How To Lower Cortisol: A Complete Guide
In our busy, modern day world, it seems commonplace and normal for people to be under constant stress. Most of us are struggling to keep all our balls in the air, juggling many, and most of the time too many, at one time. But what most people tend to forget, or are simply not aware of, to begin with, in all their frantic efforts to keep everything in their life rolling is that there is only so much juggling one can do before the body starts to wear down.
Chronic stress over time can cause dysfunctions in the body, both mental and physical, which drastically reduces a person’s quality of life and can even have the potential of causing serious conditions that are not easily reversed, if able to be reversed at all.
Understanding How to Lower Cortisol
It is important to understand just how chronic stress affects the body so that one can then know how to minimize, if not eradicate completely, its unpleasant effects. It is only when we fully grasp the reality of just how damaging stress can be on individual lives that we can then take the power back into our own hands and make the changes necessary to greatly improve our lives and make them as easy and enjoyable as possible.
So now, let’s dive fully into understanding stress by first examining the main culprit of manifested stress in the body: Cortisol.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a more common name for its more technical term hydrocortisone. A steroid hormone made in the adrenal glands, it helps the body naturally combat stress with its anti-inflammatory properties. When the body experiences stress, the adrenal glands release both adrenaline and cortisol.
While the adrenaline helps the body quickly mobilize (via increased blood flow to limbs and an increased heart rate) to aid in either fighting or fleeing (or so the body thinks), cortisol acts as a protective measure to help minimize the effects that the adrenaline response causes.
How exactly does cortisol do this? It does so by instructing the body to keep both the blood glucose and blood pressure levels from going too high during the fight or flight response. Thus, in small, infrequent doses, cortisol protects the body from the damaging effects of stress.
However, there arises a problem when the stress response becomes a regular experience for the body. The more often stressful situations occur for a person throughout their daily life, the more adrenaline is released. The more adrenaline is released, the more cortisol is released. This leads to a build-up of the stress hormone in the body, resulting in an increased imbalance.
What Happens When Cortisol Levels Are Too High?
When there is a buildup of cortisol in the body, over time (whether a short or a long period of time), it causes the body to start exhibiting stress-related signs and symptoms that are unpleasant and life-depleting.
How does this happen? Strong doses of cortisol start to disrupt the body’s normal functions by telling the body it is in trouble and that it can’t relax until it’s safe. Thus, it stays in a constant protection mode.
It does this by several methods:
- It sends signals to the fat cells to store fat because the body thinks it will starve or not have enough to eat.
- It signals the brain to keep the mind and body alert and ever ready for action; therefore, it becomes harder to rest and get sufficient sleep.
- It instructs the body to steal tissue from important parts of the vessel, like muscle and bone, so that it can have a ready energy source; therefore, bone density and muscle are lost prematurely. Basically, the body stays in survival mode and keeps itself prepped for extreme stress situations where it could potentially perish if not constantly prepared.
Over time, this constant stress causes a steady deterioration of the body and mind. This degeneration eventually turns into severe disease or a life-threatening illness: obesity (or an overweight condition), osteoporosis, weakened immune system (which allows a person to become sick easier and even ups the risk of developing cancer), diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, depression, or Alzheimer’s (or memory loss/concentration problems in general).
The bottom line is, consistently high cortisol levels will wreak havoc on the body and mind, causing an extremely poor quality of life. Therefore, it is imperative to know how to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels for optimal health.
How To Lower Cortisol Levels Naturally
The reality is, there are stressors in our lives that are unavoidable and also situations that cause stress that can be eliminated. Either way, we have the power over whether or not we will let this stress permanently affect our lives negatively.
The good news is, with the proper knowledge on ways we can reduce stress in our everyday lives, we can stop the downward spiral that chronic stress (high cortisol overload) brings to our lives and bodies. Below are a few wonderful ways in which a person can do this:
Although the benefits of exercise are manifold, one of the most significant benefits is that it helps to dramatically lower cortisol levels. Although more research is needed to know exactly why this happens, there has been enough studies to indicate that it does indeed help reduce the stress hormone in the body.
However, it is important to note that, although high-intensity exercise is great for the cardiovascular system, it does not help to reduce cortisol levels as much as moderate exercise does. The reason for this is that the harder you push your body during exercise, the more cortisol is produced. This is not to say that intense exercise does not help reduce cortisol in the long term because it does. However, the big win is when you can reduce cortisol in the short term (during and right after a workout) and in the long term (hours and days after the workout).
That being said, choose your favorite form of moderate exercise and do it consistently for sustained cortisol control. If you are used to a sedentary lifestyle, consult your doctor before pursuing any particular form of exercise.
