Cortisol And Anxiety: The Relationship Between Stress Hormones And Mental Health

The relationship between cortisol and anxiety is a complicated one. Cortisol is often referred to as the “stress hormone” because it is released in response to stress. When cortisol levels are high, it can lead to a number of adverse effects, including anxiety. In this blog post, we will explore the link between cortisol and anxiety, and discuss ways to reduce cortisol levels and improve mental health.

Defining Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal emotion that we all experience at times. It is characterized by feelings of worry, tension, and apprehension. When we feel anxious, our heart rate may increase, we may breathe more quickly, and we may feel like we are “on edge.” While some anxiety is normal and even beneficial (it can help us stay alert and focused), excessive anxiety can be debilitating.

Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness. These disorders can make it difficult to function in day-to-day life. They can cause significant distress and can interfere with work, school, and personal relationships. Anxiety disorders also manifest themselves in our physiology.

Defining Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands. It is released in response to stress, and it has several important functions in the body. Cortisol helps to regulate blood sugar levels, metabolism, and inflammation. It also plays a role in the fight-or-flight response, which is our body’s natural reaction to perceived threats.

It is very commonly known as the stress hormone. When we experience stress, our body releases cortisol. Cortisol has a number of important functions, including regulating blood sugar levels and metabolism and helping to fight the negative effects of stress. However, when cortisol levels are constantly high, it can lead to anxiety and other mental health problems.

Link Between Cortisol And Anxiety

While cortisol is necessary for survival, chronic stress can lead to elevated cortisol levels. When cortisol levels are constantly high, it can hurt our health, both physical and mental.

There are a number of theories about why cortisol and anxiety are linked.

  • Numerous studies have found a link between high levels of cortisol and various kinds of anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder (SAD). This link is thought to be due to the fact that cortisol can interfere with the way our brain regulates emotions.
  • Cortisol and anxiety are also linked because chronic stress can lead to changes in the brain. Stress can cause the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning) to shrink. This may explain why people who are under a lot of stress tend to have difficulty concentrating and remembering things.
  • There is also a suggestion that cortisol disrupts the communication between the body and the brain, which can lead to feelings of anxiety. High levels of cortisol can also cause changes in the brain that lead to anxiety.
  • Another theory is that cortisol and anxiety share a common biological origin. This theory is based on the fact that both cortisol and anxiety are regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is responsible for our fight-or-flight response, and it is activated when we experience stress.
  • Additionally, people with anxiety disorders often have higher than normal levels of cortisol in their bodies. This is evident in both blood and saliva tests. Regardless of the exact mechanism, there is a clear link between Cortisol and anxiety.

It is important to note that not everyone who experiences high levels of cortisol will develop an anxiety disorder. Numerous other factors contribute to the development of anxiety disorders.

What Causes Cortisol Levels To Spike?

There are a number of different things that can cause cortisol levels to spike. Some of the most common triggers include:

  • Stressful life events: Job loss, divorce, death of a loved one
  • Chronic stress: Financial problems, relationship difficulties
  • Lack of sleep: Not getting enough rest can lead to an increase in cortisol levels
  • Poor diet: Eating processed foods and foods high in sugar can cause cortisol levels to rise
  • Certain medical conditions: Cushing’s syndrome, Addison’s disease, and congenital adrenal hyperplasia are all associated with high levels of cortisol.
  • Illness or injury: Having a serious illness or being injured can also lead to an increase in cortisol levels.
  • Lack of sleep: When we don’t get enough rest, our bodies go into “survival mode.” This causes the release of stress hormones like cortisol.
  • Excessive exercise: Working out too hard or too often can lead to an increase in cortisol levels.
  • Physical or emotional trauma: Witnessing a traumatic event can cause cortisol levels to spike.

As you can see, many different things can cause our cortisol levels to spike. It’s important to be aware of the potential triggers so that we can try to avoid them as much as possible.

It is important to remember that everyone experiences stress and not everyone who experiences stress will develop an anxiety disorder. However, if you are constantly under a lot of stress, it can lead to high levels of cortisol and anxiety.

Which Other Hormones Cause Anxiety?

Cortisol is not the only hormone that can cause anxiety. Several other hormones have been linked to anxiety, including:

  • Adrenaline: Adrenaline is released in response to stress and it plays a role in the fight-or-flight response. Like cortisol, adrenaline can interfere with the way our brain regulates emotions, which can lead to anxiety. Adrenaline can cause several physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, and shaking.
  • Thyroid hormones: These hormones are responsible for regulating metabolism. An imbalance of thyroid hormones can lead to symptoms of anxiety such as restlessness, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.
  • Estrogen: Estrogen is a hormone that is present in both men and women. However, women have higher levels of estrogen than men. High levels of estrogen have been linked to increased anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Progesterone: Progesterone is a hormone that is released during pregnancy. It plays a role in the development of the fetus and the regulation of metabolism. High levels of progesterone have been linked to anxiety and panic disorders.
  • Dopamine: Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and emotions. A dopamine deficiency has been linked to anxiety and depression.
  • Serotonin: Serotonin is another neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and emotion. Serotonin levels are thought to be low in people with anxiety disorders. It is unclear whether low serotonin levels cause anxiety or if anxiety causes low serotonin levels.

