How To Lower Cortisol: Start With The Right Mindset
If you want to know how to lower cortisol, you first need to learn how to be mindful of your thoughts and feelings. Thinking about something stressful is the easiest way to cause your body to release cortisol.
You can recognize when stress is about to creep up on you by making an effort to be aware of your thoughts, breathing, and heart rate. In fact, theres a simple awareness exercise that you can practice to relieve stress as soon as you feel it coming. Its called the body scan, and its quite easy to perform:
First, lie flat on your back and close your eyes. Then, start feeling out and becoming aware of each part of your body, one at a time. When you find an area that feels tense or sore, focus on it. Take deep breaths, and try to relax the problematic section. Once that happens, do the same thing for the rest of your body until you feel completely at ease.
In addition to this one, theres plenty of other mindfulness exercises that you can do to keep stress at bay. You can check out Positive Psychology for more ways to recognize and deal with stressful thoughts.
It Can Have Negative Consequences
In the short-term, cortisol stimulates the fight-or-flight response, which is critical for survival. However, it also suppresses the immune system, which can lead to greater susceptibility to infection and illness. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can have negative health effects including a higher risk of heart disease, depression, and cognitive impairment.
Cortisol Testing: What You Need To Know
When trying to improve your stress response and lower your cortisol levels, it’s imperative to recognize what’s making you stressed in the first place and try to get that under control. That being said, tests can also be a helpful way to evaluate the severity and cause of a cortisol imbalance.
Cortisol testing is ideally done through methods that measure it unbound, such as in the saliva or dried urine. Both can be done at different times throughout the day, providing a more accurate picture of someone’s stress response and how it relates to an optimal cortisol curve of highest in the morning and lowest in the evening. Serum testing, on the other hand, measures both bound and unbound but may be complicated with the stress of needles, perhaps leading to false elevation.
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Limit Your Coffee Consumption
Caffeine is a stimulant that can make you feel more alert, but at the same time, it can also increase cortisol levels and disrupt your sleep at night. One study showed a correlation between caffeine consumption and increased cortisol by 30% after just one hour. Regular caffeine consumption can subsequently double your cortisol levels. If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try avoiding coffee and other caffeinated drinks six hours before bedtime. For best results, limit your daily intake of coffee and other caffeinated drinks to one to two cups.
Set Good Sleep Habits
Seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night is the gold standard for optimal health and it makes for a powerful cortisol reducer. If youre not clocking enough sleep, try bumping bedtime up. If you feel wired late into the evening, try dimming the lights and powering down phones, computers, and TVs at least one hour before bedtime.
The blue light from electronic devices throws off our sleep-wake cycle known as our circadian rhythm, and makes it harder to fall asleep. Replace Netflix with a book, warm bath, or relaxing music to help you unwind and prepare for sleep. Candles, aromatherapy, and sound machines can also help you relax before bedtime.
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Learn To Recognize Symptoms Of Stress
Stress can come from all directions, whether youre overloaded by work, family responsibilities, or events in the news. And overwhelming situations can impact both your mental and physical health.
Knowing the symptoms of stress can help you recognize when its time to take steps to better manage it.
According to the , symptoms to watch out for include:
- changes in appetite
Tap Into Your Creative Side
In a study, people who made a piece of art had reduced saliva cortisol levels compared to before the art-making. Drawing, making a collage, using modeling clay, or even coloring might all help reduce cortisol levels.
If you know how to sew, make jewelry, or anything else that involves creating, that can have a similar benefit as doing actual art.Do you remember zoning out while coloring when you were little? Coloring books for adults have become popular in recent years since coloring can make you feel relaxed. If anything, coloring gives your brain a distraction from stressful thoughts.
You can buy coloring books specifically for adults that are more complex and require more time to complete, or you can always pick up a regular childrens coloring book.
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Pinpoint Your Comfort Food Triggers
Try writing down what you eat in an effort to get a better idea of when you stress eat. “Keeping a food journal for a week can help you pinpoint the times where you indulge in comfort foods or when you make sensible, healthier choices,” says Balk. “If dinner before a big test or meeting tends to be fried ‘comfort food,’ it’s worthwhile to stop the cycle and replace that emotion with a healthier choice or receive consolation another way.”
Natural Ways To Lower Your Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is a stress hormone the adrenal glands release. It helps your body deal with stressful situations, as your brain triggers its release through the sympathetic nervous system the fight or flight system in response to many different kinds of stress .
While the short-term release of cortisol can help you run quickly from danger, when cortisol levels are too high for too long, this hormone can hurt you more than it helps .
Over time, this can lead to an array of health issues such as weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, insomnia or difficulty sleeping, mood irregularities, and low energy levels (
This article discusses 11 ways to help naturally lower your cortisol levels.
