Stress is the body's reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. These responses can be physical, mental and emotional. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released into the bloodstream and causes one or multiple of the aforementioned responses.
Stress is natural for the body, and when the amount and timing of cortisol release is right it can be a positive thing. An example of good stress is exercise induced stress. When the body exercises, there is
an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow and breathing rate. This causes stress to the body, albeit for a short period of time. However, once stopped, endorphins (feel good hormones), are released which help to relax the body and normalise hormone levels.
Exercise also helps to clear the body of toxins, through aiding the lymphatic system by using the muscles to pump lymphatic fluid back to the heart. This reduces the overall workload of the body, which in turn reduces bodily stress. Another example of the positive effects of stress on the body would be the fight or flight response. This is an important response, which can save our lives in the short term.
The negative or unwanted stress is long-term or chronic stress. This occurs when a person has elevated cortisol levels over a long period of time. Things such as emotional harbouring, anxiety,. poor lifestyle choices i.e over-exercising, unhealthy diet, poor sleep patterns, smoking, excess alcohol consumption etc..
When the aforementioned factors are not dealt with correctly and effectively, illness or disease may occur. Interestingly disease can be broken down into dis-ease, where some health professionals see the cause of disease to be the lack of ease.
Cortisol travels in the blood stream. Therefore, when one has chronically elevated cortisol levels or long term stress, cortisol is in the entire blood stream. If you couple this with the fact that almost every kind of cell in the body has cortisol receptors, you will begin to understand the knock-on detrimental effect that chronic stress can have on the body.
Every single person has specific systems in their body that are weaker than others, their weak link. When chronic stress ensues, the weak link will be first to go. A common weak link for many is the gut. Symptoms like IBS, diarrhea, constipation, lack of appetite are to name but a few. When the gut is affected, the brain can also be affected through the gut brain connection (stay updated with blogs to learn more about this).
Interestingly, long term stress can increase insulin release which causes blood sugar lows. How we see to these sugar lows is very important. if you use artificial sugar, a blood sugar spike will occur, followed by a blood sugar low. If this continues, it can become a very unhealthy for the individual, not only affecting mood and energy levels but could be the beginnings hypoglycaemia, hyperglycaemia or even diabetes. However, if we curb the sugar low with a complex carbohydrate, such as potatoes, bananas or dates, a slower release of sugars can help to stabilise blood sugar levels.
Cortisol promotes energy efficiency. This means that we use more energy at rest when we are stressed. For example, overthinking (thoughts running through your head), jigging your leg, fidgeting etc.. This means that the body has less energy for the normal processes at rest. One of the main systems affected by this is the immune system. Due to reduced energy stores, immune efficiency and effectiveness are decreased. This means that disease and illness can often accompany chronically stressed individuals.
For anyone struggling particularly with stress, anxiety, depression or any other mental struggle please reach out to those close to you or the following helpline