April 3, 2019

Corrosive Effects Of Chronic High Cortisol

Some of you may already know this, but I've suffered bouts of severe illness that's left my immune system KO, my mind foggy and/or full of holes, and my body deteriorating at an increasing rate. Now that I know all the ills (and there are many), I can finally start on the road to recovery (and an arduous road it is).

So when I was rereading my notes from this really interesting book I read over the summer, Mind to Matter: The Astonishing Science of How Your Brain Creates Material Reality by Dawson Church, I fell on this passage which really spoke to me.

I therefore thought I might share these particular insights on the effects of sustained stress on our systems.
Source: Women to Women Healthcare Center

When we're stressed out or worried, our bodies release cortisol. It's a hormone which is meant to help us survive (like adrenaline) when our lives are at risk, but not at chronically high levels. Church shares the following list of body damages a sustained high level of cortisol can lead to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Death of neurons in the brain's memory centers (I confirm I've become worse than Dory this past year)
  • High blood sugar
  • Heart disease
  • Diminished cell repair
  • Accelerated aging
  • Alzheimer's
  • Fatigue (this one's terrible, because you can't do anything anymore, except the very basic to survive...you literally become a robot, too tired to even have feelings beyond utter and total exhaustion)
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Slow wound healing
  • Reduced bone repair
  • Fewer stem cells
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Increased skin wrinkling
  • Fat around the waist and hips
  • Osteoporosis
And the following passage is quite illuminating:

We cause chronic cortisol production by turning our attention to those factors in the environment that stress us out. Negative thinking drives high cortisol even when there is no tiger in the grass. Our brilliant brains are able to ruminate about the bad thing that happened in the past or the bad thing that might happen in the future. Even if  it never happened and will never happen, we can nonetheless focus on it, picture it, contemplate it, imagine it, talk about it, and catastrophize about it.

The body cannot distinguish between an actual threat and a perceived threat. It has no way of knowing that the imaginary threat we are conjuring up in our minds using negative thinking is not an actual threat to our survival. Purely by though alone, we can drive cortisol up and produce corrosive effects on our cells.

I would add to this that it is important to be in a place where you can feel safe first--both physically and emotionally. Then you can learn to catch yourself when you're allowing your mind to stray down dark paths, and instead force yourself to think more positively. And repeat the process, until your brain's positive pathways are deeper than the others.

Dory and Marlin, in Finding Nemo