It is important to keep in mind that neither a person's stress levels nor the body's response to stress is a constant. Instead, there will be periods in each of our lives when we experience more stress or less stress-just as there will be times when we feel as if we can withstand stress better than other times. Accordingly, the last step in the SENSE program, evaluation, reminds us that we need to alter our exercise patterns, nutrient intake, and supplementation regimen according to our exposure to stress. For example, regular exercise and a balanced diet are always going to be important, but they become even more so during stressful times. Skipping breakfast during a period of low stress isn't ideal, but it isn't going to kill you. Skip that balanced breakfast during a high-stress period, however, and you're setting yourself up for poor blood-sugar control, surges in appetite, and feelings of fatigue-each of which will be even more pronounced because of your high-stress profile.
So how do you evaluate your current stress profile? Take the Type C Self-Test included in the Introduction to get a good baseline gauge of your stress exposure and your cortisol levels-and then take it again every three months to reevaluate where you stand. Are you experiencing higher than normal stress levels? If so, then your cortisol levels are likely to be elevated, and you need to be especially careful about following each step of the SENSE program to keep your cortisol levels within a healthy range. Alternatively, are you enjoying an interlude that's relatively stress-free and tranquil? If this is the case, then perhaps you can be less vigilant about every aspect of SENSE, and relax and take pleasure in the welcome fruits of the healthy lifestyle you've created by following the sound stress-management, sleep, exercise, nutritional, and supplementation habits promoted by the SENSE plan. And once you've reached this point, having created healthy new habits and having witnessed how they've benefited you, you'll be more motivated than ever to maintain them as part of your daily life.
I hope this book has made clear that cortisol is a necessary hormone, but also that cortisol levels elevated too high for too long will leave you feeling bad and looking bad, and put you on the fast track toward a long list of chronic diseases. These conditions run the gamut from simple feelings of fatigue and forgetfulness to more serious debilitations such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and depression.
The good news, however, is that following the SENSE Lifestyle Program outlined in this book can help control your body's response to your many daily stressors, so that cortisol levels are maintained in a healthier range. Using SENSE will help you lose weight, maintain muscle mass, boost energy levels, improve mood, reduce the frequency of illness, increase brainpower, and enhance your sex drive.
As the scientific and medical research linking cortisol and disease continues to advance, additional wisdom will undoubtedly be discovered that we can all incorporate into our personal SENSE programs. I wish you the best in doing so, and in maintaining healthy cortisol levels and optimizing your long-term health.