Cortisol, a stress hormone in your body, plays a major role in keeping your blood pressure, cardiovascular system, central nervous system and immune system functioning properly when it is at a stable level.
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However, when excess stress from your daily life causes your body to produce more cortisol than is needed, you become at risk of developing physical complications such as heart disease, weight gain and hypertension, as well as psychological issues such as depression and anxiety.
Fortunately, if your cortisol level has been tested and found to be at an elevated number, there are some steps that you can take to decrease the negative effects of stress on your body and mind. Discover eight techniques for reducing cortisol production that are backed by scientific studies.
1. Integrate More Exercise Into Your Daily Life
How this reduces cortisol: Regular exercise is an excellent means of releasing tension and stress that has built up in your system. Physical activity can also increase confidence and resilience and decrease feelings of fear, thereby lowering cortisol production.
What studies say: A Harvard Medical School publication from 2011 outlines the ways in which physical exercise not only lowers cortisol levels, but also reduces mental stress overall.
What you can try: Exercise at least three days per week for a half-hour at a time, choosing activities that suit your skill level. Walk briskly as a beginner, and work up to more challenging activities such as aerobics, weight lifting and running.
2. Add Healthier Foods To Your Diet
How this reduces cortisol: The chemical composition of various foods has a natural effect on the amount of cortisol that your body produces. Complex carbohydrates are particularly associated with increased cortisol production when eaten in excess.
What studies say: Research on rats showed that opting for unhealthy foods as a result of a high stress level may serve to keep cortisol levels elevated over time.
What you can try: Monitor your intake of high-sugar and high-starch foods while eating generous amounts of foods that are rich in protein and fiber. Opt for berries, seeds, nuts, fish, eggs and leafy greens to reduce cortisol. Eat five or six small meals each day.
3. Try Some Deep Breathing And Meditation
How this reduces cortisol: Mindfulness meditation and deep breathing introduce calming elements into your lifestyle and provide you with opportunities to naturally let go of stress. Even just a couple of deep breaths during tense events can reduce cortisol.
What studies say: In one study, a group of Thai medical students experienced a significant decrease in cortisol levels on average after engaging in mindfulness meditation.
What you can try: Set aside at least 15 minutes daily to practice meditation and deep breathing in a quiet, distraction-free room. Allow thoughts to flow in and out of your mind without dwelling on them or attaching stressful emotions to them.
4. Start Taking Certain Beneficial Supplements
How this reduces cortisol: As with certain foods, fueling your body and mind with a range of essential nutrients is ideal for encouraging and maintaining a decreased level of cortisol.
What studies say: A two-week study of the effects of high-dose ascorbic acid (vitamin C) on adults showed positive results regarding lowered cortisol levels.
What you can try: Fortify a healthy diet with supplements that work to lower cortisol production, including vitamin B5 and other B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. Follow the recommended dosage instructions whenever you take a supplement.
5. Make Adequate Sleep A Top Priority
How this reduces cortisol: Your body thrives on regulated sleep cycles, so when you take care to establish a pattern of restful and lengthy sleep, cortisol and various other hormones remain in balance, and stress is markedly reduced.
What studies say: A study performed on subjects who missed out on a night of sleep and napped the following day noted a decrease in cortisol levels post-nap.
What you can try: Make your bedroom an environment that is conducive to restful sleep, and aim to fall asleep and wake up at consistent times. Plan to sleep between seven and nine hours per night to keep your body’s cortisol production at optimal levels.
6. Improve The Quality And Frequency Of Your Social Interactions
How this reduces cortisol: Because human beings are naturally wired to form bonds and connections with one another, the deprivation of this occurrence easily results in stress, anxiety and negative behaviors on the part of the socially isolated person.
What studies say: A Johns Hopkins University study involving mice established a link between high cortisol levels and social isolation in adolescents.
What you can try: Make it a point to get together with friends and family members in person as often as you can. At other times, stay in contact with people socially by phone or online. Reach out to someone whenever you feel lonely.
7. Listen To Your Favorite Music
How this reduces cortisol: Enjoyable music influences the chemical release of endorphins within your body, which in turn helps to elevate your mood and make you feel happy. Your cortisol level decreases as music provides pleasure and relaxation.
What studies say: A Japanese study found that patients undergoing colonoscopies were far less prone to increases in their cortisol levels when they listened to music.
What you can try: Create a playlist of a dozen or two of your favorite songs, and keep it on hand to listen to during both low-stress and high-stress periods. Enjoy music as you drive, exercise, socialize, complete household chores or relax at home.
8. Laugh As Often As You Can
How this reduces cortisol: The act of laughter has an organically positive effect on the stress hormones produced by your body, and cortisol is no exception. Humor has been studied for decades regarding its emotional and physical benefits for stress.
What studies say: In a Loma Linda University study, elderly people who watched comedy videos experienced lowered cortisol levels and decreased stress.
What you can try: Avoid somber or disturbing forms of media when you are stressed out and overly anxious. Put on a television show, movie or comedy special that you know will make you laugh and lift your spirits when you need it most.
Check in with a medical professional after implementing these strategies so that you can have your cortisol level re-tested. Your physician may have additional recommendations for reducing stress if your body is still producing a higher amount of cortisol than is ideal.
If you are under a great deal of stress on a regular basis due to your career or personal life, you may also wish to talk to a counselor, mentor or spiritual adviser for guidance on how to keep yourself healthy both mentally and physically.