Why Cortisol or Stress Never Turns Off

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 04/09/2024

Ever felt like you're constantly stressed and in high gear, even when there's no real problem? This is a sign of high levels of cortisol being produced by our adrenal glands.

Learn about how chronic stress affects your health and what practical steps you can take to manage it effectively.

Understanding Cortisol and Its Role in Stress

The adrenal glands are responsible for cortisol production, often called the 'stress hormone.' But why does stress cause an uptick in cortisol? Let's delve into this fascinating process.

Cortisol illustration

The Production of Cortisol and Adrenaline

The outer part of the adrenal gland takes charge when it comes to producing cortisol. When we face stressful situations, these little powerhouses pump out more cortisol to help us cope.

Interestingly, the inner part plays a different role, it produces adrenaline, another key player in our body's response to stress.

How Cortisol Helps the Body Adapt to Stress

Cortisol isn't just about creating that familiar feeling of anxiety or pressure during tough times. It also has significant physiological effects on our bodies.

For example, increased heart rate and blood flow are all thanks to this versatile hormone working its magic under stressful conditions.

The aim here isn't for us to survive but rather to adapt efficiently to perform optimally despite life’s pressures.

The Cumulative Nature of Stress

Stress doesn't just come and go with each stressor, it builds up over time. Every little worry or pressure adds to the pile.

The Adrenal Gland

Your adrenal gland is always on duty and lacks an off switch. In response to this ongoing accumulation of stressors, your adrenal gland produces cortisol non-stop.

Now think about all those moments you felt stressed during your day – rushing for work in morning traffic, meeting deadlines at work, or even something as trivial as losing your phone's charger.

These incidents don’t simply disappear from our system once they're over; they add up inside us.

This continuous build-up leads us to what can be termed 'chronic cortisol production.' So, while you may feel relaxed after finally finding that elusive charger or completing a task, your body still remembers.

Studies show how these accumulated stresses can lead to serious health concerns if not managed properly.

The Link Between Chronic Stress and Autoimmune Diseases

Living with chronic stress is like running a marathon without an end. It's exhausting, debilitating, and can trigger serious health problems like autoimmune diseases.

Stress Events as Triggers for Autoimmune Diseases

Studies show that autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), and lupus are more likely to surface after a significant loss or threat of loss.

If your body feels under attack from all sides because of prolonged stress, it might start attacking itself, too.

The Persistence of the Stress State

Your body may remain stuck in this stress-induced loop even after you've moved past your original worry or fear.

This Harvard Health article explains why our bodies sometimes fail to exit this "fight-or-flight" mode, leaving us feeling perpetually tense and anxious.

The Impact of Chronic Stress on Recovery Reserves

Over time, chronic stress begins to eat away at your body's recovery reserves. This is similar to overworking an engine without giving it time for maintenance, eventually leading to breakdowns more frequently than usual.

A study published by PubMed Central (PMC) emphasizes how ongoing pressure can drain these resources further, making you susceptible to other health issues such as insomnia or heart disease.

Techniques to Manage Stress and Turn Off Cortisol Production

Everyone is familiar with the reality that stress exists in our lives. Did you realize your body has its systems to help control pressure? These manual techniques can reduce cortisol production, the hormone responsible for our stress response.

Deep breathing

The Power of Deep Breathing

Deep breathing exercises, when done correctly, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. This system helps us relax by slowing our heart rate and lowering blood pressure. Just five minutes a day can make a significant difference in managing stress levels.


Certain scents like lavender or chamomile activate the relaxation responses in your brain, reducing cortisol output. Try lighting an aromatherapy candle during deep breathing exercises for added benefits.

Depression and Stress

Depression and stress are complex conditions that can significantly impact mental and emotional well-being. Amidst various treatment approaches, the role of magnesium in managing anxiety and depression is gaining recognition.

Magnesium, especially the highly bioavailable forms like magnesium glycinate or citrate, has been shown to have a calming effect on the nervous system. It plays a crucial role in neurotransmitter regulation and helps maintain healthy brain function.

When magnesium levels are low, it can contribute to feelings of anxiety and exacerbate symptoms of depression.

Understanding what is the best magnesium for anxiety and depression can be a pivotal step in addressing these conditions.

Integrating magnesium-rich foods into the diet and other therapeutic approaches can offer valuable support in managing depression and stress, promoting a more balanced mental state.


Chronic stress can have profound effects on our health, primarily due to the continuous production of cortisol by the adrenal glands.

Understanding the mechanisms behind stress and its impact on the body is crucial for effective management.

Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, aromatherapy, and incorporating magnesium-rich foods into the diet can help reduce cortisol production and promote relaxation.

By implementing these practical steps and seeking support when needed, you can take proactive measures to manage stress effectively and safeguard your overall well-being. Remember, managing stress is not just about feeling better in the moment but also about protecting long-term health.

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