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Stress comes at us from all directions. Some from the stimulating, toxic, crazy world we live in… and some we unknowingly bring on ourselves. Read on to learn some surprising ways you might be setting off your stress response.

If you are struggling with chronic health issues – the way I used to – you probably have piles of lab tests that can potentially tell you a lot about your health. Cortisol may be one of them. However, doctors never had enough time to explain it properly. They will only notice it if the lab flags your test results as outside of normal. But what if all your results are coming back normal, yet you know you are feeling nowhere near healthy? They may even tell you there is nothing wrong with you, and that it’s all in your head – I’ve been there.

Lab Test Analyzer is the tool I wish I had when I was dealing with all my health issues. Instead of normal, it will tell you the optimal values for cortisol and many other lab tests. And if you are outside the optimal range, it will give you actionable tips and recommendations that will help you get there.



Don’t be scared about everything that activates your stress pathway.  It’s natural and healthy for it to be activated moderately. That said, it’s certainly not supposed to be activated constantly.

What we generally think of as stress comes under the category of psychological or social stress (R).

Psychological/Social stress includes worry about income and other job related stress (R).

However, stress comes in innumerable forms. It can be internal or external. It can be positive stress or negative stress. It can be physical or emotional. It can be due to our own decisions, or totally out of our control. No matter how it comes packaged, stress has a huge impact on us: body, mind, and spirit.

Anxiety can be self-perpetuating.  Chronic stress increases CRH receptors in the brain (paraventricular nucleus), which makes you even more susceptible to the harmful effects of stress (R).

Individual Variations in Stress


Everyone is affected differently by stress.

Some genes, such as MTHFR, Cannabanoid genes (CNR1), COMT, and MAOA can change the way stress affects us. There are many more such genes that can be found on SelfDecode.

Some conditions/syndromes can also affect the way we respond to stress.

  • Autistic children release higher amounts of cortisol in response to psychological stress and it takes longer for their cortisol to return to normal (R).
  • In IBS, CRH causes significantly higher ACTH release compared to people without IBS(R).

Lifestyle Choices Can Raise Your Stress Response


  1. Intense prolonged exercise – Increases cortisol in healthy males (R).
  2. Strenuous Breathing – Raises IL-6 and IL-1 in healthy volunteers (R).
  3. Long commutes – Increase cortisol (humans) (R).
  4. Low Power Postures – Body positions that make you appear less confident/dominant (e.g. slumped shoulders) increased cortisol in male and female subjects (R).
  5. Excess Alcohol consumption – Ongoing consumption of alcohol raises cortisol levels in the body (R).
  6. Smoking – Even just a 2 cigarettes (R).
  7. Marijuana/Pot/THC  – Dose dependently raises cortisol in human studies (R).
  8. Opioid withdrawal –  Withdrawal from chronic morphine induced the HPA axis in rat studies (R)
  9. Sexual stimuli – Increases cortisol in some women, but decreases it in most women (R).

Sleep Disruptions Raise Your Stress Response


  1. Reduced Sleep  – A loss of sleep for just one night leads to higher cortisol levels the next evening (RR2).
  2. Poor quality sleep – Poor quality sleep activates the HPA axis (stress response) (R).
  3. Staying up late – Cortisol goes up when we are awake during normal sleep times (R).
  4. Circadian Rhythm Disruptions – An Airline cabin crew who had chronic circadian dysruptions had higher salivary cortisol (R)…… See how to keep to a Circadian Rhythm.

Stimulants Raise Your Stress Response

  1. Caffeine – Increases cortisol (humans) (R).
  2. Nicotine – Increases  Acetylcholine, which increases ADH, ACTH, Cortisol (humans) (R).
  3. Yohimbine – Increases cortisol (humans) (R)

Dietary Factors Can Raise Your Stress Response


  1. Eating activates the stress response (especially in men) (R) – mostly caused by VIP (R).
  2. Protein restriction/Leucine deprivation – Increases CRH and stimulates the stress response in mice (R).
  3. Excess sodium – Increases cortisol (R).
  4. Excess omega-6 – Can raise inflammation, setting off the stress response (R).
  5. Severe calorie restriction – Increases cortisol (R).
  6. Fasting (R) – Modern Ramadan practices in Saudi Arabia are associated with excess evening cortisol (and increased insulin resistance). Other kinds of fasting might decrease CRH and cortisol (shown in rats) (R).
  7. Body fat/Obesity – Fat tissue produces cortisol from cortisone (R).

