10 Signs You Have Way Too Much Cortisol

Physician and New York Times bestselling author By Lissa Rankin, M.D.
Physician and New York Times bestselling author
Lissa Rankin, M.D., is the New York Times bestselling author of "Mind Over Medicine," "The Fear Cure," and "The Anatomy of a Calling." She is a physician, speaker, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, and mystic. Lissa has starred in two National Public Television specials and also leads workshops, both online and at retreat centers like Esalen and Kripalu.

Too much stress can destroy our health, plain and simple. The body is equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that can do things like fight infections and slow the aging process, but they only work when our nervous system is relaxed. Here are 10 signs that you have way too much of the body's stress hormone, cortisol, and it's starting to get in the way of your health:

1. 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 has also been shown to shrink parts of the brain such as the hippocampus, and it could spur migraines.

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2. 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. Too much stress can cause you to toss and turn all night—and feel tired again the next day.

3. 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, chances are you're stressed out.

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4. You're gaining weight.

Gaining weight, especially around your abdomen, even though you eat well and exercise regularly? Cortisol tends to alter fat distribution and can make you thick around the middle, even when you're doing everything "right." 

5. 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 more vulnerable to germs.

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6. You crave unhealthy foods.

Cortisol raises your blood sugar, and it might put you at a higher risk of developing type 2 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 cravings.

7. You don't have a sex drive.

When stress hormones are high, libido-inducing hormones like testosterone drop.

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8. 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.

9. You feel anxious.

Cortisol and epinephrine can lead to jitters, a nervous stomach, feelings of panic, and even paranoia. 

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10. You feel blue.

High levels of cortisol suppress production of serotonin, and next thing you know, you feel gloomy.

If you suspect that your stress levels are far too high, check out this comprehensive primer on how to lower cortisol levels naturally.

Lissa Rankin, M.D.
Lissa Rankin, M.D.
Lissa Rankin, M.D., is the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine, The Fear Cure,...
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Lissa Rankin, M.D.
Lissa Rankin, M.D.
Lissa Rankin, M.D., is the New York Times bestselling author of Mind...
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