The stress hormone cortisol causes a lot of mischief in our body.
High cortisol levels can cause health problems.
We’ll tell you exactly what you can do to prevent chronic stress and how to lower cortisone levels.
Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands.
It’s important to help your body deal with stressful situations as your brain triggers its release in response to many different types of stress.
However, if the cortisol level is too high for too long, this hormone can do more harm to you than it helps.
Over time, high levels can lead to weight gain and high blood pressure.
Next to that, heightened levels disturb sleep, negatively affect mood, lower energy levels, and contribute to diabetes.
What Effects Does A High Cortisol Level Have?
Studies from the past 15 years have increasingly shown that high cortisol levels can cause health problems.
These include above all:
- Chronic diseases: High blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis (1).
- Weight gain: Cortisol increases appetite and signals the body to get the metabolism to store fat (2).
- Fatigue: High levels of cortisol interfere with the daily cycle of other hormones, disrupt sleep patterns and cause fatigue (3).
- Impaired brain function: Cortisol disturbs memory and contributes to mental cloudiness or “brain fog” (4).
- Infections: It inhibits the immune system and makes you more susceptible to infections.
In rare cases, very high cortisol levels can lead to Cushing’s syndrome, a rare but serious condition.
Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce the release of the stress hormone cortisol.
Here are 11 tips for lifestyle, nutrition, and relaxation to help lower your cortisol levels.
1. Ensure Adequate Sleep
The time, duration and quality of sleep have been shown to affect the stress hormone cortisol.
For example, a summary of 28 shift work studies found that cortisol was elevated in those who slept during the day – not at night.
Over time, lack of sleep leads to increased cortisol levels (5).
Regular shift work also interferes with daily hormonal patterns.
Thus, it contributes to fatigue and other problems associated with high cortisol (6).
Insomnia causes increased release of cortisol for up to 24 hours.
Sleep interruptions, albeit brief ones, can also increase levels and disrupt daily hormonal patterns.
There are a few things you can do to optimize your sleep:
- Exercise and Sport: Do physical exercise during the waking time and keep your bedtime
- No caffeine late in the day: Do not drink caffeine late in the day or avoid it altogether
- Avoid artificial light in the evening: Turn off the screens like TVs, PCs or smartphones and relax 30-60 minutes before bed
- Limit distractions at bedtime: Lockout unnecessary distractions and disruptions, such as silencing the phone and avoiding fluids just before bedtime
- Take a nap: A nap can reduce fatigue and prevent a sleep deficit
2. Train and Do Sports
Depending on the intensity of exercise, it may either increase or decrease the stress hormone cortisol.
Intensive training increases cortisol shortly after exercise.
Although it increases in the short term, the cortisol level drops again while we sleep.
This short-term increase in cortisol helps to coordinate the growth of the body to counteract the stress of exercise.
In addition, the cortisol reaction decreases when we exercise regularly.
While moderate exercise increases cortisol in untrained individuals, physically active people experience a smaller increase in intense exercise (7).
In contrast to “maximum effort”, light or moderate exercise at 40-60% of maximum intensity does not increase cortisol in the short term.
Still, it results in lower cortisol levels at night.
3. Recognize Stressful Thinking
Stressful thoughts are an important signal for the release of cortisol.
A study of 122 adults found that writing down past onerous experiences increased the stress hormone cortisol compared to writing about positive life experiences and goals that one wishes to achieve.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a strategy that is to become more aware of stressful thoughts.
Also, it helps to replace concerns or fears with a focus on recognizing and understanding stressful thoughts and emotions.
Being aware of your thoughts, breathing, heart rate, and other signs of tension help you recognize stress as it begins.
Thus, you can become an objective observer of your stressful thoughts rather than being a victim of these negative thoughts.
Recognizing stressful thoughts allows you to formulate a conscious response to them.
A study of 43 women in a mindfulness-based program showed that the ability to describe and articulate stress was associated with a lower cortisol response (9).
Another study of 128 women with breast cancer showed that stress-awareness training reduces cortisol compared to a stress-free strategy (10).
Various relaxation exercises seem to reduce cortisol levels.
Deep breathing is a simple stress-relieving technique that anyone can make use of anywhere.
A study of 28 middle-aged women found a nearly 50% reduction in cortisol with regular respiratory training (11).
A review of several studies also found that massage therapy can reduce cortisol levels by 30%.
Several studies confirm that yoga can lower cortisol and reduce stress as well.
Regular participation in Tai Chi has also proved effective.
Studies have also shown that relaxing music can reduce cortisol levels.
For example, listening to music for 30 minutes reduced the cortisol level of 88 students compared to 30 minutes of silence or watching a documentary (13).
5. Have Fun, and Be Happy
Another way to keep the stress hormone cortisol low is to be happy (14).
A positive attitude is associated with lower cortisol levels, lower blood pressure, a healthy heart rate, and a strong immune system.
Activities that increase life satisfaction also improve health.
This is due presumably to the control of cortisol.
For example, a study of 18 healthy adults showed that cortisol levels in the body simply decreased with laughter (15).
Hobbies can also promote well-being, resulting in lower cortisol levels.
A study of 49 middle-aged adults showed that gardening lowered cortisol levels more than conventional occupational therapy (16).
Another study of 30 men and women found that participants who enjoy gardening have a greater reduction in cortisol than those who read in a room (17).
Part of this benefit may be due to spending more time outdoors.
Two studies found a reduced cortisol level after outdoor activities as opposed to indoor activities.
Being lucky enough to be your own blacksmith can keep cortisol low.
Running a hobby that is enjoyable or spending time outdoors and laughing can be proven to help lower cortisol levels.
