Cortisol is not just ‘the stress hormone’
Cortisol is released in response to stress – so it will go up when you encounter a stressor, but it also has a daily rhythm that is very important for maintaining energy levels. The reason it is released in response to stress
is that it controls glucose levels and helps to release glucose into the bloodstream. When a person is facing a stressor, it is there to help – by giving them the energy to respond to that stress.
Spikes in cortisol are not always bad
During the 30 minutes after waking, most people experience a cortisol surge. This is important for waking the body and preparing the person for the day. Cortisol does rise in response to stress – this is important to help the person cope with it – but repeated spikes caused by chronic stress can cause
long-term health problems
and even fatal conditions.
Low cortisol levels do not always mean you are relaxed
Having low cortisol levels can be just as detrimental to health as chronic stress. Consistently low cortisol levels are associated with weakness, fatigue and even burnout.
A cortisol spike is not your body’s first reaction to stress
If you are stressed out, you might get a bit sweaty, or your blood pressure or heart rate might rise. Those immediate changes are not mediated by cortisol. Even fight-or-flight mechanisms are too quick for a steroid response. People have an acute reaction to a stressor and then a sustained reaction. Cortisol is much more concerned with the latter.