High cortisol levels: What is the danger for students?
Stress management workshops

High cortisol levels: What is the danger for students?

High cortisol levels

Managing stress wasn’t just about staying calm before tests when I was in college. It was a complicated mix of hormones, especially cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone.” Although it originates from the adrenal glands above our kidneys, this hormone is critical for getting our bodies ready for stressful situations because it controls many biological changes.

I saw, personally and among my peers, how constant stress and the hormone cortisol, which controls it, could hurt not only our academic success but also our health and well-being as a whole. The experiences in this piece come from those times when I was trying to keep my stress levels low while juggling schoolwork, tests, and social life.

Understanding cortisol and its impact on health is crucial

The adrenal glands, situated just above the kidneys, produce cortisol. People often refer to it as the “stress hormone.” When I was in college, I noticed that my stress levels would rise during test times or intensive study sessions. This was a chemical response as well as a mental one.

Cortisol regulates stress by altering many things in the body. It changes how the immune system responds and moves glucose around the body, giving it a quick boost of energy when it’s under a lot of stress.

But when worry lasts for a long time, the high amounts of cortisol can hurt your health in a number of ways.

One of the first things I noticed was that I was hungry. Cortisol can make you want sweet, fatty, or salty foods, which can make you gain weight that you don’t want to gain. On a more subtle level, too much cortisol can wear down the body’s repair systems, making it take longer to heal and recover from injuries. I learned this the hard way when a minor injury took weeks longer to heal than expected during a very stressful semester.

Long-term high amounts of cortisol can mess up a lot of different processes. It can raise blood sugar, making insulin less effective. Diabetes runs in my family, so I had to closely monitor this issue. I knew the hormone could weaken the immune system because I kept getting colds during the winter test season. This was a clear sign that my immune system was not working as well as it should have.

My stomach and intestines also felt different. High amounts of cortisol can make stomach acid rise, which can cause heartburn and indigestion. In my last year of college, this happened to a lot of people. Once I knew what these signs meant, I started doing stress-relieving activities like yoga and mindfulness meditation regularly. This made a big difference in controlling my cortisol levels and reducing these negative effects.

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The Cognitive Costs of High Cortisol

When I was in college, I was very aware of how mental fog and memory loss often happened during times of worry. This was not only a result of not getting enough sleep; it was also a result of the brain being high in cortisol. Neurotransmitters are the brain’s chemical messages. Cortisol can stop them from working properly, making it hard to think and remember things.

When I was stressed, it became harder for me to focus and remember things during lectures, which was also a frequent issue among my peers. This is because cortisol alters the hippocampus, a brain part that helps us learn and remember things. During tests that were especially stressful, I had to actively deal with my worry in order to keep up my grades.

Interestingly, dealing with stress turned out to be a useful way to use what I was learning in biology class about the nervous system. I was able to better handle my worry and lessen its effects on my brain by using relaxation methods and planning regular breaks. I also started running, which not only helped me feel less stressed but also seemed to clear my mind, making it easier for me to concentrate when I was studying.

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Mental health and emotional consequences

While I was in college, I became very aware of how thin the line is between regular worry, anxiety, and depression. During a particularly tough term, I first felt the mental and emotional effects of constant academic stress.

It was easy for me and my friends to see how long-term stress could turn into worry. There were always tests, projects, and demands, which made it hard to break out of the cycle of worry and stress. High levels of cortisol made this worse because they not only make you feel anxious, but they can also throw off the balance of chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, which are important for keeping your mood in check.

Because of this, I started going to mindfulness and group treatment classes at the university’s health center. Talking about our problems and how to deal with them with other students helped us feel better and showed us how much we had in common. It also became clear how important it is to deal with these mental problems right away, since they can have a big impact on schoolwork and personal relationships.

Sleep disturbances due to cortisol imbalance

When I was in college, pulling an “all-nighter” was normal, especially right before a due date. But I quickly learned that inconsistent sleep habits were more than just a short-term problem; they were a major sign of an imbalance in cortisol. If you have high levels of cortisol at night, it can make it difficult to fall asleep and keep you awake.

During times of high stress, I often had broken sleep, and I felt tired, sluggish, and generally poorly during the day. Setting a strict bedtime, doing relaxing activities before bed, and keeping electronics out of the bedroom were some of the habits I tried to get my sleep back on track. These habits helped keep my cortisol levels in check at night and made my sleep much better.

It was very important to understand the link between cortisol and sleep. It taught me that good sleep hygiene is important for both doing well in school and staying healthy in general. The better I slept, the better I was able to deal with the worries of the day.

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Immune Function and Student Health

I saw a pattern while I was in college: my friends and I were more likely to get sick during or right after tests and exams. There was a reason for this: high worry and its high cortisol can weaken the immune system, making a person more likely to get sick.

When I began to consider the relationship between my stress levels, the frequency of my colds, and the duration of my recovery, I gained a deeper understanding of this connection. It became clear that when I was under a lot of school stress, not only was my body making more cortisol, but my immune system was also not responding as well. My immune system got stronger as a result of taking proactive steps like increasing my vitamin C and zinc diet, doing moderate exercise, and getting enough sleep.

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