We all know stress is bad for us, yet many of us wear it like a badge of honor. We claim to want inner peace, but if life gets too calm, we go seeking our next hit of cortisol and epinephrine.
It’s almost as if being stressed makes us feel important, valuable, and useful. But the biggest problem with being a stress addict is that it can destroy our health.
As I explain in my new book, Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, the body is equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that can kill stray cancer cells, fight infections, and even slow the aging process.
But these mechanisms only work when the nervous system is relaxed. When the body senses immediate danger (a screaming boss or a hungry tiger —the part of your brain that controls fear doesn't know the difference!), these repair mechanisms shut down so you can deal with the threat.
So how do you know if you’re a stress addict? Here are 10 signs that you’ve made cortisol your drug of choice.
You experience backaches and headaches.
When your cortisol levels are high over a long period of time, your adrenal glands start to get depleted. This raises prolactin levels, increasing the body’s sensitivity to pain, such as backaches and muscle aches. Excessive cortisol also hypersensitizes the brain to pain, such that even the slightest twinge can excite the nerves of the brain, causing headaches.
You’re not sleeping well.
Cortisol levels are supposed to drop at nighttime, allowing your body to relax and recharge. But if your cortisol levels are too high, you might notice that, even if you’ve been tired all day, you get a second wind right around bedtime. Then you toss and turn all night—and feel tired again the next day.
Even when you sleep well, you’re still tired.
Over time, high levels of cortisol deplete the adrenal glands and predispose you to chronic fatigue. So if you feel like you just can't get up and go anymore, you’re probably stressed.
You're gaining weight.
You’re gaining weight, especially around your abdomen, even when you eat well and exercise.
Cortisol tends to make you thick around the middle, even when you’re doing everything “right.”
You catch colds and other infections easily.
Cortisol deactivates your body’s natural self-repair mechanisms, which means that your immune system, perfectly designed by nature to keep you healthy, goes kaput, leaving you vulnerable to every cootie you encounter.
You crave unhealthy foods.
Cortisol raises your blood sugar, putting you at risk of diabetes. High glucose levels then bump up your insulin levels, which then drop your blood sugar, and all of the sudden—yes, you guessed it—you’re struck with wild cravings for Twinkies.
Your sex drive is in the crapper.
Consider cortisol the anti-Viagra. When stress hormones are high, libido-inducing hormones like testosterone drop and voila... nothing.
Your gut acts up.
Your gastrointestinal system is very sensitive to stress hormones like cortisol. You might experience nausea, heartburn, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, or constipation as a result of too many stress hormones.
You feel anxious.
Cortisol and epinephrine can lead to jitters, a nervous stomach, feelings of panic, even paranoia.
You feel blue.
High levels of cortisol suppress production of serotonin, and next thing you know, you’re awash in doom and gloom.
Write your own prescription!
Ready to go to rehab for your cortisol addiction? Learn more about how to reduce stress responses, increase relaxation responses, make your own diagnosis, write your own prescription, and implement the 6 Steps to Healing Yourself on my blog at LissaRankin.com or in Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.