Over the last two decades of research on stress and it’s co-relation to health effects, a lot of revelations have come.
Stress can contribute to a range of heart problems, which over a period of time can contribute to the fatal heart attacks. Chronic stress, one which is present in someone for years, can affect the body’s immune and endocrine systems as well as metabolic processes. These can in turn induce diabetes, bowel disease and sometimes even cancer.
As the research becomes more targeted, researchers are now studying the cortisol and hormonal changes that happen in the body when it is undergoing stress. Cortisol is now identified as the “stress hormone”, after researchers successfully established the connection when a controlled group of patients were put under stress.
Our bodies have evolved over millions of years of evolution, and make no mistake hormones like Cortisol are extremely important in its function. Cortisol arms the body and prepares it to face a potential threat, it also plays a very important role in reducing body inflammation. One of cortisol’s another important function is to activate certain immune cells that will help prevent any inflammation in the body to go out of control.
Our bodies are perfectly crafted machines, but what happens when the 21st century factors like chronic stress kicks in?
If someone goes through chronic stress, their cortisol levels are chronically elevated, the immune systems supposed to take care of the inflammations is suddenly glitching.
But preventing inflammation isn’t the only function of cortisol. If you are analysing a healthy person, cortisol tends to rise and fall throughout the day in a very predictable manner. Usually cortisol levels are at its highest almost 30 minutes after we wake up. After this morning peak, the levels usually decline throughout the day and bottoms out before a person falls asleep. It is this rise and fall of cortisol that maintains Circadian Rhythms. For the uninitiated, it is the rhythm of life that governs everything from our sleep to cellular repair to maintenance to even appetite.
Now let’s talk about what happens when chronic stress kicks in, specifically, when chronic stress kicks late evening. We are talking about late evening because it is the most common thing, taken any population across the world.
Evening stress can cause numbing or spiking of the cortisol levels and both of these amount to health risks. If our body’s cortisol levels are dulled in the evening, we are exposing ourselves to a nervous system collapse. This can in turn bring in obesity, diabetes and blood pressure.
Now if the cortisol levels are high in the evening, it can significantly disrupt the sleep cycles. The long term effects?
Flattening” of the body’s normal cortisol slope ie you see that morning cortisol levels are not as elevated, and evening levels aren’t as low,” she says. This sort of shift could throw off the body’s circadian rhythms in ways that contribute to a range of health issues. The worst part of this? It happens over a period of years, and we will not even be knowing about it. We can indeed know about it if we are consciously thinking of our body’s and mind’s states.
The one thing which can help you with this is meditation. You can download from a host of apps like Headspace, Calm etc. Meditation will put you at ease, help you fall asleep and even add a lot of clarity to your mind through to the next day.