You know that feeling: you’re stressed out all the time, which means you can’t focus, get things done, sleep and have trouble suddenly remembering even the most rudimentary things. For all of this you can thank cortisol, which is your body’s “stress hormone.”
As discussed in the previous post in this series, cortisol is necessary for survival, both in our caveman days, where daily danger was omnipresent, and today in such situations as making sure you jump out of the way of an oncoming car before it hits you. You may notice, after the car has passed, that you still feel amped up. This is again thanks to cortisol.
The problems begin, however, when that feeling of constantly being in danger refuses to abate, when elevated levels of blood cortisol become the norm. This leads to both short- and long-term health problems that can be annoying at best and possibly negative on your health at worst.
Psychology Today has posited that continuously elevated levels of blood cortisol can affect both the mind and the body over time. Distressful situations—which can be as dramatic as getting out of the way of that Volvo or as innocuous as worrying about what’s for dinner—don’t allow healthy outlets for cortisol, which can effectively turn the body’s stress-response system against itself.
The news gets worse the longer cortisol remains elevated in your body. WebMD reports that over time, unchecked cortisol can increase a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease that puts people at increased risk of heart attack and stroke.In the next part of this series, “Suppressing Cortisol Levels in the Body,” we’ll look at some healthy ways to decrease stress levels and the negative effects that cortisol can wreak on your mind and body.