What happens in the body when we are stressed?
Stress can be briefly described as the body's reaction to various types of stress and challenges, both physical and psychological. It can be a reaction to an acute event, such as an accident or a conflict, or a long-term strain such as work-related stress or concerns in personal life.
How we experience stress is completely individual, but the process in the body is often the same when the sympathetic nervous system is activated. The sympathetic nervous system controls, among other things, breathing, blood pressure and pulse, and is not something we can influence with our will. In connection with the stress reaction, stress hormones such as kortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine are released in the body. These hormones help us become more alert and ready to act quickly, which may be necessary in dangerous or demanding situations.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands and is involved in a number of different processes in the body, such as regulation of blood pressure, blood sugar levels and the immune system. Cortisol is released in response to stress and acts as part of the body's "fight or flight" response, helping us to be alert and ready to deal with potentially threatening situations. Cortisol is also called the stress hormone in some contexts because it has a strong connection to stress.
The relationship between stress and cortisol?
As previously mentioned, the body's production of cortisol (as well as other hormones) increases when we are exposed to stress. These hormones help the body mobilize energy and resources to deal with stress effectively. However, if we are exposed to long-term stress without the possibility of recovery, this can lead to an imbalance in cortisol levels, which in turn can have negative consequences for our health. In the case of long-term stress, we can in many cases measure higher cortisol levels as a result of your body being exposed and affected by stress.
Factors that can affect your cortisol levels
Examples of factors that can lead to long-term stress include high demands in the workplace, relationship problems, financial worries or constant changes in our lives. Another factor that can affect cortisol levels is lack of sleep. When we don't get enough sleep, our body is subjected to additional stress, which can lead to an increased production of cortisol. This, in turn, can worsen sleep problems and create a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation, increased cortisol production and reduced sleep quality.
Effects of high cortisol levels
Elevated cortisol levels over a long period of time can lead to a number of negative symptoms and health problems, such as:
- Sleep disorders
- Increased fat storage, especially abdominal fat
- Increased hunger and reduced satiety
- Impaired immune system
- Muscle breakdown and weakened muscles
- Impaired ability to concentrate
- Mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety
- Blood sugar imbalance
- Increased risk of diseases, such as stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease
So you can manage stress and influence your cortisol levels?
If you suspect you have high cortisol levels due to prolonged stress, there are several things you can do. One idea might be to first test your cortisol level and then follow up after you have implemented measures to reduce stress and restore hormonal balance:
- Review your sleep routines and prioritize good sleep quality. This can mean creating a relaxing sleep environment, avoiding screens before bedtime and maintaining regular bedtimes.
- Take a closer look at your relationships, work demands and lifestyle to identify sources of stress and make necessary changes.
- Incorporate relaxing and stress-reducing activities into your everyday life, such as meditation, yoga, walks in nature or deep breathing.
- Seek support from family, friends or professional therapists to manage stress and any underlying problems.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet rich in nutrients that support your body under stress, such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Stress and cortisol have a close relationship and affect our health in many ways. By understanding the connection between these factors and taking steps to reduce stress in our lives, we can create a healthier balance and improve our physical and mental well-being. It is important to listen to our body and allow ourselves time for recovery and relaxation in order to manage stress and cortisol levels effectively. Test and measure your cortisol levels to see if the changes in your lifestyle are having an effect.