Nutrient Factors Can Raise Your Stress Response

  1. Zinc inadequacy – Caused increased susceptibility to stress in rat studies (R).
  2. Magnesium inadequacy – Increases cortisol and HPA response in human and animal studies (R, R2R3).
  3. Vitamin A inadequacy – Increases cortisol and induces the HPA axis in rat studies (R, R2).
  4. Potassium loading  – Increases ACTH and cortisol in humans (R).

Checking Your Cortisol Levels

You can request that your doctor test your  cortisol. Conventional doctors will look at high or low cortisol levels and not mention anything. Sometimes, a lab result may be in the reference range, but not actually be in the optimal range. Reference ranges are not the same as optimal ranges. This is why even cortisol in the ‘normal’ range can be unhealthy and indicate that certain processes in the body aren’t optimal. Lab Test Analyzer will let you know if your cortisol levels are optimal and what you can do to get them there if they aren’t.

Underlying Health Challenges Can Raise Your Stress Response


  1. Inflammation – Prostaglandins (R), Eicosanoids (R), IL-1b, TNF, IL-6 and Histamine (R).
  2. Arachidonic Acid (R) – from excess omega-6 (R).
  3. Pain – Raises cortisol in human studies (R).
  4. Gut permeability  – When your gut is permeable, bacteria/endotoxins are capable of passing to your gut lymph node, liver and spleen, which causes inflammation, and raise cortisol (R).
  5. Hypoglycemia/Low blood sugar – Due to a bad diet, insulin resistance, or a hypothalamic problem (R).
  6. Bacterial, Viral, or other infections – Cause inflammation, setting off a stress response (R, R2).
  7. Physical trauma/Injuries/Surgery – Cause inflammation, setting off a stress response (R).
  8. Platelet Activating Factor – Activates the HPA axis by increasing CRH (R).
  9. ROS/Oxidative Stress – Increases cortisol in (cellular models) (R).

Hormonal Factors Can Raise Your Stress Response

  1. Estrogen (cellular model) (R).
  2. Pregnenolone – Converts to cortisol and stimulates the HPA axis (rats) (R).
  3. DHEA – Induces CRH and Vasopressin synthesis and release, enhancing ACTH and activating the HPA axis (rats) (R)
  4. Leptin – Activates stress response (mice) (R).
  5. Ghrelin – Activates HPA axis (R).
  6. Thyroid hormones – Activates HPA axis (rat) (R).
  7. Vasopressin – Releases CRH (rats) (R) and ACTH (humans and animals)(R).
  8. CCK – Increases CRH, ACTH, and cortisol (humans) (R, R2).
  9. VIP – Raises CRH (R).
  10. Angiotensin II/ACE – Stimulates the HPA axis (humans) (R, R2).

Certain Peptides Can Raise Your Stress Response

  1. Orexins – Increase CRH and ACTH (humans and animals) (R).
  2. Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) – Stimulates the HPA axis (rats) (R).
  3. BDNF – Stimulates the HPA axis (rats) (R).

Certain Neurotransmitters Can Raise Your Stress Response


  1. Dopamine (D1/D2) – Increases CRH in cells (R). – Contradictory (mice) (R).
  2. Serotonin (specifically 5-HT2CRs)Serotonin increased CRH and its neuronal activity and CRH (and corticosterone release) (rats) (RR2).
  3. Acetylcholine (R) Chronic SSRI usage increases CRH, but decreases ACTH and therefore cortisol (R), but fluoxetine (a specific SSRI), on the other hand, decreases CRH (rats) (R).
  4. Noradrenaline – Increases CRH (rats) (R).
  5. Glutamate – Activates the HPA axis (rats) (R).

Environmental Factors Can Raise Your Stress Response


  1. Noise -Induces an HPA axis response (rats) (R).
  2. Sun/UVB (locally, on skin) – Induces skin cells to produce and release CRH through the PKA pathway (R).
  3. Light  – Enhances stress response (R, R2).
  4. Smells, such as pheromones – stimulates the hypothalamus and stress response (R).
  5. Cold (R) or Hot (R) temperatures (humans). Chronic cold increases CRH receptors, caused by dopamine (rats) (R).
  6. EMFs – Raise stress levels (rats) (R).
  7. High altitudes – Causes low oxygen (hypoxia), increasing our stress response (rat, cellular, humans) (R).

