Your Body’s Response to Stress

Shot of a young woman suffering from stress while using a computer at her work desk

Remember being a child? You’d stub your toe or bring home a bad grade on your report card, and it would feel like the end of the world – for about five minutes. Then, you’d race out the door to giggle with friends or fly on the swings or shoot hoops at the playground.

Back then, there were stressful moments, but more often than not, they were short-lived. Now that you are a grownup, however, you may find it more difficult to let go of stress. Stress may be staying with you, day after day and week after week. After all, many people struggle to simply balance day-to-day responsibilities. Then, if something more severe happens, such as becoming a long-term care giver or losing a job, it becomes nearly impossible to remove stress from your life.

Your Body and Stress

The feelings you have during short-term stress are healthy, natural physical responses. When your body encounters a stressful situation, it releases a steroid hormone called cortisol. This hormone triggers the “fight or flight” response that puts your body on high alert so that you can more effectively cope with the perceived threat. When this happens, you may feel your heart racing, tummy tighten, breath quicken or even a sudden burst of energy.

You feel these things because cortisol is telling your primary systems, like your breathing and circulatory systems, to accelerate. At the same time, it tells your secondary systems, like your reproductive and immune systems, to slow down, allowing all of your energy to shift towards coping with the threat.

Once the threat has passed, your cortisol levels should slowly subside and your systems should return to normal functioning.

Too Much Stress; Too Much Cortisol

But, what happens when the stressful situation(s) never ends? What happens when your body has so much cortisol coursing through it that it remains on high alert for long periods of time?

When that happens, your systems never reset themselves. Your body may over-tax your primary systems or not restore your secondary systems to normal functioning, leading to issues like:

  • High blood pressure
  • Digestive issues
  • Weight gain
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Decreased libido
  • Reduced energy
  • Reduced immunity
  • Muscle weakness

If you’re feeling any of these symptoms for unexplained reasons, it could be that you’ve been battling stress for too long and your cortisol levels aren’t dropping as they should. Cortisol saliva tests or cortisol blood tests can both be used to quickly evaluate your cortisol levels so that you can find out if they are at an unhealthy level.

Coping with Stress

If you find that your cortisol levels are too high, it’s important to take steps to reduce your stress and begin restoring your body to its natural functioning. Of course, talking with your doctor will provide options that fit your health status and lifestyle, but these may include:

  • Exercising
  • Learning to slow down (Think yoga, meditation, massage)
  • Keeping a gratitude journal
  • Evaluating your priorities and taking steps to remove non-necessary commitments
  • Employing self-care practices
  • Embracing your creative side

Having some stress in your life is natural, but if you start to question the impact that stress is having on your overall health and well-being, it’s time to take back control. Walk in to your local Any Lab Test Now location to get the answers you need about your cortisol level. Once you know, you’ll have one less thing to stress over!

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