Stress causes the adrenal glands to release cortisol into the bloodstream. Elevated levels of this hormone prepare your body for emergency action. The heart rate increases, digestion slows to allow more blood to circulate into your muscles, sensitivity to pain is lowered, and your body gets a burst of strength and extra energy.
This is called the “fight or flight” reaction because it enables a person to either fight off danger or run away from it.
Increased cortisol is helpful if survival is at stake. When you are facing a wild animal or trying to escape from a fiery building, it is exactly what you need. After the crisis has passed, the relaxation response kicks in. The tension leaves your body, and you sigh with relief because you are no longer in danger. You relax, cortisol levels decrease, and bodily functions return to normal.
Our bodies were designed to deal with occasional emergencies, not with chronic stress. Your brain perceives emotional or mental trauma as a threat. In today’s world, where one anxiety is immediately followed by another, you always feel stressed, and the relaxation response never occurs. Your cortisol levels stay elevated. This can have some devastating effects on your body.
-Suppressed thyroid function
-Decreased bone density
-Decreased muscle tissue
-Impaired cognitive performance
-Increased abdominal fat. This is a problem in itself, as fat stored in the abdominal area can lead to elevated cholesterol and increased risk of heart disease.
When cortisol is constantly being secreted, a condition called adrenal fatigue can occur. This means that the adrenal glands lose their ability to produce dehydroepiandrosterome, better known as DHEA. This is a hormone that enables the production of other hormones. If DHEA levels are not adequate, the body cannot produce any of the other hormones it needs to function properly.
The following list includes some of the problems that can be caused by adrenal fatigue:
-Chronic fatigue syndrome
If you often feel anxious, your body may be suffering from the effects of too much cortisol. You need to find a way to initiate the relaxation response in yourself. This is less complicated than you might think. Find something that helps you to relax.
You cannot eliminate stress from your life. But, you can use stress management techniques to help you handle it so that your body can stay healthy.