by Maria Lebron, August 2021
When your body feels stressed or in danger, your adrenal glands make and release the hormone cortisol into your bloodstream. Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone and it triggers the body’s “fight-or-flight” response in a crisis, causing an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Cortisol is also involved in:
— Keeping inflammation down
— Regulating blood pressure
— Increasing blood sugar (glucose)
— Controlling the sleep/awake cycle
— Managing how the body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
— Boosting energy so you can handle the stress
— Restoring balance to the body after dealing with the stress
Usually when the stress or danger passes, the cortisol levels calm down and the heart, blood pressure, and other body systems get back to normal. However, if you’re under constant stress, your cortisol level will remain elevated. Over time, repeated activation of the stress response and elevated cortisol takes a toll on the body in the following ways:
— Anxiety, depression and sleeplessness
— Increased blood sugar levels – Elevated cortisol over the long term consistently produces glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels.
—Suppressed immune system – Cortisol reduces inflammation in the body, but over time, these efforts to reduce inflammation can also suppress the immune system.
—Problems with digestion – Digestion and absorption is compromised, indigestion develops, and the mucosal lining of the stomach becomes irritated and inflamed.
—Heart disease – Cortisol constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure, which over time can lead to vessel damage and plaque buildup.
—Fertility problems – Elevated cortisol may be a factor in erectile dysfunction or problems with normal ovulation and menstruation.
—Weight gain – Cortisol may directly or indirectly stimulate appetite and cravings.
Stressful events are a part of life. If you are experiencing periods of high stress, the best approach to keep cortisol levels from staying elevated is to take steps to manage your stress. Stress management activities include:
— Try to get enough sleep
— Eat a healthy diet
— Practice breathing exercises
— Do exercise or yoga
— Dance or some other form of movement
— Schedule fun or calming activities
— Schedule a massage
— Get acupuncture
— Seek professional help to manage the stress, anxiety or depression when needed