How Cortisol Affects The Body When Stressed
What Is Cortisol?
Cortisol is often called the stress hormone because of it’s direct connection to the body’s response to stress. Have you ever noticed that when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed you also usually suffer from falling ill and feeling exhausted?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone, known as a glucocorticoid, made in the cortex of the adrenal glands and then released into the blood which transports it all round the body. Almost every cell contains receptors for cortisol and so cortisol can have lots of different actions depending on which sort of cells it is acting upon.
These effects include controlling the body’s blood sugar levels and thus regulating metabolism, acting as an anti-inflammatory, influencing memory formation, controlling salt and water balance, influencing blood pressure and helping development of the foetus. In many species cortisol is also responsible for triggering the processes involved in giving birth.
It is no coincidence that when you’re under stress your cortisol levels are increased and this elevation can compromise your immune system and interrupts your ability to rest and relax.
Why Is Cortisol Called The ‘Stress Hormone’?
Cortisol is made in the adrenal glands and it’s released during times of fear. A great example is your body’s response to ‘fight or flight’ which is an example of when cortisol is often secreted. When your brain feels threatened it tries to decide whether it should run away or fight for survival and therefore receives heightened cortisol levels.
So, how exactly does cortisol affect the body during times of stress?
Cortisol is within a class of hormones called glucocorticoid and it increases blood glucose levels.
- With a process called gluconeogensis, Cortisol works against insulin to keep glucose around while breaking down glucose from stored fat to release energy
- One of the principal effects of cortisol on the metabolic systems of the body is reduction of the protein stores in essentially all body cells except those of the liver.
- Increases bloody pressure from the release of cortisol into the blood stream.
- Cortisol also suppress the immune system because those functions aren’t vital to surviving immediate threats.
These responses are all great if we’re actually running away from a bear. Not so good if you’re just stressed about paying your taxes.
Signs Of Increased Cortisol
Are you a stress addict? Here are 10 signs that you’ve got too much cortisol in your body.
1. Poor Sleep
Cortisol peak around 8am in the morning and then slowly drop towards the evening which allows your body to relax and recharge. If your cortisol levels are high you might notice that you’ve been tired all day only to receive a second wind of energy around bedtime. Due to the extra cortisol you’ll end up tossing and turning and feel tired again the next day.
2. You’re tired even when sleeping well
High cortisol deplete the adrenal glands over time and expose you to chronic fatigue like symptoms. If you always feel tired, regardless of how you sleep, this is a good sign that you’ve got an overload of cortisol which is reducing your ability to feel rested and energised.
3. You’re gaining weight, even with exercise
Repeated elevation of cortisol can lead to weight gain. Cortisol can mobilize triglycerides from storage and relocate them to visceral fat cells. Cortisol tends to make you chubby around your waist even when you’re doing everything right.
4. You get sick easily
Cortisol reduces the effectiveness of your body’s natural self-repair mechanisms. This means that your body becomes vulnerable more easily because cortisol has deactivated your immune systems.
5. You crave bad foods
Cortisol raises your blood sugar, putting you at risk of diabetes. High glucose levels then bump up your insulin levels, which then drop your blood sugar – and all of a sudden – yes, you guessed it – you’re struck with wild cravings for Twinkies.
6. You experience back & headaches.
When you suffer from raised cortisol levels from a prolonged period your adrenal glands become depleted. This depletion raises prolactin levels, increasing your body’s sensititivity to backaches and muscle aches. Excessive cortisol hypersensitizes the brain to pain and even the smallest pain can set off significant nerve reactions.
7. You have no sex drive
Libido inducing hormones like testosterone completely drop when suffering from increased cortisol.
8. Your gut acts up.
Your digestive system is incredibly sensitive to stress hormones. Increase stress can cause nausea, diarrhea, constipation and many other issues with your gastrointestinal system.
9. You feel anxious.
Cortisol and epinephrine can lead to jitters, nervous stomach, feelings of panic, even paranoia.
10. You feel sad.
High levels of cortisol suppress production of serotonin, and next thing you know, you’re awash in doom and gloom.
How Do You Lower Cortisol Levels?
For the levels of cortisol to decrease the brain needs to feel safe – it needs to be reprogrammed. Once the brain has been rebalanced the cortisol levels drop, sleep patterns are normalized and immunity gets rebuilt. Of course, this is a very simplified explanation, but it is accurate.
- Reduce and manage stress
- Exercise on a regular basis
- Use Adaptogen Herbs and Superfoods
- Get enough rest
- Take a holiday or weekend away
Aside from lowering your cortisol levels, Brain Wellness Spa offers many more life-changing treatments that eliminate some of the most challenging and harrowing mental illnesses in the world. In fact, lowering your cortisol levels is something we do that is stock-standard as part of our eight-session Emotional Empowerment Program, which every client undertakes on their journey with us. Get in touch with our friendly team at Brain Wellness Spa today, for assistance with stress.