Cortisol is a steroid hormone released by the adrenal glands. When the body perceives something as a threat, it triggers your adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenaline. This natural response results in a burst of new energy and strength.
The body can perceive stress as a threat, which is why cortisol is also known as the stress hormone. As people are getting used to living in a constant state of stress, their cortisol levels remain high. This is extremely disruptive to the body and may result in numerous health problems.
It puts you at a higher risk of reduced production of growth hormone, reduced glucose utilization, sleep apnea, osteoporosis, constipation, poor immunity, reduced muscle mass and increased abdominal fat.
It is very important to control the level of the stress hormone in your system to prevent several health issues that can occur when it is too high. Reducing your cortisol level is not difficult. With a few lifestyle and dietary changes, you can manage stress easily.
Here are the top 10 ways to reduce your high cortisol (stress hormone) level naturally.
1. Listen to Relaxing Music
During stressful times, listening to soft and soothing music can play a key role in reducing your stress hormone levels. In fact, music works as a natural stress buster and helps you calm down quickly.
A 2003 study by the New York Academy of Sciences found that cortisol levels decreased more rapidly in the saliva of subjects exposed to music than subjects recovering from stress in silence. The study suggests that relaxing music after a stressor can act by decreasing the post-stress response of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
Music is even useful in reducing stress in patients before operations or surgeries. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2011 found that listening to music reduces sedative requirements to reach light sedation under regional anesthesia.
A recent 2016 study published in Public Health found that attending a cultural event can have an impact on endocrine activity and in reducing cortisol levels.
Whenever you are under stress, listen to some music of your choice. If you are skilled at playing a musical instrument, play that instrument to combat stress in your life.
2. Practice Deep Breathing
To keep your stress hormones under control, practice deep breathing. It helps your body relax and reduces anxiety.
When you breathe deeply, more oxygen reaches your brain. This sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax.
A 2007 study published in Stress and Coherence hypothesized that by practicing deep-breathing strategies and positive imagery, one can quickly and perceptibly reduce stress.
Another study published in the Spanish journal Revista de enfermería in 2010 found that controlled breathing therapy helps reduce the cortisol level in the body. Deep breathing for even a few minutes diminished the cortisol.
Follow these steps to practice deep breathing:
- Sit in a comfortable position. Put your hands on your abdomen and relax your muscles.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding your abdomen.
- Slowly fill your lungs with air and count to 5.
- Hold your breath and count to 3.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, emptying your lungs completely.
- Count slowly to 5 and release your muscle tension.
- Repeat these steps for 5 to 10 minutes.
Everybody should try deep breathing for 10 minutes, 2 or 3 times daily. It benefits your mind and body in many ways.
3. Schedule a Massage
A little pampering through massage can rub your stress levels the right way.
Massage is a great way to calm down during stressful situations. It even promotes sleep, which can be difficult to get when trying to fight stress.
A 2005 study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that massage therapy has a positive effect on decreasing cortisol levels and increasing serotonin and dopamine levels in the body. Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters that influence your mood and promote feelings of happiness.
Another study published in Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic & Clinical in 2010 showed that just five minutes of touch massage is significant in reducing the body’s stress response.
Ask someone to give you a foot massage or full-body massage when you are under stress. You can also see a professional massage therapist.
4. Do Stress-Busting Exercises
Almost any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever. Being active can boost feel-good endorphins in the brain and combat stress and anxiety. This works as a natural way to decrease the production of excess cortisol.
Regular exercise can increase self-confidence and distract you from whatever is causing the stress. Plus, it will help keep you in shape.
Aerobic exercise helps produce endorphins, while weight training increases the human growth hormone level. Both help in controlling cortisone levels. Also, lifting weights helps increase the release of serotonin and dopamine.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation reports that low-intensity exercises help in reducing circulating cortisol levels.
Another 2014 study published in CNS & Neurological Disorders Drug Targets found that running for 15 minutes at a medium-intensity level was not able to significantly increase cortisol levels. In fact, it helped in reducing cognitive state anxiety in adolescents.
From walking to aerobics to yoga, you can try anything that works for you as a stress reliever.
5. Take Up Gardening
Gardening is a hobby that can be a great help in combating elevated stress hormones. It helps calm your mind and even distracts you from thinking about stressful situations.
It is considered a great exercise that will help lower cortisol levels. As a bonus, gardening will provide the satisfaction of growing beautiful flowers and healthy food.
In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, the stress-relieving effects of gardening were tested in a field experiment. It was found that 30 minutes of outdoor gardening led to decreases in cortisol levels. Positive mood was fully restored after gardening.
Another study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2015 points out that a green environment has potential benefits for emotional recovery from stress.