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When Not To Lower Your Bodys Cortisol Reserves
High cortisol levels arenât necessarily ruinous for you. As you can see from the previous section, a pre-dawn cortisol hike coincides with the usual hours for waking up. Without the alertness-boosting effects of this hormone, it becomes that much more difficult to push through your morning sleep inertia and feel like youâve had a full night of invigorating sleep.
Cortisol is also vital to your overall health throughout the day as it helps:
- Mediate your stress response
- Regulate your metabolism rate for energy production
- Fight inflammation to boost your bodyâs rest-and-repair mechanism
- Develop and maintain a functioning immune system
On a medical note, too-low cortisol levels lead to a health issue known as Addisonâs disease. Itâs a manifestation of adrenal gland disorder commonly accompanied by symptoms like low blood pressure and low blood sugar levels.
Rewire Your Sleep Schedule
Sleeping in time with your bodys biorhythms and getting enough quality sleep can help you lower your cortisol levels naturally. Time, length, and quality of sleep have all been found to influence cortisol levels, so optimizing your sleep cycle from start to finish plays an important role in lowering cortisol levels. Ideally, getting to bed by 10 p.m. will help you avoid a late evening cortisol spike which could make it hard to get to sleep and sleep soundly. This also takes advantage of natural melatonin production, which starts around sunset to help you wind down.
Research in the Journal of Nursing Research found that shift workers who sleep during the day have higher daytime cortisol and get less sleep per day than people who sleep at night, so if your job allows, its best to adjust your sleep schedule accordingly. And if you have little control over when you get to sleep, do your best to create a good sleep routinelike avoiding caffeine and alcohol and limiting screen time before bedto optimize the sleep you do get.
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When To Lower Your Cortisol Load
While you donât want to lower your cortisol load altogether, you definitely want to avoid high levels of this stress hormone later in the day, especially as your bedtime draws near.
Unfortunately, everyday factors like sleep loss, chronic stress, and circadian misalignment incite HPA hyperactivity. In this scenario, cortisol continues to circulate in your system even after a stressor has passed. This spells trouble for your nighttime sleep as you:
- Wake up more frequently in the middle of the night,
- Have less restorative deep sleep, and,
- Cut short your total sleep duration
Lo and behold, youâve now accrued sleep debt, the amount of sleep youâve missed out on in the past 14 days relative to your sleep need.
You can blame your shoddy sleep patterns on the corticotropin-releasing hormone . Itâs a precursor to cortisol secretion that represses melatonin production. For the uninitiated, melatonin is a sleepiness-promoting hormone naturally created in your body when you’re in the dark. Think of it as the key that unlocks the gateway to sleep.
Unfortunately, excessive amounts of the stress hormone delay melatonin synthesis, so youâre more likely to stay up past your bedtime. And we all know what that entails: Late-night activities like phone-scrolling and Netflix-binging, all of which expose you to bright artificial light, further suspending the manufacturing of melatonin within your body.
But Don’t Hit The Gym Too Often
By contrast, that same study from The Journal of Endocrinological Investigation showed that moderate- to high-intensity exercise provokes increases in circulating cortisol levels. In other words, when it comes to exercise, more may not be better. A separate 2012 study confirmed that long-term cortisol exposure was significantly higher in endurance athletes.
As clinical psychologist Candice Seti, PsyDa.k.a. The Weight Loss Therapistput it, “Skipping the second trip to the gym and taking it easy can also be good for reducing cortisol levels. that over-exercising can actually lead to an increase in the hormone. This, in turn, can lead to slower weight loss.”
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Write Down Three Things You’re Grateful For
Research has shown that cultivating gratitude can help you cope with stress by increasing positive emotions and helping you reframe your perspective. In one study, practicing gratitude decreased cortisol levels by 23% in the treatment group, while in others gratitude has been shown to boost life satisfaction, positive affect, and optimism.
Ways To Reduce Cortisol
We all hear about how we need to prioritize self-care, but what does that mean? The best way to engage in self-care is to select activities that we commit to as part of our daily/weekly routines that will help lower stress levels both acutely and long-term.
Here are 8 self-care activities that can be incorporated into even the busiest of lives to reduce cortisol:
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Incorporate Mother Nature Into Your Routine
Know that feeling when you take a leisurely stroll through a park or sit by the ocean and just get lost in the waves? Natures effects on general human health and well-being have been well-established, and there are a few specific ways you can enjoy some time with Mother Nature while also lowering your cortisol levels.
Lowering cortisol can prevent negative health effects, including hair loss and slow-growing hair. And while you can give your tresses some TLC via GRO Hair Serum or other hair wellness products, you should also find ways to reduce your stress through nature-centered activities, such as forest bathing.
