11 Signs Your Body Is Producing A Lot Of Cortisol

by Isadora Baum, CHC

Stress can be seen as enemy number one. Not only does it mess with your wellbeing and happiness, but it can hurt our physical abilities, as well, due to an excess in cortisol production, the stress hormone. Knowing when your body is high in cortisol can help you take action, finding ways to calm down and find an inner peace to ease the tension, advises Dr. Lissa Rankin, over interview with mindbodygreen. Dr. Rankin offers her "6 Steps To Healing Yourself" program, which includes practices to relax the senses and reduce stress responses. If left untreated, chronic stress can take a toll on your lifestyle and health.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on managing their stress levels and conquering difficult situations. Life is tough at times, and it's really how you get through the hardships that matter in the long-run. Dwelling in stress or ruminating over negative thoughts is unhealthy, and it won't help you recover and start feeling back to normal. When there's too much pressure or anxiety around work, relationships, and other life factors, it can create poor perspectives regarding self-worth, circumstances, and the wonderful things in life that can uplift you and make you feel good. If you notice you've been too stressed lately, it's important to get rid of the negative feelings as quickly as possible. Here are 11 signs your body is producing too much cortisol, and you need to ease up.

1. High Blood Sugar Levels

When you're producing excess cortisol, your blood sugar levels can become elevated, explain Dr. Charles Galanis, MD, a Board Certified Surgeon in Beverly Hills and Robert Dorfman, Research Fellow at Northwestern Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, MSc over email with Bustle. "Cortisol raises blood sugar levels by breaking down muscle to provide the amino acids necessary for gluconeogenesis (a process where glucose, or sugar, is created in the body)," Galanis and Dorfman express.

2. Loss In Muscle

If your blood sugar levels are too high, your muscle might begin to break down, advise Galanis and Dorfman, and this can come from excess cortisol production in the body. "The muscle breakdown can result in muscle weakness and thin extremities (arms and legs)," Galanis and Dorfman caution. Don't forgo all your hard work in the gym from worrying too much.

3. Increased Fat Storage

While having extra fat isn't necessarily a bad thing, in some areas of the body, excess fat can be dangerous to your health. Fat storage from cortisol might fall into that category. "Another adverse effect of high stress hormone levels is increased fat storage. This fat can be stored in the face causing a medical sign known as ‘moon facies’, as well as on the back leading to another sign referred to as ‘buffalo hump’. Fat stored on the trunk can likewise cause ‘truncal obesity,' advise Galanis and Dorfman, and fat in these areas should be limited.

4. High Blood Pressure

Having high blood pressure or hypertension can lead to heart damage down the road, as it raises the risk for various cardiovascular diseases and weakens the body overall. Galanis and Dorfman caution against excess cortisol levels, as they can raise blood pressure. "If you have excess cortisol, you will have excess alpha1 up-regulation, causing hypertension or high blood pressure," Galanis and Dorfman explain. Try and do something healthy to erase stress, such as going to the gym.

5. You Have More Stretch Marks Than Usual

You know those reddish marks and lines on your skin that never seem to go away? Those are probably stretch marks. "A weird effect of having high levels of cortisol is that cortisol actually impairs the synthesis of collagen, of which blood vessels are made of. Therefore, weak collagen can mean weak blood vessels that rupture easily," say Galanis and Dorfman. "A classic symptom of excess cortisol is abdominal striae (stretch marks), where the blood vessels basically rupture and leave red marks on the abdomen," Galanis and Dorfman use as an example.

6. Increased Risk Of Osteoporosis

Galanis and Dorfman say that having too much cortisol in the body can result in a higher risk or onset of osteoporosis, as stress will leach calcium away from the bones. Having strong bones is really important for mobility and balance, and it's especially critical as you get older. Managing stress can help protect your body from losing its supply of bone-supporting nutrients.

7. Immune System Suppression

Galanis and Dorfman explain that immunity can go down when there's too much cortisol in the body. "First, cortisol inhibits phospholipase A2, which is essential for causing inflammation. Second, cortisol blocks the release of histamine from mast cells, which is also necessary for the inflammatory response. Lastly, cortisol inhibits IL-2, which is an important T cell growth factor, and T cells are important for fighting off viruses," explain Galanis and Dorfman. "Altogether, this suggests that high levels of cortisol weakens our immune system and renders us more susceptible to infection," Galanis and Dorfman conclude.

8. Back, Head & Stomach Aches

Over email with Bustle, Susan Ferreri RYT of L'ifestyle Lounge says that back and head pains, as well as digestive issues (gut inflammation), are common when your body has too much cortisol. If this is the case, try stretching, taking yoga, or finding ways to relax the muscles and ease tension, as well as take a probiotic to boost the digestive system. If left untreated, it can lead to more chronic pain in the future.

9. Trouble Sleeping

Ferreri also explains that if you're producing too much cortisol, you might find yourself having difficulty sleeping at night, or sleeping soundly through the night. When you feel anxious, it can prevent the mind and body from quieting down. Try yoga or meditation, before bed, for instance, in order to start to settle into a more relaxed state.

10. Low Libido

Ferreri says that having a lower sex drive is especially common when you're struggling to fight your stress levels and feel overwhelmed. Sex should make you feel happy and relaxed, so think of it as a medicine to cure such anxieties. Try and make time for it, even when you're stressed, and see if it helps you bounce back.

11. Unhealthy Cravings

It isn't just a myth that when you're stressed AF you tend to over-eat or crave fatty, salty, and sweet, processed foods, advises Ferreri. While all people differ, and some people don't find themselves suffering from cravings, it's pretty likely you might link emotions and eating from time to time. Try to stick with whole foods instead, as unhealthy foods will only raise your blood sugar more and make you more stressed out.

If you notice any of these symptoms during periods of major stress, you're not imagining it. These circumstances are totally valid and understandable. Once you've realized there's a stress issue happening, you can then address it, in order to calm the body and mind and boost your wellbeing again.

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