Can Stress Make You Sick?

By JoAnne Romanelli, CHHC, AADP
Board Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach

The human body is an incredible machine. During times of stress, our adrenal glands release important hormones to help us deal with those difficult situations. Back in the “caveman days”, this was vital for human survival. If a saber tooth tiger attacked you, adrenaline was released which increased your heart rate, oxygen levels and tensed your muscles getting you ready for the fight of your life. Cortisol, also called the “stress hormone”, was also released. This hormone helped convert fats and proteins into energy, and balanced your electrolytes and blood sugar. Cortisol was also responsible for giving you an incredible appetite to help you replenish the energy you spent fighting that animal. This perfect synergy of hormones is what kept our ancestors alive and healthy.

While the world around us evolved, the way our bodies reacted to stress stayed the same. We still secrete adrenaline and cortisol but now our stress is more intellectual and less physical. Our saber tooth tiger has been replaced by grumpy bosses, rude employees and that guy who cut you off on the freeway.

In today’s world of being over-worked, over-stimulated and under-rested, our stress can be overwhelming and constant. While an occasional stressful event is normal and healthy, chronic stress creates increased cortisol levels that STAY elevated. This constant stress causes our adrenal glands to become overworked. Fatigued adrenals lead to a whole host of problems like depressed immune function, increased abdominal fat, low thyroid function, poor digestion, breakdown of healthy bone and muscle, insulin resistance, insomnia, and depression.

If you find yourself feeling “burned out”, chances are your cortisol levels are not balanced. But don’t stress out! There are many ways to protect your adrenals and create balance in your body.

One way to achieve this is to evaluate how effectively you deal with stress in your life. Do you easily get frazzled? Have a quick temper? Yell, scream, and fight on a daily basis? Stress is a constant in our lives but we can change our reactions to it.  A simple way to reduce stress is by making sure you get enough “me” time. Taking 5, 10, 15 minutes a day to be alone and just BREATHE will make you more relaxed and centered – ready to take on whatever life has to offer.

Other ways to balance your cortisol include eating balanced meals, daily exercise, massages, getting at least 7 hours of sleep, and decreasing caffeine intake.  

Also – don’t forget to laugh! Studies have shown that laughter can help reduce cortisol levels by as much as 39 percent!


JoAnne Romanelli, Getting Real Health, and Nicole Zaybak Drepaniotis and the AFRP are not acting in the capacity of a doctor, licensed dietician-nutritionist, psychologist, other licensed or registered professional, personal trainer or any other certified exercise specialist/health exercise adviser. Our purpose is advising and recommendations.

The information received should not be seen as medical or nursing advice and is certainly not meant to take the place of your seeing licensed health professionals.

The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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