Cortisol is an essential hormone. Most of the cells in your body have cortisol receptors on them. And the so-called “stress hormone” has a bunch of important jobs.
Cortisol helps control blood sugar, reduce inflammation and regulate blood pressure. It assists with metabolism, memory formation and salt and water balance in the body.
And it, of course, helps your body deal with stressful situations.
But when cortisol levels remain too high for too long cortisol’s negatives can start to overshadow its many benefits. Eventually it can lead to weight gain, sleep problems, brain fog, elevated blood pressure, mood swings, low energy and even, possibly, contribute to diabetes.
4 ways to lower your stress hormone levels
Following are four ways you can curb your own levels.
It’s so obvious that it’s easy to overlook. But one of the best ways to bring your cortisol back down to normal is to relax.
Of course telling your body to relax is easy, while making it happen can be hard. So you need to keep a few relaxation tricks in your toolbox.
Experts say relaxation exercises can reduce stress hormone levels. In one study, regularly doing deep breathing exercises slashed cortisol levels nearly in half in a group of volunteers. And studies show tai chi and yoga lower stress and cortisol levels too.
In fact, anything that helps you relax can work from listening to music to having a massage.
You could be accidently driving your stress hormone levels up by not getting enough quality shut eye, fighting normal sleep patterns or being inconsistent with your snoozing schedule.
Research shows folks who work the night shift, or those who do swing shifts, tend to have elevated cortisol levels. And chronic insomnia can drive your numbers up too.
If you can control your own sleep schedule be consistent about when you hit the hay and when you get up. And if you have trouble sleeping try taking some steps to avoid insomnia such as exercising, avoiding caffeine in the evenings and putting backlit devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops away at least an hour before bed.
Any pet lover can tell you there’s a long list of benefits for pet ownership. But it turns out spending time caring for, or interacting, with a pet is also proven to send stress hormone levels dropping.
For example in one study having a therapy dog present during a medical procedure didn’t just calm distressed children, it reduced their cortisol levels. And in another when non-pet-owners where given canine companions to care for researchers found their cortisol levels fell.
If you have the room in your life for a pet, consider adopting one. There are bunches of potential companions at the local animal shelter waiting for their forever home. If you’re 60 or over, ask about any special programs for placing pets with seniors. Many shelters have no or low cost options for older owners. And consider adopting a senior pet, which are often passed over for the puppies and kittens.
If pet ownership isn’t an option, consider volunteering. Most shelters can use an extra pair or hands to help with feeding, walking and playing with the animals.
Diet can play a big role in your cortisol levels too.
For example, treating yourself to a dessert when you’re feeling stressed can help calm you bringing cortisol down. But if you’re eating too much sugar on a regular basis this can keep your stress hormone levels in the red zone.
And there are a number of foods that researchers say can help keep a cap on your cortisol levels.
- Tea – In one study, researchers showed regularly drinking tea leads to lower cortisol levels when performing stressful tasks.
- Water – Dehydration sends cortisol levels climbing. So staying hydrated with plenty of water can help keep your numbers healthy.
- Probiotic and prebiotic foods – Eating more probiotic foods such as yogurt, tempeh, kefir and kimchi can lower cortisol. And research shows prebiotic foods, such as black beans or apples, can help lower stress hormone levels too.
- Dark chocolate – Dark chocolate isn’t just delicious. Studies show it can help keep cortisol levels from spiking when you’re under stress.
- Supplements – Swallowing certain supplements can lower your levels too including fish oil, rhodiola and ashwagandha.
Don’t let chronically high cortisol levels harm your health. Use these four stress hormone calming tricks to keep your levels in the healthy zone