Scientifically speaking this is mainly due to the adrenal glands secreting into the blood stream a hormone called ‘Cortisol’. Cortisol, is one of the primary stress hormones that is stimulated by the hypothalamus (found in the brain) when we feel stressed. Ironically, it is commonly known as the “stress hormone”, but it is essential as it regulates the way your body uses the various fuel sources (lipids and carbohydrates) and for recouping energy following stress. Normal cortisol hormone levels usually follow a 24-hour circadian (daily) rhythm. When here are high cortisol levels being present in the early morning, it rapidly drop off and continue to decline for the remainder of the day. Like many metabolic processes in the body, if the cortisol rhythm is kept at that balance adjusting to moments of stress and relaxation it can be considered a healthy response.
Unfortunately, nowadays a “normal” day for most people will be far from being what most of us would call “ideal” and is much more likely to include a fair amount of distress. This constant hectic lifestyle of rushing around, eating a diet of fast food and not getting enough sleep or exercise are often prime examples for having an overexposure to cortisol. One such example can be seen in traders on the stock market, where when they are on a ‘money making’ streak, their testosterone levels surge, sparking such euphoria that they underestimate risk. However, when the markets fluctuate they can become stressed so the adrenal gland produces a flood of cortisol, which can make them overly fearful and risk-averse. This has been found in an experiment conducted by John Coates, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University, in which he found that the secretion of cortisol increased in direct correlation to the volatility in asset prices in the stock market.
The persistent and elevated levels of cortisol have now been scientifically proved to be associated with chronic health problems such as obesity, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, the higher levels of cortisol can actually suppress the immune system by accelerating the death of white blood cells (lymphocytes). So you might find when you are worrying over an impending and important exam you are unintentionally also making yourself more susceptible to catching a disease.
In conclusion, after reading this you may think to yourself, “I’ll just get a job that doesn’t involve too much work to avoid stress and health problems in the future”. However, in modern society, stress is almost impossible to avoid and it is how each individual’s body is able to adapt and cope in modern society which will ultimately determine whether you will be able to survive in this tough world. Like the famous philosopher Herbert Spencer once said, “It is essentially survival of the fittest”.
Contributed by Sayibrinthan Vickneswaran