Are you stressed out? The dangers of high cortisol and stress could kill you. Emotional stress is linked to the top six causes of death in the United States including cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide according to a study which also found that men who lived with chronic stress were more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and women who live stressful lives were more likely to develop breast cancer.
Here at LetsGetChecked, we wanted to uncover the biggest causes of stress in younger people as prevention is the best cure and knowing your health prevents a myriad of illnesses later in life.
- What Is Stress?
- What Are The Symptoms of Stress?
- What Does Stress Do?
- Effects Of High Cortisol In The Body
- Tips To Reduce Stress
What Is Stress?
Stress is defined by the American Psychological Association as “a feeling of being overwhelmed, worried or run-down.” The factors that cause stress are known as stressors. Stressors can be external factors such as your family, friends and finances or internal factors such as a genetic predisposition to depressive and anxious states.
What Are The Symptoms of Stress?
Stress is a physical and psychological condition. It’s a reaction to a threat that we feel we cannot control. Hormones are released to equip the body with resources to fight the perceived threat. These include a release of glucose from the liver to provide energy stores, an increased heart rate, lung dilation and increased breathing, and a decrease in digestive activity.
Are you too nervous to eat before an exam? Or do you eat a lot when you're stressed? Either way, it is a behavioural response to what you may be feeling internally.
What Does Stress Do?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone and is released by the adrenal gland in response to stress or low blood glucose. It is known as the “stress hormone.” It is responsible for controlling the body’s blood sugar levels, regulating metabolism, acting as an anti-inflammatory, influencing memory formation, controlling salt and water balance, influencing blood pressure and foetal development. Cortisol balance is essential for human health and problems may arise if the adrenal gland releases too much or too little cortisol. Cortisol levels can become imbalanced during the different stages of adrenal fatigue.
Stress is further fuelled by adrenaline and norepinephrine. Adrenal causes the “fight or flight” physical response in humans, its functions include pupil dilation to enhance vision, increased blood pressure to distribute enough blood to muscles all over the body and expanding air passages in the lungs. Norepinephrine is the neurotransmitter that mobilizes the mind and body for action. Its levels are lowest during sleep and highest during a time where one feels they are in danger or under threat. Norepinephrine increases vigilance, memory function and ability to retain data.
If you are living with chronic stress. Your body may begin to produce excess amounts of cortisol and this can negatively impact on both physical and emotional well-being.
Effects Of High Cortisol In The Body
Cushing’s Disease is a serious condition caused by an overproduction of cortisol. It causes hypertension (high blood pressure) which puts sufferers at a higher risk of heart disease.
Hyperglycemia is often found in people who are suffering from Diabetes Type 1 or 2. It is caused by elevated blood sugar or glucose which cortisol releases under times of high stress. Hyperglycemia can cause more serious symptoms if not treated correctly such as shortness of breath, physical weakness and coma
Weakened immune system
The overproduction of cortisol puts the body’s hormonal functions into overdrive weakening the immune system. This leaves sufferers more open to infection and disease.
The adrenal glands secrete hormones that control heart rate, blood pressure and the the way in which food is transferred into energy. Adrenal failure causes Addison’s disease. Symptoms found in addisonian crisis include a loss of consciousness, low blood pressure and physical aches and pains.
What goes up must come down and when blood sugar spikes, it will rapidly fall. This encourages the intake of sugary and fatty foods as one tries to replace their glucose stores. This slows down the metabolism and causes weight gain.
Cortisol needs to be highest in the morning and lowest in the evening to ensure good quality sleep. If your adrenal gland is producing too much cortisol, your sleep with be disturbed, causing a cycle of sleeplessness and fatigue. This impacts on physical and emotional well-being.
Erectile Dysfunction/Loss of libido
Chronic stress interferes with the body’s hormonal balance. It has the ability dampen sex drive. Arteries contract in times of high stress which can cause erectile dysfunction in men.
Here at LetsGetChecked, we carried out a survey on 100 college students aged between the age 20 and 30. This period, known as emerging adulthood is marked by stress due to its transitory nature. In the survey, we asked 50 boys and 50 girls between the age of 20 and 30 how they were feeling in that moment. The options for the purpose of the study included 1) Extremely Stressed 2)Stressed 3) Worried 4) At Ease. The results showed that only 25% of students were “At Ease” in that moment.
The high level of stress among this age group is compounded by the prevalence of emotional vulnerability within the “emerging adulthood” demographic. 66% of our sample said they suffer from an emotional illness. Anxiety has the highest prevalence followed by depression and eating disorders.
In our analysis, we found that: “Worries about the future” were the biggest causes of stress, followed by “Money issues” and “Family and friends.”
Short-term stress has been shown to boost performance in certain circumstances. However long-term chronic stress is said to exacerbate mood disorders and emotional illnesses. It also weakens the immune system and leaves sufferers more susceptible to life-threatening diseases such as heart disease.
Tips To Reduce Stress
- Keep a mood journal and identify your triggers for stress.
- Be mindful. Take note of three positive things that you experience each day.
- Build up a sweat: whether it’s yoga, boxing or spinning, find a way to get feel-good endorphins going.
- Eat healthily 80% of the time and drink lots of water to combat the physical symptoms of stress.
- Make to-do lists so you feel in control of your goals.
- Don’t be afraid to say no, only take on things you can handle
- A problem shared is a problem halved. Talk to your family and friends and let them be support you.
Excessive cortisol production can occur during times of extreme stress. At LetsGetChecked, we offer a Cortisol Test. The Cortisol test is for anyone looking to measure their cortisol levels which can be linked to adrenal fatigue, low blood sugar levels, metabolic issues, type 2 diabetes and stress.
Read: 10 Ways To Reduce Stress
Written by Hannah Kingston | Approved by Medical Director Dominic Rowley