Stress, Cortisol, and Your Body

Do you know, being stressed out not only affects the brain but also affects other parts of the body? And it can lead you to many diseases including obesity, depression, heart disease, etc. What are the effects that stress produces? If the cortisol level is high, is it good or bad? How can you manage your stress? When to seek help? 

Read this article and get all the answers you are looking for.  

Stress is an emotion that we feel when we encounter a challenge or event that leaves us angry, tense, or frustrated. Stress can be productive when it helps you to avoid danger and or meet a deadline. But feeling stressed for a long time can be harmful to your health. It can have harmful effects on your heart rate, blood pressure, diabetes control, skin health, weight, moods, behavior, and anxiety.  

The stress response 

When you encounter a threat or danger, the adrenal glands (that are situated on the top of the kidney) release cortisol and adrenaline. Adrenaline boosts the heart rate and blood pressure. And cortisol increases sugar in the bloodstream to generate energy, enhance the brain’s use of energy, and repair tissues faster. Cortisol also helps to minimize or stop the functions that aren’t essential in a ‘fight or flight’ situation. This alarm system also communicates with the brain to control other emotions such as fear, mood, and motivation.  

When the harmful situation passes the hormone levels return to normal. But if you feel stressed for a long time this alarm system stays active and keeps raising the heart rate and blood pressure. And that can lead to health-related problems like anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, muscle tension and pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory loss.
 

Is cortisol a stress hormone? 

Yes, cortisol is a stress hormone. But it is not the only hormone that responds to stress, adrenaline too is an important variable in the stress response. But extended periods of stress affect the levels of cortisol which results in health-related problems.  

Effects of elevated levels of cortisol 

Having elevated blood levels of cortisol (hypercortisolism) for a long time can lead to Cushing’s syndrome. This is a condition where the body starts producing too much cortisol. The symptoms include: 

  • Weight gain (especially in the face, abdomen, and chest).  
  • Purple stretch marks on your belly. 
  • Muscle weakness especially in your upper arms and thighs. 
  • High blood sugar levels (Prediabetes) or full-blown diabetes. 
  • High blood pressure. 
  • Excessive hair growth. 
  • Weak bones and fractures. 
  • Mood swings.  
  • Increase thirst and frequent urination. 

 Learn to manage stress and cortisol levels 

If you are experiencing elevated cortisol blood levels, then you should seek medical help.  

Here are some steps that help you to control your stress and make sure the cortisol levels stay within the range: 

  • Get quality sleep: Avoid erratic sleep patterns, insomnia, and night shifts that can lead to high cortisol levels.
  • Exercise regularly: Getting a workout regularly will improve your mood and gives you quality sleep, both help to reduce your stress and maintain cortisol levels.
  • Learn stress-relieving techniques: You should learn meditation, mindfulness, and yoga so that you can control your stress. Also, note the triggers that give you stress so that you can avoid them.
  • Practice deep breathing exercises: Learn breathing exercises to improve your overall body functionality such as improving mood, sleeping better, improving blood flow, improving immunity, and much more.
  • Enjoy life and laugh more: Laughing is good, it releases endorphins and suppresses cortisol. Enjoy life by doing your favorite activities, spending quality time meeting friends, exploring, etc. which help to lower your cortisol levels.
  • Maintaining healthy relationships: Relationships with people around us have a direct impact on our lives. So, it’s important that you should have good relationships with your family, friends, and coworkers. That helps you feel less stressed and control cortisol levels.

When to see a doctor? 

  • If you have been experiencing frequent stress for some days, you should visit the doctor or your therapist. They might prescribe therapy or medication, if necessary. 
  • If you are worried about your cortisol levels or have symptoms of high cortisol levels, consider visiting the doctor. They might run saliva, urine, and blood tests to check your cortisol levels. Depending on the results you might be prescribed medication or surgery to control your cortisol levels.  

Cortisol is an important hormone that has many other functions besides responding to stress. On the other hand, stress is one of those factors that are responsible for disturbing the balance of cortisol. So, try to keep yourself stress-free so that you are healthy.  

At Doral Health and Wellness, we have doctors that can help you manage your condition. For more information, you can visit us at 1797 Pitkin Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 11212, or call us on 1-347-384-5690. You can also visit our website at https://doralhw.org or contact us at info@doralhw.org if you have any queries.