You might have heard of forest bathing as a trendy new way to enjoy time with trees, but did you know that it is actually a Japanese tradition, known as shinrin-yoku, which has been enjoyed for decades? Shinrin-yoku literally translates to forest bath, and what better way to lower cortisol than bathing in the rich river of tranquility a forest provides.
Maybe forest bathing isn’t your thing, or you dont have regular access to one. No problem, because urban outdoor experiences, for even just 20 minutes three times per week, were shown to have a significant impact on cortisol levels. While youre at it, why not bring along your dog? Or have a cuddle with your cat when you get home. Pets remain a great way to relieve stress and lower your cortisol levels.
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Manage Your Stress Levels
Stress is an unfortunate reality in everyday life. Managing your stress, and, in turn, your cortisol levels, can help keep you healthy.
finding a good exercise routine
practicing relaxation techniques, like breathing exercises
finding your outlets, like journaling or painting
talking with a trusted source
There is no perfect or right way to manage stress. Find what works for you and practice it as needed.
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Tend To Your Spirituality
If you consider yourself spiritual, developing your faith can also help improve cortisol levels.
Studies show that adults who expressed spiritual faith experienced lower cortisol levels in the face of life stressors such as illness (
If you do not consider yourself spiritual, these benefits may also be available through meditation, developing a social support group, and performing acts of kindness .
For those with spiritual inclinations, developing faith and participating in prayer can help manage cortisol. Whether youre spiritual or not, performing acts of kindness can also improve your cortisol levels.
What Happens When Cortisol Levels Are Too High Or Too Low
Signals coming from the brain tell the adrenal cortex to release cortisol in times of stress. When you’re in a state of sustained stress, the body is constantly getting those signals to produce more of the stress hormone, and it adapts a higher threshold of cortisol, leading to an imbalance in hormones.
Cortisol is a huge part of our body’s “fight or flight” response, which is activated in times of high stresslike running from a bear. When this stress response is triggered, our bodies divert blood flow to ensure we can breathe and move effectively to stay alive. Howeveras we are not usually running from a bear in modern timesstressors can be due to factors such as underlying disease , poor diet, poor sleep, unhealthy relationships, suppressed emotions, emotional stress, and chemicals in the environment .
Chronic cortisol production keeps our bodies in “fight or flight” mode and forces us to de-prioritize bodily functions like reproduction , digestion, and rest. Balancing cortisol levels is further complicated by the fact that cortisol is affected by hypothyroidism, obesity, high estrogen, and type 2 diabetes.
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How To Lower Cortisol Levels Its More Than Reducing Stress
Contrary to popular misconception, learning how to lower cortisol levels isnât solely about naturopathic remedies. For example, supplements like ashwagandha, prebiotics, probiotics, and magnesium are revered for their cortisol-regulating properties. While these substances may or may not work, your goal shouldnât be to keep your cortisol load low all the time.
The thing is, your body requires high cortisol concentrations at the right times and low cortisol levels at other times . This keeps yourself in circadian alignment such that you feel and function at your best.
Ahead, we explain how a healthy cortisol rhythm works so you have a better idea of when and how to lower your cortisol levels when you need to. Itâs all about making this hormone work for you instead of against you.
Keep Cortisol Low At The Right Times
As youâve learned, timing is everything when regulating your cortisol rhythm. You want it high to jumpstart your day and low later on to welcome sleep more effortlessly.
If you already experience an out-of-whack cortisol rhythm, we feel you. Anyone caught in the vicious cycles of sleep loss, chronic stress, and circadian misalignment often feels at a loss about the starting point for reducing their cortisol levels. Before you resort to medical interventions, good sleep hygiene and stress management techniques are your best bet when deciding how to lower cortisol volume.
Thatâs where the RISE app can help. It features 16 science-based habits tied to your unique chronobiology to help you make wise sleep-related choices. This, in turn, keeps you circadianally aligned and your sleep debt low to ward off cortisol overload.
Need more proof that this is the only app you need to feel and function at your best? 80% of RISE users feel the benefits within five days in terms of improved productivity, performance, and well-being.
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Clean Up Your Sleep Act
We all know how important sleep is, and yet its one of the first things to be neglected when life gets busy or to become impacted when were feeling stressed.
Proper sleep has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, but what is proper sleep?
First things first, you need to get the proper amount of sleep. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, the optimal amount of sleep for adults aged 18 to 60 is between seven and nine hours.
Another important part of sleep is hygiene. Sleep is an integral aspect of keeping cortisol levels down. Its not just about sleeping enough, but about fixing your sleep habits and maintaining them, said nutritionist Lovneet Batra.
Experts agree that there are some important habits to be cultivated to get a good night’s sleep: