Beware high levels of Cortisol, the ’Stress Hormone’
Often called the stress hormone cortisol causes an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure. It’s your natural ‘fight or flight’ response that has kept us humans alive for thousands of years. It does this by curbing functions within our body that would be nonessential or harmful in a ‘fight or flight’ situation. Normal levels of cortisol are released when you wake in the morning and help regulate things like your blood pressure and blood sugar level but in large amounts it can have unpleasant and have damaging effects.
1.Digestive issues – Intestinal problems such as constipation, bloating or diarrhoea. When stress hormones are pumping through your body all day every day, they shunt blood away from your digestive tract and impact your gut microbiome, both of which lead to dysregulated bowel movements
2.Weight fluctuations -Weight gain typically around your middle, upper back, and face. If you have difficulty maintaining a weight or experience sudden weight loss it can be linked to your stress hormones. Not only do your stress hormones directly affect your weight but they can also decrease satiety and increase food cravings, leading to you consuming more calories. A stress hormone called glucocorticoid stimulates appetite. This hormone stays in the blood stream for hours, promoting emotional eating especially of high sugar, high fat, high carb ‘feel good’ foods which can lead to weight gain. How about Lack of appetite? Do you wake with no appetite for breakfast? If you’re in fight or flight mode, you are not concerned with what to eat for breakfast However Losing your appetite may contribute to nutrient deficiencies. Cycles of binge eating, and restriction are also caused by our stress hormones. By binging and restricting you are throwing your hormones, metabolism, and digestion our of sink.
3. Disrupted sleep – Do you suffer with insomnia or wake during the night? Whether getting too much or not enough both indicate the presence of stress hormones. When your body is surviving off stress hormones it is unable to enter the REM phases of sleep and cause disruption in sleep patterns. Sleepless nights in turn lead to increased stress hormones hence a vicious cycle is created.
4.Fatigue, irritability, headaches, anxiety, or depression. From tension headaches to migraines when the body is stressed muscle tension and constriction of blood vessels from the release of cortisol are common causes of headaches. You may be unaware, but You may be grinding your teeth at night or clenching your jaw both of which contribute to headaches on waking and dental issues. Stress keeps your brain’s stress response turned on which accelerates your heart rate, increases respiration, and activates your sympathetic nervous system. This takes a lot of energy often leading to feelings of exhaustion at the end of the day and contributes to feelings of fatigue. When your body is in survival mode it takes resources away from non-survival related functions such as short-term memory and executive functioning. This results in an increase in memory lapses and difficulty paying attention and makes planning and execution difficult.
5.Supressed immune system – getting sick often? Bruising and slow wound healing? Have you noticed that when you get a holiday, and you finally relax you get sick? This phenomenon known as ‘the let-down effect’ occurs once the body finally relaxes after a prolonged period of stress. Research shows that stress can make you more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections. If you feel like you are constantly battling a cold or secondary infection, stress may be to blame. Skin breakouts -Cortisol increases oil production and lowers thyroid, which in turn increases inflammation. Increased oil production paired with a compromised immune system and a reduction in the skins ability to protect itself is perfect environment to result in skin breakout. Thinning hair? When your body is in survival mode it diverts blood and nutrients away from non-essential functions such as skin and hair maintenance which can often result in hair thinning.
6.Need to be productive all the time? Do you feel the need to constantly be doing something? This may sound like a good thing, but it is a tell-tale sign that your body is surviving on stress. Our bodies and minds are designed to need rest, recovery, and sleep.
7.Hormonal or menstrual issues? – A constant release of stress hormones signal to your body that it is not safe, and your body will not reproduce in an unsafe environment. Your body cannot identify as to where the stress is coming from i.e. Is it that you are being chased by lions or have a deadline from your boss? This leads to irregular or missed periods, Low libido, erectile dysfunction, or problems with regular, ovulation or menstrual periods
The repeated release of adrenaline and cortisol to support ‘fight or flight’ response and protect us are also associated with chronic and ongoing pain.