What happens to us when we’re stressed? The human body is so brilliantly made and organized that it is more or less prepared for everything that happens to us. When we’re in a stressful situation, hormones that help us survive through danger are released in our body – these are of course stress hormones. Why are we talking about danger? Because our body sees stressful situations as danger – be it to our health, or well-being. Such hormones are supposed to help us under difficult circumstances or enable us to escape or fight back in case of a direct attack. It’s important that these are singular cases, then the hormones are helpful.
It’s not so good when stress levels are continually high. Then, the same hormones that are supposed to help us with this, start to do us harm.
Before we get to the effects of long-term stress, let’s start with this
WHAT ARE STRESS HORMONES?
Stress hormones comprise of substances that increase their levels in a stressful situation. They include: adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. All these hormones are produced by adrenal glands.
The entire process starts with the adrenaline release as it’s the energizing hormone. 10 minutes after, there is the cortisol release. Cortisol is the most harmful one of the mentioned hormones.
Adrenaline and noradrenaline affect the cardiovascular system. Their presence in blood increases muscle tension and blood circulation. The hormone also changes heart rate. Our body starts working intensely which increases the need for oxygen, and body temperature. Adrenaline is not a harmful hormone that is supposed to help us solve a problem. It gives us an energy boost.
Cortisol is an organic compound that has a very positive effect on our body when its level is adequate. Then, it improves blood pressure and regulates the body’s use of protein. However, cortisol is called the killer hormone for a reason.
What are the symptoms of heightened cortisol levels?
The condition of consistently too high cortisol levels is called Cushing syndrome. It produces several typical symptoms – the first one is the build. Fat is stored around the face, neck, and the midsection while the limbs remain relatively slim. This often cooccurs with moderate obesity that doesn’t exceed 100 kg.
Apart from fat deposits in the face, often there is also acne, redness, and women can develop facial hair. Moreover, purple stretchmarks, bruises, and enlarged blood vessels appear on the body. Sadly, apart from typically aesthetic aspects, you can also develop weakness, fatigue, arterial hypertension, diabetes. Women may experience menstruation disorders, weakness, the loss of sex drive, and men impotence. Heightened cortisol levels may also result in mental disorders, hyperactivity, irritability, insomnia, waves of euphoria and depression.
WHAT IF WE HAVE TOO LITTLE CORTISOL?
This is Addison’s disease. Its main symptoms include fatigue that increases in daytime, muscle adynamia, and sometimes even muscle paralysis, and weakened voice. While Cushing syndrome is characterized by obesity, this disease is characterized by severe weight loss, skin discoloration, digestive system disorders commonly manifesting as diarrhea, frequent stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, and prevalent skin discoloration. Addison’s disease often cooccurs with low blood pressure and mental changes that result in mental heaviness, and in, extreme cases, even psychosis.
It good to check whether your cortisol level is normal because the hormone can be the cause of many health issues.