7 Ways Your Body Says 'You're Stressed'

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

When we feel threatened, our bodies release stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which flood the body in order to get the heart going and boost energy levels. Once the crisis has passed, we start to recover. The problem we have today is the fact that this mechanism is no match for the long-term stresses we endure. Cortisol has the effect of closing down the body's natural repair systems in order to deal with the immediate problem. When released, it suppresses our ability to rest and dampens the immune system. These are the long-term effects stress can have on the body.

Reasoning and memory

Long-term exposure to cortisol has a negative effect on reasoning skills and memory. Experiments with rats suggest that brain cells exposed to high levels of cortisol fire too frequently.

Blood pressure

The genes know to influence the narrowing of blood vessels are affected by cortisol. The greater the supply of cortisol the more continuous the narrowing of vessels becomes. In turn, blood pressure starts to rise and the health risks associated with high blood pressure, notably heart disease and strokes, increase.


Otherwise known as grinding of the teeth, bruxism is associated with stress. Dentists have reported a 20 percent increase in cases of bruxism since the start of the global recession.


People with severe depression also have high levels of cortisol. Sustained high levels of cortisol suppresses neurotransmission in the brain.


One of the more contested areas of chronic stress involves the role of diet. Stress certainly seems to influence diet and there is some evidence pointing to elevated cortisol levels leading to obesity.


During long-term stress our immune system is depressed by the continuous levels of cortisol in the body. This weakens our immune system and increases the risk of infections. Once caught, infections can hang around for long periods of time.


Relating once more to the long-term effects of stress on the immune system there is increasing evidence that some types of liver disease, lymphomas and cancers may develop as a result of the weakened immune system.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.