How Stress Hormones Affect Your Body


June 23, 2017

Stress hormones. Stress? And hormones? Yeah, negative things popped into my mind too.

Stress isn’t sedentary, it’s dynamic. There’s this curve, the Yerkes-Dodson curve, that gives a visual representation of stress levels and how they affect your performance.

Prepeak, stress is actually good, called eustress, spurring productivity, motivation, attention and interest. Postpeak, now that’s probably the stress you typically think of when you dip into extreme stress, is distress. This is when it starts hurting your body. It feels persistent, exhausting and downright painful.

So what happens when you enter the danger zone?

Fight-or-flight is triggered by cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol boosts your heart rate, giving your brain extra oxygen, and recruits energy from storage. The initial spike is great for eustress, but once it passes a certain point, for your stress and cortisol level, it leads to physical, like a backache, (and of course mental) distress.

How can you bring your stress level down?

  • Exercise is a great way to bring your cortisol level down if you have persistent stress.  This triggers the physicality of your fight-or-flight roots.  
  • Ideally coupled with mindfulness, you can also take deep breaths to alert your nervous system to lower your heart rate, drop blood pressure, and decrease cortisol.
  • Spend time with family, close friends, or your partner. Isolation doesn’t help stress and physical touch, like hugging, releases a feel-good neurotransmitter, oxytocin. “Tend-and-befriend” is the oppositional force to fight-or-flight, and fostered in a genuine community, it can reduce cortisol levels as well.
  • Laugh, make light of things, listen to music. These three are commonplace and relatively easy to squeeze in a busy (or not so busy) schedule.

Small changes in daily routines can help tone down your stress, and ultimately it all connects back to your hormones. What is psychological is also biological.