Change Your Diet
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that unhealthy food contributes to dramatic increases in cortisol production. Anytime toxic, chemicalized, processed foods go into the body, it stresses the body because it has to labor intensely to break down the food. Once it is finally broken down, it essentially poisons the body with all its chemical compounds, thus further stressing the body.
Additionally, anything that causes a blood sugar spike will cause a rise in cortisol production. This applies to all sugary and simple carb (high glycemic) foods such as candy, sweets, white bread and pasta, white rice, etc.
Alternatively, natural earth foods that haven’t been altered from its natural state are fuel sources your body recognize; therefore, the body is able to break them down much easier.
Therefore, the key to blocking a cortisol surge is to eat foods that stabilize blood sugar and that are in their natural state: healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, nuts, and fish oil; lean proteins such as chicken breast, turkey breast, beans, nuts, and seeds; and any type of vegetables.
Some more specific foods that have been proven to help lower cortisol are green or black teas (L-Theanine), dark chocolate (cocoa), citrus fruits (vitamin C), and salmon or tuna (omega-3’s).
Get a Pet
Studies have proven the strong relationship between lowered cortisol levels and having a pet around.
Pets are generally thought of in a positive light, causing good feeling emotions to play out in people who think about the subject (or in people who interact with their existing pet). The logical reason for this is because pets are (most of the time) affectionate and exhibit content, happy mannerisms, both of which naturally boost the mood and of the person the pet makes contact with. Anytime you boost mood (serotonin and endorphin production), cortisol levels are easily reduced.
Therefore, consider a pet as a healthy, enriching way to lower your cortisol levels. If you already have a pet, try and interact with them more if not already doing so.
The human species is biologically designed to reap pleasure from social interaction. Have you ever noticed that, even if you had a bit of anxiety about going to a social gathering, you nonetheless came away later with a feeling of well being and happiness? This is a form of therapy which naturally reducing cortisol levels. Over time, this dramatically reduces the chances of developing (and succumbing to) health issues.
Being around other people gets a person out of their own mental stress (compulsive worrying/analyzing/debating).
So if you find you are in your head more than you should be and your not spending much time with others, find ways to be around people more, whether that be through friend/family gatherings or other social interactions.
If a person is not getting enough sleep, their body’s stress response naturally goes up; hence, cortisol levels rise. Therefore, it is incredibly important to get proper rest to keep cortisol spikes in check.
The problem is, for most people, this solution is good in theory, but hard to put into practice because when cortisol levels are already up, it is hard to fall and/or stay asleep.
So how can you sleep more if you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep? This leads to the next few pointers.
How To Lower Cortisol Levels Fast
When it comes to natural ways to lower cortisol fast, nothing beats the power of the mind. Many times, it is the mind that aids in raising cortisol levels. This is because thoughts generated by the mind stimulate emotion, which in turn, stimulate the release of hormones. Worrying, imagining the worst outcomes, and overthinking (overanalyzing), stimulate cortisol and adrenaline.
If this is the case, then the mind can also become the reason for lowered cortisol levels (stimulating happy brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin).
Below are some tricks to help you use your mind to control cortisol levels:
Learn to Control Stressful Thinking
A study done over a full month on 122 people showed increased cortisol levels after having them journal about stressful past events. This means they were re-living the experiences in their minds (not that it was actually happening to them again). Even though it was only in their minds, it still caused the physical reaction to take place (cortisol release). This demonstrates the power of the mind.
It is important that we become aware of our stressful thoughts. By becoming aware of our runaway mind, we then (and only then), have the power to stop the momentum of negative thoughts How do we become aware of our mind? This leads to the next point.
Deep Breathing and Mindfulness Practices
We become more aware of our mind through breathing and mindfulness practices.
Breathing helps to bring us back into the present moment where (most likely) nothing threatening is taking place. We focus on our breathing, which then, helps us to detach from the drama that is taking place in our minds. We then become a witness to the emotions that are being evoked. This is where mindfulness comes in.
When we are able to step back from the emotion, we are able to see our thoughts for what they are: only thoughts. This is called mindfulness. This then quickly halts cortisol from being released into the body.
Once you have succeeded in calming the brain and the emotions, it is much easier to take the next step in improving your mood (and thus stopping cortisol in its tracks), which is allowing yourself the simple joy of laughter.
Make Yourself Laugh
Not only does laughter in one’s life help boost immunity, prevent disease, and relieve pain naturally, but it also prevents stress hormones from taking over the body!
Laughter is one of the best natural therapies known to man. Therefore, it is important to adopt some laughter provoking rituals into your life. Buy some funny movies and watch them regularly.
Everyone has their own ways of inviting more laughter into their lives. The important thing is to make a conscious decision to do so consistently.
