perceived threats. The common phrase “fight or flight” is used to explain someone’s desire to defend/argue or hide and deny to remain feeling safe and protected.
Avoiding caffeine, regular exercise, eating well-balanced meals, avoiding fast food and getting adequate rest and sleep is essential in reducing cortisol levels. These are not always easy to do when someone lives under a tight schedule and balances the additional tasks and decisions to be made during a divorce.
Anyone going through all the stages of the divorce process often feel “off-balance,” “out of whack,” or “crazy” at times. Calling something “crazy” reinforces the stigma, making it more difficult for people to seek help.
How can you support yourself?
Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
Almost everyone has felt some level of discomfort at some point in their lives.
However, the universality of the experience will only reduce stigma if people, particularly those in positions of authority, share their stories. Being transparent about your mental health concerns allows people to feel comfortable approaching you about their mental health issues.
Demonstrate good habits.
Don’t just claim you care about mental health. Could you do something about it? Model it for your own support system and loved ones, so they feel comfortable prioritizing self-care and setting boundaries. Friends are frequently so focused on their own well-being and completing day to day tasks that they neglect to look after themselves. To avoid burnout, mention that you’re going for a stroll in the middle of the day, have a therapy appointment, or are planning a vacay (and turning off email).
Check-ins might help you create a culture of connectedness.
It’s more important than ever to check in with yourself daily. “How are you doing?” isn’t enough. Ask yourself questions regarding what types of assistance might be beneficial. You won’t always know what to say or do when you feel distress. The essential thing is to give yourself time to hear how you are doing and be sensitive to your own needs.
Be accommodating and inclusive.
Expect things to change as the situation, demands and your own needs evolve. Check-in regularly, especially at transitional points. Only by understanding what’s going on will you assist in the resolution of any issues that arise. Those self talks will also provide you with an opportunity to reinforce mental health norms and practices. Inclusive flexibility entails proactive communication and norm-setting to assist yourself in creating and maintaining the limits they require during divorce.