Relationship Between Cortisol, Stress, & Anxiety

We live in a world overrun by stress and anxiety where good mental health is a goal in itself. Many of us are familiar with how anxiety feels, but a better understanding of the relationship between cortisol, stress, and anxiety could possibly show us the ways to deal with our anxieties.

In this topic we have three keywords – Cortisol, Stress, and Anxiety. It is important to understand the meaning of these words.

Cortisol is the hormone produced naturally by our body.

Stress is a natural fight or flight response to a threat.

Anxiety is a reaction to the stress.1

Cortisol – The Stress Hormone

Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal gland that is situated right above the kidneys. Body has a built in mechanism (the Diurnal cycle) to release and maintain the cortisol levels. Cortisol is also released in response to the stress. Healthy cortisol level is important for overall energy levels. Cortisol as a hormone plays role in functioning of various body systems. It causes the heart to beat faster; the blood vessels to constrict increasing the blood pressure; the muscles to tense in response to meet a real or imaginary life situation, and also to deal with healthy life stressors such as family issues, bonding, finances, work, traveling and much more.

Studies on human body systems indicate that maintaining the right cortisol levels is essential for healthy living. Too much or too little cortisol levels can be cause of a lot of health-related concerns.

What happens if Cortisol levels are abnormal?

Too much of cortisol can have a major effect on various body functions. It can interfere with mood, sleep, learning and memory, increase weight gain, lower immune function, reduce bone density, increase blood pressure and cholesterol levels that in turn can lead to major heart related problems.

Studies have indicated that abnormalities in cortisol levels can lead to: higher cholesterol and therefore higher percentage of fatty acids in blood; decrease in protein synthesis leading to loss of muscle strength and fatigue; increased blood sugar levels; difficulty in breathing and rapid heart rate; poor digestion and increase in stomach acids; increase in blood pressure and blood clotting; and an increased risk of mental illness.


Relationship between Cortisol, Stress & Anxiety

An increase in cortisol level, as response to a stress factor, gives us the energy to cope with life’s problems, which is generally a sign of good health.  This increased level of cortisol is temporary and comes back to normal once the perceived threat situation is resolved. This normal and ideal situation although evokes a stress response, but does not push us to react and become anxious.

Nonetheless, when we remain stressed for a prolonged period of time, the regulation mechanism to maintain cortisol levels is disrupted. This leads to higher or lower levels of cortisol, which is manifested as abnormalities in various body functions. Abnormal body organ(s) and/or system(s) functions are recognized as associated signs and symptoms.  Our tendency to react to such signs and symptoms is what makes us anxious about our wellbeing, and causes or exacerbates anxiety. Depending on how we react, our anxieties are identified as different types of anxiety disorders.

Being aware of stressors and able to manage our cortisol levels within normal biological levels can greatly empower us to manage our anxieties. For more details about Cortisol, its effect on various body functions, and methods to manage cortisol levels, keep following our blog post. Be the first one to know about our latest blog post by subscribing.