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Stress Can Make You Depressed

Stress has a bad reputation, but it is useful in moderation. For instance, it can give you the push you need to meet a deadline at work. However, long-term stress can lead to full-blown depression. To understand why, we’re going to look at what happens to your body when you feel under pressure. Can stress really make you depressed?

First, you need to learn about the effects of cortisol. Also known as the “stress hormone, it triggers a chain of reactions in your body that can lead to depression.

What Is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone that plays a key role in lots of bodily functions, such as blood sugar and blood pressure regulation. Our adrenal glands, which are positioned on top of our kidneys, release cortisol when we are under stress. It keeps us energized and alert in the face of danger. Cortisol also triggers immune system activity, which can help ward off infectious diseases.

In summary, cortisol serves lots of useful purposes. However, if you are habitually tense and stressed out, your adrenal glands will release so much cortisol that your body and mind will start to suffer.

If your cortisol levels remain high for a long period of time, your blood pressure and blood sugar will shoot up. Your immune system won’t work as well as usual, and you may start to store more fat around your midsection. Your risk of having a stroke will increase, and you will be at greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

Cortisol, Stress, & Your Mood

Stress also affects how your neurotransmitters work. Neurotransmitters are your brain’s chemical messengers. They have many functions, such as regulating your moods and controlling your appetite.

If your cortisol levels are high, your brain might no longer be able to properly metabolize its neurotransmitters. This can have significant consequences.

For example, cortisol levels can change how your brain processes serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates your moods. Lowered serotonin levels are linked with depression and sleep problems.

Normally, our cortisol levels are highest early in the morning and gradually decrease throughout the day. However, if you’re depressed, your cortisol levels stay elevated until the late afternoon or evening. As a result, you will spend more time feeling low compared to someone with normal cortisol levels.

Cortisol Changes How You Respond To Therapy

Talking therapies are an effective treatment for depression, but studies show that if your cortisol levels are unusually high, you are less likely to feel the benefit. This is why lifestyle interventions, such as meditation and exercise, can be so important for people with depression.

7 Easy WaysTo Lower Your Cortisol Levels

1. Learn how to meditate.

Meditation and mindfulness are now widely recommended treatments for anxiety and depression.

2. Use a journal to safely express your thoughts and feelings.

Talking to another person about your problems can be difficult. Writing about them in your journal can be a good alternative.

3. Do something creative.

You don’t have to be an accomplished artist to enjoy some art therapy.

4. Book a soothing massage.

The power of touch is well documented. It can relieve stress within minutes.

5. Make time for the things you enjoy.

Even if you have a busy life, it’s important to have some fun.

6. Nurture your relationships.

Loneliness is stressful. People with strong support networks are more emotionally resilient in the face of life’s challenges, and enjoy better mental health.

7. Pray and turn to a higher power

Having a higher power can give you a feeling that something is in control, even when you don’t feel like you have it. And prayer is shown to lower areas in the brain related to stress.

When To Get Help

If you can’t get your stress under control, or if you have started to feel depressed, talk to a mental health professional. They can teach you how to manage stress, tackle the symptoms of depression, and regain your quality of life.


About the author: Lia Huynh, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has helped many people manage their stress, anxiety and depression in the San Jose, Fremont and Milpitas areas. If you want to learn more about working with Lia, click here

Lia Huynh San Jose and Milpitas


My life’s work is helping individuals and couples get better. I help couples restore their sense of togetherness by rediscovering their strengths as individuals, and their collective strength as a duo. And I help my individual clients to negotiate the sources of depression and anxiety, while moving them gently toward feeling a deeper sense of connection with their world. This is all done through our counseling and therapy together. 


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