The next time you are under stress, take up gardening, a rewarding hobby and a great stress reliever.
6. Laugh Like a Child
Laughter has long been known to make people happier, and now it is a well-known technique for keeping stress hormones under control.
A short session of mirthful laughter appears to reduce serum levels of cortisol. It even helps lower two other stress hormones – adrenaline and dopac (a brain chemical that helps produce adrenaline).
A 2008 study by the American Physiological Society found that anticipating a laugh helps reduce potentially detrimental stress hormones.
Plus, a good laugh will help lighten your load mentally and keep you distracted from stress triggers.
So during stress, forget everything and start watching a funny movie or video. You can also call a jovial friend or colleague who can make you laugh.
7. Enjoy Warm Epsom Salt Baths
Frequent release of adrenaline and cortisol in an unresolved stress response can be due to a low magnesium level in the body.
Magnesium plays an important role in the release and uptake of serotonin, a mood-elevating chemical in the brain. Its low level can lead to an increase in stress hormones as well as cause anxiety, sleep disturbances and depression.
If a low magnesium level is the reason behind your high cortisol level, a warm Epsom salt bath is a natural way to increase your magnesium level. This salt is a good source of magnesium.
- Add 1 cup of Epsom salt to warm bathwater.
- Soak in it for 20 minutes to feel more relaxed and sleep better.
- Take this soothing bath 2 or 3 times a week to enjoy a stress-free life.
Along with Epsom salt baths, include magnesium-rich foods like dark leafy vegetables, yogurt, avocado, banana, quinoa, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds in your diet.
8. Spend Time with Pets
Spending some quality time with your pet can help fight stress to a great extent. It helps improve your level of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin as well as reducing the production of cortisol.
Pets can also lower anxiety and fear levels to elevate a feeling of calmness. They can even effectively reduce heart rate and blood pressure, which tend to increase in anticipation of a stressor. The effects may be stronger with one’s own pet.
A 2012 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that human-animal interactions lead to activation of the oxytocin system, which helps reduce stress. It also offers many other psychological and psychophysiological effects.
When stress comes your way, forget everything and spend extra time with your beloved pet. You can also talk to your pet about your problems and give yourself the much-needed distraction from stressful situations.
9. Sip a Cup of Warm Tea
Tea, one of the most consumed beverages in the world, can help reduce stress. Both black tea and green tea have stress-reducing properties.
The high content of theanine found in black tea helps reduce elevated stress hormones. It triggers the production of alpha brain waves, which encourage relaxation and mental alertness.
A 2007 study published in Psychopharmacology found that six weeks of black tea intake can lead to lower post-stress cortisol and greater relaxation, along with reduced platelet activation. Plus, black tea has many other health benefits that aid stress recovery.
Along with black tea, green tea is effective at reducing stress. The powerful antioxidants in it have a calming and relaxing effect on the mind and body.
A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that drinking a few cups of green tea daily is associated with lower psychological distress in general.
Herbal teas such as chamomile tea and rosemary tea also help keep you relaxed and calm. Due to their sedative properties, they help you enjoy relaxed sleep.
Whenever you are under stress, sip it away with a cup of warm tea.
10. Eat a Balanced Diet
Diet plays a key role in controlling stress hormones like cortisol. You should follow a diet balanced in protein, complex carbohydrates and good fats to keep your cortisol level low.
- Include high-quality fish oil in your diet. Some examples are cod liver oil, skate liver oil or krill oil, rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Include B vitamins, particularly vitamin B5, in your diet to reduce the excess production of cortisol. Some foods rich in vitamin B5 include mushrooms, cheese, avocados, corn, broccoli, kale, and sweet potatoes.
- Eat foods rich in folic acid to control the actions and functions of the adrenal glands, which produce cortisol.
- Be sure to eat high-quality proteins. Also, include whole-grain products in your diet to help proteins control the body’s cortisol production.
- When cooking, include herbs like holy basil or astragalus to help lower your cortisol level.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin C, which naturally lowers cortisol levels.
At the same time, avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar level from spiking. High blood sugar is also linked to higher stress hormones.
- The next time you feel frazzled, simply chew a piece of sugarless gum to improve the blood flow and neural activity in select brain regions.
- Eating a small piece of dark chocolate can also help, due to its magnesium content.
- A thorough head massage is another technique that you can try at home.
- Try to go to bed at the same time each night. A sound sleep of 6 to 8 hours is necessary for regulating hormone levels.
- A 30-minute foot soak in warm water with a little sea salt will also help.
- From time to time, try to lead a gadget-free life.
- Reading a book, doing a painting or even cooking can help fight stress.