The human mind has evolved over millions of years to make us what we are today. But some of the oldest and most primitive parts of what make us human are among the most rudimentary. Among these is the automated so-called “fight-or-flight” response that is triggered by the brain in response to danger. The brain’s automatic fight-or-flee mechanism is due to a complex of brain chemicals that initiate you to respond to danger. One such brain chemical is called cortisol, the body’s “stress hormone.”
Cortisol, of course, is a necessary part of the evolutionary stew that is the human mind. Our brains release cortisol into the bloodstream for fight-or-flight situations. Stress is part of being human and of surviving, but too much of anything, including cortisol, can be a problem.
According to Psychology Today, there are two types of stress: eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress). Both types release cortisol as part of something scientists term “general adaptation syndrome,” which readies your body for action. Eustress is associated with goal-oriented behavior and achieving results, resulting in a carpe diem feeling that can be invigorating. Typically, distress is usually short-lived as well, and cortisol levels typically return to normal once the danger has passed.
However, the research also shows that if there is no “release” of cortisol under such situations, cortisol levels become increased in the bloodstream, which can lead to both short- and long-term health problems. This will be covered in greater depth in “The Effects of Elevated Cortisol Levels in the Body.”