10 Signs You Have WAY Too Much Cortisol


By Lissa Rankin MD  

Guest Writer for  Wake Up World

We all know stress is bad for us, yet many of us wear it like a badge of honor. See if this sounds familiar:

Dude: “OMG, I’m so stressed out! I’m working 14 hour days and haven’t used my vacation days for two years now, but hey – sometimes you just gotta keep your eye on the prize, right? Hey, you still seeing that guy?”

Dudette: “Nah. We tried to make it work, but it was such a headache. Relationships are just too stressful. Plus, who has time for a relationship when you’re on a deadline and you’ve got the boss lady to impress?”  You know the drill.

Many of us are stress addicts. We claim to want inner peace, but if life gets too peaceful, we go seeking our next hit of our drugs of choice – cortisol and epinephrine. It’s almost as if being stressed makes us feel important, valuable, and useful. What we forget is that we’re already worthy souls deserving of love and a sense of worth, simply because we are all little sparks of divinity, shining our lights on the planet.

Why Should We Avoid Stress?

Our bodies know how to heal themselves. In my new book  Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, I share boatloads of data about the placebo effect, which provides concrete proof that the body is equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that are under the control of our brilliant minds.

Our bodies know how to fix broken proteins, kill cancer cells, retard aging, and fight infection. They even know how to heal ulcers, make skin lesions disappear and knit together broken bones!

But here’s the kicker –  those natural self-repair mechanisms don’t work if you’re stressed!  No wonder Dude and Dudette wind up sick or injured!

10 Signs You Have  WAY  Too Much Cortisol

So how do you know if you’re a stress addict? Here are 10 signs that you’ve made cortisol your drug of choice.

1. 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.

2. 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 your get up and go got up and went, you’re probably stressed.

3. 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.”

4. You catch colds and other infections easily.

Cortisol deactivates your body’s natural self-repair mechanisms, which means that your immune system which is perfectly designed by nature to keep you healthy goes caput, leaving you vulnerable to every cootie you encounter.

5. 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 a sudden – yes, you guessed it – you’re struck with wild cravings for Twinkies.

6. 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.

7. 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.

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, nervous stomach, feelings of panic, even paranoia.

10. You feel blue.

High levels of cortisol suppress production of serotonin, and next thing you know, you’re awash in doom and gloom.

Sound familiar?

Adrenal Fatigue

When your cortisol levels are bumped up, day after day, your adrenal glands, responsible for the production of cortisol, get pooped. Precursor hormones required for cortisol production get depleted. And boom – you’re looking at full blown adrenal collapse. (Read more about adrenal fatigue here).

Write Your Own Prescription

Ready to go to rehab for your cortisol addiction? Check out my follow up  article: 10 Fun Ways To Reduce Your Cortisol Levels.

You can also 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 at LissaRankin.com or in my book  Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.

Are You Stressed?

Tell us how you measured up in the comments below?

Trying to relax,

Previous articles by Lissa

About the author

lissa_rankinLissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.

Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities – HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.


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  • Dean Webster

    Lissa (or anyone) ;
    I have a niece who is 53 yrs old and has just found out from her doctor that she needs a lung transplant because one of her lungs has holes in it (smoking related). She is now on oxygen and awaiting a transplant. Is there ANYTHING at all that she can do outside of conventional medicine ??? Any help would be greatly appreciate. Thank you …

    • charlotte

      has to be organic you can get it from the reason for it having to be organic is because it mends ANY SCAR TISSUE .
      look it up its great stuff :0)

  • solar toad

    The stress the article is talking about is not the “survival” brand of stress. Survival stress is a massive weight sitting on a person and the situation is much different from a person who is purposely living a stressful lifestyle and who has options to stop it. A person who is just barely hanging on due to financial ruin due to the economic crisis, homelessness, disabilities that often go untreated, or the many who were raised in loveless situations that have impacted life, needs different type of help mostly from others….unfortunately, our society is not doing all we can to resolve those under duress from trying to survive. Some stressful situations cannot be solved by yourself.

  • jeremy

    I have 8 of the 10. I don’t necesarily eat food that is unhealthy, because I usually eat much less or nothing at all some days while im stressed. I’m also not gaining weight in my mid section. I’ve lost over 10 pounds in a little over a month. I’m getting so skinny without trying or wanting to. I’ve got so many worries and I just freeze up a lot of times because I’m so overwhelmed. Any suggestions on how to help me cope with my stress better. I’m open to any suggestions.

    • Silke

      hi jeremy,

      switch off your wi-fi for at least 2 weeks and use your mobile as little as you can. its just a test. it wouldnt harm you and it doesnt cost you anything. it’s worth trying. see how it goes afterwards. maybe you will let us know how you fell then…

  • Theresa

    Lissa – this sounds a lot like fibromyalgia in a lot of ways. First of all, most people who have fibro are type A personalities. Always on the go and “no one can do (fill in the blank) as well as I can do I may as well do it all. I’m exhausted all the time, can’t sleep, and it all started with my lower back hurting. What do you think about the fibro link? Just wondering. Thank you.

  • Sophie

    IM SOOOO STRESSED!! My Partner passed away & im now a single mother to a teenage daughter & twin boys age 5, i try & do things to de stress, but hey the results don’t last that long i also have 8 o of 10 of the stress symptoms listed. I try many things to relieve the stress, but im also a huge over thinker especially at bedtime grrrrr!!

  • Alex

    Use relaxing techniques at bedtime , esspecialy breathing techniques !they reay help youre sleep quality !

  • Maryann Hodgden

    Yes. Tell this to those working part-time and doing school full-time just to have a roof over our heads. You’d be stressed too if your life was on the line every month.

    • Jim Wohlford

      These are choices… we can make different choices if we wake up enough to realize this. 😉

  • Jim Wohlford

    Great article Lissa!!!