©2006 Linda Marks

Long-term stress (more than 15 minutes) increases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol makes us hypervigilant, and mobilized to cope with stress and emergencies. This is different than the fight-or-flight response that adrenaline gives. Our hunter-gatherer forefathers most likely faced physical stressors like starvation, severe gastro-intestinal illness and critical injury. To cope with such emergencies, cortisol begins to break down non-essential organs and tissues to feed vital organs. When cortisol stays at high levels, it automatically digests bones, muscles and joints to obtain key nutrients to maintain the nervous system and vital internal organs. It also makes us hungry, causing us to reach for high calorie food. Today, our biggest long-term stressors are emotional and mental, not physical. As we face potential job loss, the pressure of commutuing in heavy traffic, the barrage of fear-producing media, relationship disharmony and more, our body has only one automatic response: cortisol.(1)

Recently, oxytocin has been found to be an anti-stress hormone that counters the effects of cortisol. Oxytocin induces emotional bonding, labor and lactation, and is produced during meditation, massage, yoga, caring for a pet, joining a support group, worshipping and exercise.

Fear (Cortisol)
Love (Oxytocin)
Anti-stress hormone
Feeling calm and connected
Increased curiosity
Activates addictions
 Lessens cravings and addictions
Suppresses libido
Increases sexual receptivity
Associated with depression
Positive feelings
Can be toxic to brain cells
Facilitates learning
Breaks down muscles, joints and bones
Repairs, heals, and restores
Weakens immune system
Faster wound healing
Increases pain
Diminuishes sense of pain
Clogs arteries, promotes heart disease and high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis
Lowers blood pressure. Protects against heart disease

(1) - From “Love and Fear” by Marnia Robinson.
Prepared by Linda Marks.

Linda Marks, MSM, has practiced body psychotherapy with individuals, couples and groups for more than twenty years.  She is the founder of the Boston Area Sexuality and Spirituality Network and  is the author of
Healing the War Between the Genders: The Power of the Soul-Centered Relationship (HeartPower Press, 2004) and Living With Vision: Reclaiming the Power of the Heart (Knowledge Systems, Inc, 1989).  She can be reached at, or (617)965-7846.