How to Lower Cortisol Levels and Lose Weight
High cortisol levels can cause rapid (stress-related) weight gain. How does it do this biologically speaking? It does so through several methods: through the fat cells themselves, through an increased appetite, and through muscle loss.
When a person experiences stress, cortisol stimulates our appetite hormone, ghrelin. This makes us eat more and also, crave unhealthy foods as stress causes more desire for comfort foods. Also, some of the excess cortisol can live in our fat cells causing them to want to hang onto fat and increase fat storage.
Lastly, cortisol reduces muscle-building testosterone, which causes muscle mass to be lost much easier (not to mention, cortisol makes us feel tired, thus making exercise — which is what helps to build muscle — seem that much more unappealing).
Although this information may seem discouraging if you are desperate to lose weight, there are effective ways (other than the ones mentioned above) to aid the body in quickly ridding itself of cortisol so that the weight will start to fly off.
Below are 2 ways that may help you to lose weight fast if you have high cortisol levels:
Do Cortisol Lowering Pills Really Work?
In short, yes, cortisol lowering pills do work. However, they tend to have side effects that make taking these medications undesirable (and even dangerous). There are three classes of cortisol-inhibiting medications: Steroidogenesis inhibitors, neuromodulatory drugs, and cortisol receptor antagonists.
All 3 of these medications cause other (unwanted and unpleasant) imbalances in the body. Therefore, if you choose to go this route, make sure you do not use them long term.
Natural Alternatives to Lower Cortisol for Weight Loss
There are numerous ways to lower cortisol levels naturally and lose weight. Your body was designed to keep itself balanced (if given the right tools).
Although you may choose to use a chemical method (medications) short term to lower your cortisol levels and lose weight, working with the body (opening up and utilizing the body’s natural healing pathways) instead of against it will help it to be a balanced and smooth running machine.
How to Lower Cortisol Levels at Night
As stated earlier, sleep is extremely important in lowering cortisol in the body. There are a couple of highly effective ways to lower cortisol levels at night, therefore giving you your much-needed rest:
Reduce Blue Light Exposure
If you are not banning the exposure of blue lights (television, computers, and smartphones) from your eyes at least two hours before bed, your pineal gland is not able to release the much-needed melatonin in your brain to help your body prepare for rest. Melatonin is what makes you less alert, making you drowsy and tired.
This is needed in order for you to fall and stay asleep. So try and turn off all blue light sources at least 2 hours before bed.
Cut the Coffee and Soda
Caffeine (which is contained in both coffee and some sodas) is a well-known cortisol spiker. It makes sense that if caffeine speeds up the nervous system, that it would then cause adrenaline and cortisol to be released.
Additionally, soda (some of them having caffeine, which doubles the cortisol effect) has tremendous amounts of processed, simple sugars within them that cause blood sugar spikes (and as mentioned earlier, blood sugar spikes cause the release of cortisol). Therefore, it is a good idea to cut out all soda and coffee if you are having cortisol problems.
How to Lower Cortisol Levels with Supplements
Supplements are a wonderful way to aid in lowering cortisol levels because they are gentle on the body, working with the body’s natural healing mechanisms. Below are 2 different types of supplements that might help you to lower your cortisol levels:
These herbs help to normalize and balance the system, especially stress hormones. The main way that they help to lower cortisol levels is by coming in to aid the underlying source of excess cortisol: the adrenal glands.
When the adrenal glands are over-stimulated or fatigued, they naturally release more cortisol. Such herbs as ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and Holy Basil help to sooth the glands so that they are able to work more efficiently.
Other Supplements for Lowering Cortisol
Nutritional vitamins such as Vitamin C and B5/B6 (or a B-Complex that contains all the B vitamins) may help in lowering cortisol.
Also, supplements such as phosphatidylserine (PS), L-Theanine, omega-3’s, and magnesium are all natural compounds that can aid cortisol reduction. PS helps repair cortisol receptor sites. L-Theanine and magnesium both calm the nervous system, thus reducing the need for cortisol to be released. The EPA in omega-3’s help to boost mood, which also halts cortisol release.
Find Cortisol Lowering Techniques That Work For You
Now that you have a wide range of knowledge of the many ways in which you can lower cortisol levels, it is important to determine which options work best for you. The important thing is to, not only make sure you implement stress relievers into your daily life, but also that you find ones that are highly effective for your unique body and mind.
(A side note to consider: Some situations can be cut away from your life experience so that there is not such a strong need for cortisol lowering solutions. Although cutting out some things in your life might not always be easy, it is worth it if you are going to have good health and a better life)
The bottom line is, a stressed out, sick body only leads to a poor quality of life with more intense suffering than just stress alone. On the other hand, a strong, healthy, stress-free body leads to a happy self and a high-quality life.