Home Lifestyle 10 weird signs of high cortisol levels in your body

10 weird signs of high cortisol levels in your body

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Chronically high levels of cortisol are linked to serious health risks.

Blurred vision occurs as a result of the body redirecting focus and energy towards more critical survival functions. Picture: Pixabay

STRESS is a common issue that many face, from the challenges of parenting, pressures at work and managing finances to dealing with difficult relationships. It’s a part of everyday life.

Experiencing some level of stress is normal and can even be motivating but, as we know, too much of anything is dangerous. Excessive stress can be harmful, affecting one’s mental and physical health significantly.

The Mental Health Foundation emphasises the importance of recognising stress symptoms in order to manage them effectively.

However, identifying the symptoms isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. Many people have become so accustomed to living under stress that they realise they’re overwhelmed only when they hit breaking point.

A 2023 survey by Ipsos for World Mental Health Day, which used data from the past three years, explored how people feel about their mental health and the factors that affect it.

The survey showed that South Africa is leading the way in valuing mental health, a big change from the past.

@healthcoachlisa These weird symptoms may mean you have high cortisol and a dysregulated nervous system. Follow for more details on stress and cortisol. #cortisol #nervoussystemregulation #hormoneimbalance #burnout #stress #anxiety #highcortisol ♬ But Daddy I Love Him – Taylor Swift

According to the survey, 77% of South Africans believe mental health is as important as physical health. However, only 32% think both are treated equally by the health-care system. And while, 85% of South Africans often think about their physical health, 75% say the same about their mental well-being.

The survey also found that stress has significantly affected the lives of seven in 10 South Africans over the past year, with half admitting that stress has made them unable to work at times.

This reveals the need for increased awareness and better healthcare equality for mental health in South Africa, showing a growing recognition of the importance of mental well-being to overall health.

Elevated levels can lead to anxiety, depression and irritability. Picture: Ketut Subiyanto/pexels

Here are 10 signs that your cortisol levels might be higher than desirable:

Constantly tired

If you’re always feeling tired even though you have slept, it might be a sign of high cortisol levels. Cortisol is supposed to keep you alert and awake, but when too high for too long, it can lead to burnout. High cortisol levels can disrupt your sleep cycle, making it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. This can lead to insomnia or poor-quality sleep.

Unexplained weight gain, especially around the abdomen

Cortisol can increase appetite and signal the body to shift metabolism to store fat, particularly around the abdomen. This can lead to obesity and its associated risks such as diabetes and heart disease.

Mood swings

Cortisol impacts neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for mood regulation. Elevated levels of stress can lead to anxiety, depression and irritability.

Brain fog

High levels of cortisol can impair memory, concentration and learning. It is believed that cortisol negatively affects brain function and may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. High levels of cortisol can impair memory and learning by affecting the hippocampus, an area of the brain critical for memory formation.

Digestive problems

Cortisol production can also interfere with digestion, leading to issues like bloating, constipation or diarrhoea, stomach ache and irritable bowel syndrome due to its effects on various bodily systems.

Physical health problems getting worse

The high stress hormone, cortisol, suppresses the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections and illnesses.

Blurred vision

Blurred vision occurs as a result of the body redirecting focus and energy towards more critical survival functions, temporarily impairing the eye’s ability to focus properly.

Chest pains or panic attacks

Your heart beats faster to move blood to your muscles quickly, which can make your chest feel tight or painful. The fast heartbeat can feel scary, which might cause a panic attack.

Feeling dizzy

Because your body is moving blood to where it thinks it’s needed most, like your muscles, your brain might get a bit less blood for a short time, making you feel dizzy.

Hair loss

Different types of hair loss can occur as a result of stress. It may inhibit hair regrowth, cause the body’s immune system to attack the hair follicles, or cause an irresistible urge to pull one’s hair.

Why do the signs manifest?

The World Health Organization reports that stress signs manifest because cortisol affects a variety of bodily functions including metabolism, sleep, blood pressure and immunity. In the short term, the effects are part of the body’s survival mechanism. However, prolonged elevation leads to detrimental health effects.

The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism revealed that based on studies, chronically high levels of cortisol are linked to serious health risks, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, mental illness and a weakened immune system.

Additionally, it can lead to osteoporosis by affecting bone density and muscle mass, thereby increasing the risk of fractures and falls.

Lifestyle changes such as improving sleep habits, stress management techniques, and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine can also aid in regulating cortisol levels and improving overall health.

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