of ACTH from the pituitary gland, which
triggers release of cortisol from the adrenal
glands. But what happens next? What effects
does cortisol have on my body?”
The downside of too much
Craig’s mother explains that cortisol triggers the release of the sugar glucose into
the bloodstream. So cortisol increases the
amount of glucose in the bloodstream, which
supplies sugar to muscles. Also, cortisol
inhibits inflammation and suppresses the
The increase in blood sugar caused by cortisol can be valuable, such as when Craig hits
a long fly ball into the outfield and wants his
muscles to propel him around the bases before
a fielder can try to tag him out. But if Craig’s
stress response is triggered chronically, again
and again, it can be harmful to his health.
Craig already knows that his stress begins
in his brain. When Craig’s brain recognizes,
say, an upcoming exam in honors biology,
nerve signals go to the hypothalamus in his
brain. In response to these nerve signals,
his hypothalamus releases a molecule called
corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH),
which travels to Craig’s pituitary gland.
The pituitary gland is the master gland of
the body, because it orchestrates many of the
body’s hormonal responses, including stress.
CRH from the hypothalamus causes the pituitary gland to release another hormone, called
adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). When
ACTH is released, it circulates throughout the
body in the bloodstream, and when it reaches
the adrenal glands, it triggers the release of a
hormone called cortisol.
Craig’s mother mentions that cortisol, the
stress hormone, is a steroid hormone. Craig
interrupts his mother at the mention of the
word “steroid.” “Aren’t steroids illegal drugs
responsible for giving athletes huge muscles?” His mother explains that the steroids he
is thinking of are synthetic versions of human
hormones that were originally developed to
help promote muscle growth in individuals
whose muscles had atrophied from lack of
use following surgery.
Steroids are organic molecules that contain
three six-membered rings and one five-mem-bered ring (Fig. 2). This structure is called a
carbon skeleton. It is common to all steroid
molecules, but each of these molecules differ in the identity and location of the atoms
attached to this carbon skeleton. The chemical
structure of cortisol is shown in Fig. 3.
Craig summarizes how the cascade of
stress occurs in the body: “So, a neural signal
from the brain triggers release of CRH from
the hypothalamus, which triggers the release
Figure 2. The four-ring core structure of a steroid
molecule. Carbon atoms are located at the
corners of every ring.
Figure 3. The chemical structure of a cortisol
Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress
Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage,
or learn relaxation techniques.
Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals.
Limit alcohol and caffeine.
Get enough sleep.
Take deep breaths.
Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.
Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible,
be proud of however close you get.
Accept that you cannot control everything.
Maintain a positive attitude.
Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community.
Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something
else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or
anxious, and look for a pattern.
Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.
SOURCE: TIPS TO MANAGE ANXIETY AND STRESS. ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION ASSOCIATION OF
AMERICA: https://www.adaa.org/tips-manage-anxiety-and-stress [accessed Feb 2017].