The human body is amazing. When something is wrong, our bodies know how to fix it. Broken bones knit back together, cancer cells are attacked, infections are fought and damaged skin is regenerated. But what happens when our brains are running on empty? When you are stressed to high levels, your body activates it’s ‘flight or fight’ response and secretes the cortisol hormone into your bloodstream. Cortisol in normal doses is essential to survival as it regulates blood pressure, plays a role in anti-inflammatory processes and immune funciton, however large doses of cortisol into the bloodstream can cause stress-related changes such as;
- high blood pressure
- blood sugar imbalances
- lowered immunity
- impaired cognitive function
- increased abdominal fat, which can in turn lead to heart attack, stroke, metabolic disease and cholesterol issues
- slower wound healing
- decrease in bone density and muscle tissue
Yet some people are simply addicted to the high that stress, and cortisol, gives them.
So how can you tell if you are addicted to stress? Here are 10 signs that you have high levels of cortisol in your bloodstream and could be at risk.
Despite eating well and exercising, you are gaining weight around your midle. Cortisol causes a ‘thickness’ around the mid-section.
Even though you crash as soon as your head hits the pillow, you feel exhausted all day. High levels of cortisol deplete the adrenal glands (from which it is secreted) and make you more prone to chronic fatigue. So if you feel like you haven’t slept at all when you wake in the morning, you are probably highly stressed.
Tossing and Turning
It’s no surprise that people who are stressed do not sleep well. Cortisol levels are typically at their highest in the morning and are supposed to drop at night, allowing your body to rest. But if your stress, and cortisol levels, are too high, you are likely to get a small burst of energy at bedtime (even though you are exhausted already) and toss and turn all night.
Immune System Down
If you find yourself catching every little sniffle and bug, chances are you are too stressed for your immune system to be working properly. Cortisol deactivates your body’s natural self-repair systems, which means you are vulnerable to every infection and contagion floating around when you are super-stressed.
High cortisol means high blood sugar, which puts you in a risk category for diabetes. With high glucose levels comes a rise in insulin, which then drop your blood sugar, causing a sudden urge to down a block of chocolate.
Doom and Gloom
Serotonin is the hormone that transmits chemical messages from one side of the brain to another. It is linked to psychological functions like mood, appetite, sleep, memory and sexual and social behaviour. Low levels of serotonin are reported to cause depression. High levels of cortisol suppress the production of serotonin and also increase anxiety, leading to jitters, nervous stomach, panic and paranoia.
Sex Drive Driven Off
Cortisol is the ultimate ‘downer’, literally. When stress hormones are high, testosterone and other libido-inducing hormones drop….pardon the pun!
Physical Pain and Illness
Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands, which get depleted and drained over long periods of time of high level cortisol production. This then raises prolactin levels, which increase the bodies sensitivity and the brain’s response to pain. This means even the slightest twinge can excite the nerves of the brain, causing headaches, or a back or muscle ache which would’ve been tolerable in a low stress period, becomes almost unbearable.
Your gastrointestinal system is also very sensitive to high levels of cortisol, resulting in nausea, heartburn, cramps, constipation, diaorrhea, ulcers and other stomach issues.
Small levels of stress are unavoidable and even healthy in the human body. However, high levels of stress and cortisol production can lead to major health concerns, including adrenal fatigue and obesity. It is important for those more sensitive to stress to try and maintain a low-stress lifestyle, or adopt lifestyle changes and strategies to manage their stress.