Toxicity Factors Can Raise Your Stress Response

  1. Heavy metals – Cadmium, but likely many others (humans) (R).
  2. Mercury in fish (humans) (R).
  3. PAH (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) (R).

Internal Psychological Chatter?


There are some attitudinal factors that may increase the stress rsponse, but they don’t have scientific references.   So here’s a list of things to watch out for if your nervous system is overactive.

Control Issues

  • Trying to control an outcome

Self Improvement

  • Trying to change yourself
  • Trying to exert your will power
  • Trying to increase your motivation 
  • Making yourself do something you don’t want to
  • Making goals 
  • Having ambitions or trying to get somewhere


  • Having a strong attachment – to an idea, object, person, etc…
  • Thinking about the past or future
  • Taking life too seriously


  • Feeling fearful
  • Feeling anxious
  • Feeling angry
  • Feeling frustrated
  • Feeling guilty
  • Feeling jealous
  • Feeling hateful
  • Feeling embarrassed
  • Feeling rejected 

Irregular Cortisol Levels?

If you have not yet tested your cortisol levels, I recommend that you ask your doctor to do it. If you already have your blood test results and you’re not sure what to make of them, you need to check out Lab Test Analyzer. It does all the heavy lifting for you. No need to do thousands of hours of research on what to make of your various blood tests.

People don’t realize that their blood test results contain a gold mine of information that’s waiting to be unearthed. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time or the inclination to sift through dozens of research papers.

It’s super-simple, so that even if you don’t have any background in science, you will understand what your results mean and what you can do to get them in the optimal range.

Lab Test Analyzer gives you up-to-date scientific information about your lab results. In addition, you will get both lifestyle tips and natural solutions to help you optimize your health. You can also rely on our science-based Optimal Ranges to prevent potential health issues and maximize your overall well-being.

All of the content is backed by science and researched by a team of PhDs, professors, and scientists.

We’re all unique, so we deserve solutions that treat us that way.

Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick

At SelfHacked, it’s our goal to offer our readers all the tools possible to get optimally healthy. When I was struggling with chronic health issues I felt stuck because I didn’t have any tools to help me get better. I had to spend literally thousands of hours trying to read through studies on pubmed to figure out how the body worked and how to fix it.

That’s why I decided to create tools that will help others cut down the guesswork:

  • Lab Test Analyzer – a software tool that will analyze your labs and tell you what the optimal values are for each marker — as well as provide you with actionable tips and personalized health and lifestyle recommendations to help you get there.
  • SelfDecode – a software tool that will help you analyze your genetic data from companies such as 23andme and ancestry. You will learn how your health is being impacted by your genes, and how to use this knowledge to your advantage.
  • SelfHacked Secrets – an ebook where we examine and explain the biggest overlooked environmental factors that cause disease. This ebook is a great place to start your journey if you want to learn the essential steps to optimizing your health.
  • SelfHacked Elimination Diet course – a video course that will help you figure out which diet works best for you
  • Selfhacked Inflammation course – a video course on inflammation and how to bring it down
  • Biohacking insomnia – an ebook on how to get great sleep
  • Lectin Avoidance Cookbook – an e-cookbook for people with food sensitivities
  • BrainGauge – a device that detects subtle brain changes and allows you to test what’s working for you
  • SelfHacked VIP – an area where you can ask me (Joe) questions about health topics

FDA Compliance

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.


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  • brandonadams


    Any thoughts on the use of isolation or noise-canceling headphones to reduce stress levels? (For someone in poor health: CIRS, Lyme, etc and very irritable)

  • Benny

    Sorry to say it like this but when I read this article, I feel like WHOLE LIFE is a stress. You eat ? you generate cortisol, you don’t eat ? you generate cortisol. You breathe ? Oxidative stress wouldn’t be if there was no oxygen. Life wouldn’t be without cortisol. I think we need to take global moves about stress and not finetuning that precisely, you’ll spend your life stressing about “sh*t, I got a reward, dopamine raises stress, I shouldn’t be eating blueberries cause they raise BDNF, and BDNFstimulates the HPA axis “

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      The stress response is critical and needed. We just don’t need added stressors.

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