Cortisol. It’s an intimidating word with a negative connotation.

But bodybuilder John Meadows wants to assure listeners that cortisol isn’t a bad word or a bad thing.

“It’s just simply a hormone, a stress hormone, that’s secreted, and it liberates energy, it liberates fuel for energy. It’s a fight-or-flight hormone, so it serves a good purpose.”

Then why is it that people are so scared of cortisol?

Well, as John puts it, cortisol is fine — natural, even — when it’s not acutely raised. If there’s a time to fear cortisol, it’s when it’s chronically raised, meaning it’s always high.

When cortisol is at that level, that’s when you’ll see problems, like muscle loss, insulin resistance, and sleep disturbances, arise.

John describes the effects of cortisol on a quadrant. The two positive quadrants represent the effects of good cortisol, and the two negative quadrants are the negative effects of bad cortisol. These four quadrants are divided by the Y-axis. We’ll call the space occupying the right side of the Y-axis “high energy” (Quadrants I and IV) and the left side “low energy” (Quadrants II and III).

For those who haven’t taken a math class in a while, here’s a chart:

cortisol breakdown

Low energy combined with the negative effects of cortisol will sap you of energy.

John believes the effects of cortisol depend on the strength of a person’s attitude and faith. Having a negative attitude and little to no faith in something can add extra stress, and therefore, more cortisol.

But if you try to stay positive or let things slide off you while believing things will get better, your higher cortisol levels might drop a bit, putting you in the low energy-positive quadrant.

There are a variety of factors that come into play when it comes to that attitude and faith: how a person is raised, their internal values, the kinds of people they are around, etc.

John notes it’s possible to be high energy-negative in ways that are positive for short periods of time. But if you’re constantly like that, you’re going to wipe yourself out. Most people who tend to be in that state are not in that state for long periods of time. Emphasis on most.

“Could you imagine that? Taking that gym animal and going to Kroger? What the fuck do you mean there’s no more Rice Krispy Treats?”

The next time you’re about to chew out the customer service rep who’s trying to figure out what’s wrong with your Internet connection, take a deep breath and remember: Don’t let those cortisol levels get so high that you’ll start losing muscle mass.

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