Stress is a physical and emotional response to demands and pressures in life. Causes of stress are everyday stressors such as work, school, financial problems or events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or moving to a new city. Stress is normal, but it can cause physical and mental health problems when it becomes too much to handle.
What do the numbers say?
Statistics show that stress affects people all over the world. In fact, according to research conducted by the World Health Organization, over three out of four adults report feeling stressed at least once a week. Stress leads to various adverse outcomes, from poor physical health to decreased mental well-being.
According to recent data published by Indian Express, approximately 60% of Indians experience high-stress levels regularly. This number increases for young adults between the ages of 25-34 who report higher stress levels than average.
Stress affects many different industries, from corporate professionals to entrepreneurs and students. In particular, individuals working in finance, healthcare, and technology often experience high levels of work-related stress due to a demanding workload, long hours, and tight deadlines.
Stress: The silent killer
The effects of prolonged stress can destroy physical and mental health. Cortisol is a hormone released by the body in response to stressful situations, and its elevated levels can lead to increased blood pressure, headaches, fatigue, digestive issues, depression, and anxiety. Chronic stress increases the risk of developing severe medical conditions such as heart disease and stroke.
Stress triggers chronic depression because it can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, which can cause an individual to withdraw from activities they once enjoyed. Stress also aggravates anxiety disorders by making people more prone to panic attacks and other extreme fear or dread symptoms.
The science of stress: Cortisol biomolecule
Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, and its primary function is to help regulate blood pressure, metabolism, and immune system responses. Cortisol levels are also known to increase during physical or psychological stress. When a person experiences stress, the body releases cortisol as part of the fight-or-flight response. Cortisol hormone helps the body deal with stress by increasing blood sugar levels, providing more energy, and suppressing the immune system. Cortisol increases blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and metabolism to prepare the body for a “fight or flight”
Excessive levels of cortisol can have adverse effects on physical and mental health. When Cortisol levels remain elevated for long periods, it can lead to severe physical and mental health issues, including weight gain, difficulty sleeping, impaired cognitive function, and depression.
Low cortisol levels can also have adverse effects on health. Low cortisol can cause fatigue, weight loss, and a weakened immune system. Cortisol is also necessary for moderating stress responses and maintaining emotional stability.
Interventional cardiologist Dr. Sagger Mawri says, “The relationship between stress and cortisol is complex. Cortisol can be both good and bad for the body depending on the level – too little or too much cortisol can have negative implications.”
High cortisol levels affect our physical and mental well-being, leading to higher risks of depression and anxiety. It can also cause a decrease in bone density, an increase in blood pressure and even an increase in abdominal fat.
On the other hand, low cortisol levels lead to conditions such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Addison’s Disease, where the body works harder to produce cortisol but cannot do so effectively. Symptoms of low Cortisol include dizziness when standing up quickly, fainting spells, muscle fatigue, and altered mental states like confusion or memory loss.
Medical practitioners and doctors agree that cortisol is vital in perceiving and responding to stress. Dr. Yasmin Akhunji, MD, an endocrinologist states, “Cortisol helps reduce inflammation caused by stress, but when you experience prolonged anxiety or fear, it can lead to elevated cortisol levels for too long, which can have dangerous health consequences.”
It is, therefore, essential to be mindful of Cortisol levels due to their connection with stress responses and physical and mental wellness.
Monitoring stress to Manage it
In order to maintain optimal well-being, one must periodically and systematically monitor stress levels. You can use biometric data to measure and track stress levels. Cortisol is used as an indicator to gauge how much our bodies are under pressure. Monitoring cortisol levels periodically helps us identify when we are feeling overwhelmed or overstressed and allows us to reduce our anxiety. It can also help us recognize early warning signs that could lead to more severe health
The benefits of periodic stress level monitoring include identifying trends in one’s stress levels and better understanding what triggers an increase in cortisol hormone production. Additionally, it can help people manage difficult situations that trigger high-stress responses and help individuals learn how to manage their stress more effectively and prevent it from becoming overwhelming.
Today, various monitoring solutions are available that measure Cortisol levels in real time. These solutions range from wearable devices such as smartwatches and fitness trackers to saliva or blood tests done periodically at home or in a lab. While these qualitative methods provide a good starting point for stress level tracking, they do not give accurate quantitative results that are useful for more precise analysis over time.
Therefore, there is still a need for more advanced technologies that produce quantifiable data in real-time. With further development and refinement of existing technologies, monitoring Cortisol levels could become an invaluable tool for better managing stress, improving productivity and staying physically and mentally healthy.
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