Cortisol is a steroid hormone that your adrenal glands, the endocrine glands on top of your kidneys, produce and release. Cortisol affects several aspects of your body and mainly helps regulate your body’s response to stress.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone that your adrenal glands produce and release.
Hormones are chemicals that coordinate different functions in your body by carrying messages through your blood to your organs, skin, muscles and other tissues. These signals tell your body what to do and when to do it.
Glucocorticoids are a type of steroid hormone. They suppress inflammation in all of your bodily tissues and control metabolism in your muscles, fat, liver and bones. Glucocorticoids also affect sleep-wake cycles.
Your adrenal glands, also known as suprarenal glands, are small, triangle-shaped glands that are located on top of each of your two kidneys. They’re a part of your endocrine system.
Cortisol is an essential hormone that affects almost every organ and tissue in your body. It plays many important roles, including:
• Regulating your body’s stress response.
• Helping control your body’s use of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, or your metabolism.
• Suppressing inflammation.
• Regulating blood pressure.
• Regulating blood sugar.
• Helping control your sleep-wake cycle.
Your body continuously monitors your cortisol levels to maintain steady levels (homeostasis). Higher-than-normal or lower-than-normal cortisol levels can be harmful to your health.
Is cortisol a stress hormone?
Cortisol is widely known as the “stress hormone.” However, it has many important effects and functions throughout your body aside from regulating your body’s stress response.
It’s also important to remember that, biologically speaking, there are multiple different kinds of stress, including:
• Acute stress: Acute stress happens when you’re in sudden danger within a short period of time. For example, barely avoiding a car accident or being chased by an animal are situations that cause acute stress.
• Chronic stress: Chronic (long-term) stress happens when you experience ongoing situations that cause frustration or anxiety. For example, having a difficult or frustrating job or having a chronic illness can cause chronic stress.
• Traumatic stress: Traumatic stress happens when you experience a life-threatening event that induces fear and a feeling of helplessness. For example, experiencing an extreme weather event, such as a tornado, or experiencing war or sexual assault can cause traumatic stress. In some cases, these events can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Your body releases cortisol when you experience any of these types of stress
What does cortisol do to my body?
Almost all tissues in your body have glucocorticoid receptors. Because of this, cortisol can affect nearly every organ system in your body, including:
• Nervous system.
• Immune system.
• Cardiovascular system.
• Respiratory system.
• Reproductive systems (female and male).
• Musculoskeletal system.
• Integumentary system (skin, hair, nails, glands and nerves).
More specifically, cortisol affects your body in the following ways:
• Regulating your body’s stress response: During times of stress, your body can release cortisol after releasing its “fight or flight” hormones, such as adrenaline, so you continue to stay on high alert. In addition, cortisol triggers the release of glucose (sugar) from your liver for fast energy during times of stress.
• Regulating metabolism: Cortisol helps control how your body uses fats, proteins and carbohydrates for energy.
• Suppressing inflammation: In short spurts, cortisol can boost your immunity by limiting inflammation. However, if you have consistently high levels of cortisol, your body can get used to having too much cortisol in your blood, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system.
• Regulating blood pressure: The exact way in which cortisol regulates blood pressure in humans is unclear. However, elevated levels of cortisol can cause high blood pressure, and lower-than-normal levels of cortisol can cause low blood pressure.
• Increasing and regulating blood sugar: Under normal circumstances, cortisol counterbalances the effect of insulin, a hormone your pancreas makes, to regulate your blood sugar. Cortisol raises blood sugar by releasing stored glucose, while insulin lowers blood sugar. Having chronically high cortisol levels can lead to persistent high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). This can cause Type 2 diabetes.
• Helping control your sleep-wake cycle: Under regular circumstances, you have lower cortisol levels in the evening when you go to sleep and peak levels in the morning right before you wake up. This suggests that cortisol plays a significant role in the initiation of wakefulness and plays a part in your body’s circadian rhythm.
Optimum cortisol levels are necessary for life and for maintaining several bodily functions. If you have consistently high or low cortisol levels, it can have negative impacts on your overall health
Extracts from my.clevelandclinic.org
Identifying A Potential Problem
Our devices give us constant notifications, and when we hear that alert sound, it actually sets off a “fight or flight” reaction within our bodies. This rapid rise in the stress hormone cortisol is intended to give us the energy necessary to outrun danger, but in our fast-paced, modern society, it can harm us rather than help us. When cortisol floods our system, it can break our concentration and make it difficult for us to retain focus.
Here’s the problem: this is generally happening several times per day, every single day, and therefore, it has long-term effects. The overwhelming majority of college students report hearing or feeling “phantom alerts” from their phones, or getting the random urge to check their phones even when they know they don’t have any new messages.
Responding to distractions actually would have been advantageous in throughout our evolutionary history—if you wanted to survive, you had to be observant and stay aware of potential dangers. This is why sustaining serious concentration takes effort and practice. Tuning out distractions could have been dangerous in the early days of humanity, but today, it’s a necessary skill.
The deluge of notifications putting our brains and bodies in a near-constant state of stress interferes with an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which handles highest-order cognitive functioning. If you don’t work to maintain this ability, your prefrontal cortex will not be able to function properly, and your brain will revert back to that “default state” of responding to every distraction