6. Maintain Healthy Relationships
Friends and family are a source of great happiness in life, but also of great stress. This dynamic is also reflected in our cortisol levels.
The stress hormone cortisol is introduced in tiny amounts in the hair.
Cortisol levels along hair length correspond to cortisol levels at the time a portion of the hair grew. This allows researchers to understand the values over time.
Studies on cortisol in hair show that children with a stable and safe family life have a lower cortisol level than children from high-conflict homes.
Supporting relatives may also help lower the cortisol during stress.
A study of 66 men showed that the support of their women reduced the release of the stress hormone cortisol in response to a speech in front of many people (19).
Another study showed that affectionate interaction with a partner prior to stressful activity affects heart rate and blood pressure better than support from a friend (20).
Altogether, relationships with friends and family can both make you happy and stressful.
Spend time with people you love and learn to forgive and resolve conflicts to achieve better emotional and physical health.
7. Look After A Pet
Relationships with animals can actually lower cortisol levels.
In one study, interaction with a therapy dog reduced the burden and consequent cortisol release during a minor medical intervention in children (21).
Another study on 48 adults showed that contact with a dog was better than the support of a friend in a socially stressful situation (22).
Non-pet owners experienced a greater decline in cortisol once they got a pet dog, probably because the pet owners had already benefited from the friendship of their animals at the beginning of the study.
Interestingly, after positive interactions with humans, pets enjoy similar benefits, suggesting that companionship with animals is beneficial to both sides.
Several studies show that interacting with a beloved pet reduces stress and lowers cortisol levels.
Pets also benefit from positive relationships with their owners.
8. Be Self-confident and Think Positive
Emotional feelings, guilt or inadequacy can lead to negative thinking and increased cortisol levels.
A program to identify and manage these types of feelings resulted in a 23% reduction in cortisol in 30 adults compared to 15 non-participating adults (23).
To eliminate some causes of guilt means to make a change in your life. For other causes of negative thinking and feelings of guilt, recognizing and learning to forgive and advance oneself can improve wellbeing.
Developing a habit of forgiving others is also crucial in relationships. A study of 145 couples compared the effects of different types of marriage counseling.
Couples who received measures that allowed forgiveness and conflict resolution techniques experienced a reduced cortisol level.
The removal of guilt not only improves your zest for life, but also the cortisol level.
This can mean changing habits, forgiving others or learning to forgive oneself.
9. Work With Your Spirituality
If you consider yourself as spiritual, faith can not only move mountains but also help improve your cortisol levels.
Studies show that adults who expressed their spiritual beliefs had lower cortisol levels in the face of life and stress such as illness.
This was also true after studies had considered the potential cortisol-lowering effects of social support by religious groups.
Prayer is also associated with a reduction of anxiety and depression.
If you do not consider yourself spiritual or do not believe in God, these benefits can also be achieved through meditation, charity, and good deeds.
For people with spiritual inclinations, faith and participation in prayer can help lower cortisol.
Whether you are spiritual or not, performing acts of kindness can be proven to improve your cortisol levels.
10. Eat Healthily
The diet can affect the stress hormone cortisol for better or for worse.
Sugar intake is one of the classic triggers for the release of cortisol. A regular, high intake of sugar can increase your cortisol levels.
The consumption of sugar is associated in particular with a higher cortisol level in obese persons.
Interestingly, sugar can also temporarily reduce the amount of cortisol released in response to particular stress events (25).
Taken together, these effects explain why sweet desserts are good stimulants, but excessive or excessive sugar intake increases cortisol over time.
In addition, some foods have a positive effect on cortisol levels and can lower the stress hormone cortisol:
Dark chocolate: Two studies of 95 adults showed that consuming dark chocolate reduced cortisol release during stress
Fruit and fruits: A study of 20 cyclists showed that bananas or pears lowered the stress hormone cortisol more effectively during a 75 km journey than drinking water only
Black and Green Tea: A study of 75 men found that black or green tea reduced cortisol over a 6-week period in response to a stressful task compared to another caffeine-containing beverage
Probiotics and prebiotics: Probiotics are symbiotic bacteria in foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Prebiotics, e.g. soluble fiber, provide these bacteria with food. Both probiotics and prebiotics have been shown to reduce cortisol
Water: Dehydration increases the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Water is ideal for hydration and avoids empty calories. A study of nine male runners showed that maintaining hydration during exercise significantly reduces cortisol levels
Cortisol reducing foods are above all bittersweet chocolate, tea, and soluble fiber.
Avoiding excessive sugar intake can also help reduce the stress hormone cortisol.
11. Take certain supplements
Studies have shown that at least two dietary supplements can lower cortisol levels.
Fish oil is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids that are believed to reduce cortisol.
One study looked at how seven men responded to psychologically stressful tests over three weeks.
One group of men took fish oil capsules and the other group did not.
Fish oil has been shown to reduce cortisol levels in response to stress (30).
Another three-week study showed that fish oil supplements reduced cortisol in response to a stressful task compared to placebo (31).
Ashwagandha is an Asian herbal supplement used in traditional medicine to treat anxiety and help people adapt to stress.
A study of 98 adults taking an ashwagandha supplement or placebo for 60 days showed that taking 125 mg ashwagandha once or twice daily lowered cortisol levels (32).
Another study of 64 adults with chronic stress showed that those taking 300 mg of ashwagandha had a lower cortisol level for 60 days compared with those who took a placebo.
Closing Thought: Lowering Cortisol Naturally
Over time, high cortisol levels can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.
Stick to the simple lifestyle tips in this article to help prevent chronic stress, lower your cortisol levels, increase your energy levels, and improve your health.
Do you know any other ways to naturally reduce cortisol?
I look forward to your comment under this article.