An individual can experience fluctuations in any of these hormones at any time depending upon various psychological and physiological factors.

Ways To Manage

Despite the hardships, stress and anxiety are rather manageable conditions. There are various ways by which you can reduce the impacts of these side effects. These ways can be managed by therapeutic intervention or by adopting self-help strategies.

Therapy

The therapeutic process has various kinds of approaches that can help in understanding, resolving, and managing the signs and symptoms of stress as well as anxiety. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can help you to understand and change the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to anxiety.
  • Exposure therapy is a type of CBT that involves gradually exposing yourself to the things you are afraid of. This can help you to learn that your fears are not as dangerous as you think they are and that you can cope with them.
  • Psychodynamic therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on the unconscious mind and early childhood experiences. This type of therapy can help you to understand how your past experiences are affecting your current anxiety.
  • Behavioral therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on changing the behaviors that contribute to anxiety. It helps by teaching you new skills to manage anxiety.
  • Group therapy is a type of therapy that involves talking with other people who have anxiety. This can help you to realize that you are not alone and that others understand what you are going through.
  • Stress management classes can teach you how to identify and cope with the stressors in your life. They also provide an opportunity to practice stress-reduction techniques such as relaxation and breathing exercises.

Medication

There are a number of different medications that can be used to treat anxiety. These include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs are a type of antidepressant that increases levels of serotonin in the brain. They are commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental health conditions.
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): SNRIs are another type of antidepressant that increases levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. They are commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental health conditions.
  • Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines are a type of medication that act on the GABA receptors in the brain. They are often used for short-term treatment of anxiety or to help with sleep. However, they can be addictive and should only be used as prescribed by a doctor.
  • Anti-anxiety medications: Anti-anxiety medications can help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. These medications work by affecting the way neurotransmitters work in the brain.

There are a number of different ways that you can manage anxiety. Talk to your doctor about what might be right for you. They can also help in monitoring the side effects and efficacy of the medication on your body.

Natural Treatments

Many different natural treatments are effective in reducing anxiety. These include:

  • Herbal supplements: Herbal supplements such as valerian root, passionflower, and chamomile are effective in treating anxiety.
  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves inserting needles into the body. It has been shown to be effective in treating several different conditions, including anxiety.
  • Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to promote relaxation. It has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety and improving sleep quality.
  • Massage therapy: Massage therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety and stress. It can also help to improve sleep quality.
  • Yoga: Yoga is a form of exercise that involves both physical and mental components. It has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety and other mental health conditions.
  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a type of meditation that involves focusing on the present moment. It is effective in treating anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR): MBSR is a type of mindfulness-based therapy that involves a combination of mindfulness meditation and yoga. It has been shown to be an effective treatment for anxiety.

Several different natural treatments can be effective in treating anxiety. Talk to your doctor about what might be right for you.

Self Help Tips

In addition to treatments that require external help, there are some habits and strategies one can do by themselves to manage these conditions.

  • Sleep: Getting enough sleep is important for managing stress and anxiety. Consider speaking to your doctor if you are having difficulty sleeping.
  • Diet: Eating a healthy diet is important for managing cortisol levels. Avoiding processed foods and eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help to keep cortisol levels in check.
  • Exercise: Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and relax the body. It can also help to improve sleep quality, which can reduce anxiety.
  • Deep breathing: Deep breathing is a simple but effective way to calm the mind and body. It helps to oxygenate the blood and relax the muscles.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine: Both alcohol and caffeine can cause your body to release more stress hormones.
  • Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help to reduce anxiety and improve your mood.
  • Building a support system: Talking to friends and family members about your anxiety can help to reduce stress. They can provide support and understanding.

These are some of the most recommended and practiced ways which help in managing the effects of stress and anxiety on life. You can choose any depending upon your preference, intensity of signs as well as convenience.

Conclusion

In conclusion, cortisol and anxiety are closely related. High levels of cortisol can lead to anxiety, and anxiety can lead to high levels of cortisol. Treatment for anxiety can help to reduce the symptoms of both conditions. There are a number of different treatments available, so speak to your doctor about what might be right for you.

If you are looking for mental health-related concerns and assistance, you can consider availing Mantra Care’s services. We have a team of expert therapists from all across the globe offering pocket-friendly and effective online therapy. Contact us for booking your sessions and begin your wellness journey today!

A Word From Mantra Care

Your mental health — your psychological, emotional, and social well-being — has an impact on every aspect of your life. Positive mental health essentially allows you to effectively deal with life’s everyday challenges.

At Mantra Care, we have a team of therapists who provide affordable online therapy to assist you with issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, relationship, OCD, LGBTQ, and PTSD. You can take our mental health test. You can also book a free therapy or download our free Android or iOS app.

Leave a Comment

Try MantraCare Wellness Program free