Feeling stressed? You're not alone. According to the American Psychological Association's annual Stress in America survey, stress levels in the United States have been rising for the past decade. Part of the reason for this increase is that we're more connected than ever before, which can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed or constantly "on."
Regardless of what your trigger is, nothing good comes from having high levels of cortisol, the hormone responsible for producing stress. Fortunately, there are several ways to naturally reduce your cortisol levels and find a sense of balance again.
In this blog post, we look at the best ways to naturally reduce your cortisol levels and regain control of your life.
Get Enough Sleep
For the love of god. You know this one was coming here.
One of the best ways to lower your cortisol levels is to make sure you're getting enough sleep. When you don't get enough rest, your body releases cortisol as a way to counterbalance the effects of sleep deprivation.
That means more cortisol and norepinephrine in an effort to keep you alert.
To ensure you're getting enough shut-eye, aim for seven to eight hours per night. Establish a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, and create a pre-bedtime routine that will help signal to your body that it's time to wind down for the evening.
If you just find it difficult to really get to sleep and stay asleep for the necessary amount of time, using a non-habit-forming sleep aid such as DREAMZZZ will do the trick.
Exercise is another great way to lower your cortisol levels. Not only does it release endorphins—chemicals that have mood-boosting properties—but it also helps reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Acute exercise also induces testosterone and growth hormone release, both of which blunt the effects of cortisol.
As you might recall, testosterone and cortisol act as opposing entities, in the sense that as one increases, the other decreases.
That's why time spent improving testosterone levels will have the bonus effect of lowering cortisol levels as well.
To get the most out of your sweat sessions, try to aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week (for around 150 minutes weekly).
Resistance exercise is particularly useful when it comes to this, but other choices could include going for a brisk walk or jogging, taking an exercise class, or even just running around with the kids at the park.
However, this leads us to our next point, which is;
Know When To Back Off
Exercise is great, but how much of a good thing is too much? Turns out, dedicating more than an hour per session to exercise can have the opposite effect and be quite counter-productive, as it can actually increase cortisol levels. This is likely because overtraining may have set in.
To avoid overtraining, be sure to mix up your exercise routine and give yourself enough time for rest and recovery.
Cortisol is released during your workout session along with the friendly muscle-building hormones, so the key is to strike a balance that lies in your favor.
Practice Meditation or Mindfulness Exercises
Meditation and mindfulness exercises are simple but effective tools for managing stress. Research shows that these practices can help lower cortisol levels by slowing down the activity in the sympathetic nervous system—the part of the nervous system responsible for our fight-or-flight response.
It doesn't have to be difficult to do so. To get started, just find a quiet place where you can sit or lie down comfortably and focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale slowly and deeply.
The goal of meditation is not to block out all external stimuli, but to be able to let go of all external thoughts and worries, so that you can spend a few minutes practicing and focusing on calming yourself.
Caffeine is everyone's favorite go-to booster. The reason is simple; it works without a shadow of a doubt.
Whether you are using it for a burst of productivity, or to get you through the day without feeling tired, caffeine always seems to be there for us.
Have you ever taken the time to consider how exactly caffeine is able to achieve its herculean tasks? It has a lot to do with the sympathetic nervous system, which means an elevation in cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, from the adrenal glands.
It will work exactly as you would expect; a huge burst of energy, but with that, a massive cortisol spike and stress burden.
So, while it can be a very useful tool, you would be best served to be smart about when you use it or down a cup of Joe.
A superior alternative? Dawn To Dusk, which features a no-crash form of caffeine that tapers the maximal cortisol spike, and in turn, doesn't leave you feeling like crap afterward.
Supplement With Vitamin C
You are quite familiar with Vitamin C as an anti-oxidant and flu fighter, but what do you know about it as it relates to stress?
Turns out, Vitamin C is can blunt the maximum cortisol spike, just before an anticipated task or stressor.
This "peak" can either be measured in blood for a quantitative answer or can also refer to the perceived level of stress.
In addition, Vitamin C can help to save your adrenals during times of high stress, or when you have been exposed to a lot of cortisol over a long period of time.
In either case, Vitamin C can help to restore the natural balance between cortisol and its counterbalancing hormones, DHEA and testosterone.
Reduce Alcohol Consumption
How often do you have recreational drinks? If your answer to this question is multiple times weekly, then it's time you dial back.
Alcohol consumption has been linked to elevated cortisol levels, which is why it's best to limit your intake.
Alcohol itself might seem like an innocuous relaxant, but that's what it wants you to believe.
Tell that to the hangover you have in the morning. Alcohol increases cortisol levels reflexively afterward, along with causing dehydration. This combination isn't only bad for you but also makes you feel like crap.
If you are going to boozy up during a special occasion, make sure that it is no more than once or twice per week and that you don't overdo it.
Making better choices when it comes to alcohol will help you to not only stay healthy but also keep cortisol levels in check.
Eat a Healthy Diet
You are what you eat. Wiser words have never been uttered
What you eat plays a big role in how your body functions—including your stress levels. To help keep your cortisol levels in check, focus on eating nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
If you are unable to eat sufficient amounts of plant-based foods, a superfood powder like Field Of Greens can significantly improve your position.
Also be sure to limit your intake of unhealthy foods like processed meats, sugary snacks, and excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol. When you do indulge, try to do so in moderation and be mindful of how those foods make you feel afterward.
News Flash: turns out your body doesn't only belong to you. It also belongs to billions of bacteria that call it home, and outnumber the amount of "yous" in that body.
All jokes aside, if you don't take care of the gut microbiome, all aspects of your health will feel the brunt.
This can range from diminished immunity to digestive disturbances and also anxiety and depression.
The feeling in your gut you experience when nervous, stressed or worried can also be modified by these bacteria, which have an impact on the large vagus nerve.
Probiotic supplements can help improve the colony size of the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which can lead to better long-term health and improved cortisol regulation.
You know laughter is the best medicine right? So why aren't you doing more of it?
Not only can the endorphins released from a good chuckle deep down in your belly lead to cortisol reduction, but it's also great for managing stress in a more general sense.
Especially if you have been feeling anxious, a little laughter can go a long way in restoring your equilibrium and reducing the amount of cortisol and epinephrine that is coursing through your body.
Laughter is also a potent painkiller, helping to manage conditions such as fibromyalgia, which may not have a physical cause, but a chemical/ nerve one.
It doesn't have to stop at a comedy show or friends' house either.
Watch videos online that make you laugh, read jokes or even listen to podcasts with your favorite comedians.
Doing so can help reduce cortisol levels and get you back in the right frame of mind so that you can tackle whatever is stressing you out head-on.
And best of all, you can have a few laughs anytime- you don't need an occasion or special time to do so.
Go Off Low Carb Diets
A healthy diet is key, but there's a chance that a particular diet lifestyle is actually having the effect of causing an increase in cortisol.
People who refer to themselves as "stress eaters" tend to know this better than most.
Similarly to testosterone, insulin and cortisol have an inverse relationship too.
When insulin levels drop too low, you may end up feeling stressed, and as a result, cortisol levels rise.
This is why low-carb diets are particularly difficult during the initial few weeks of adaptation. Cravings are intense, and cortisol levels go through the roof.
If you are unable to adhere to that diet style, a good compromise can be to consume slower-digesting carbs and starches which help to maintain more stable blood sugar levels and hence lower cortisol levels.
Adaptogens can be considered one of the most promising classes of supplements for lowering perceived stress levels, and in turn, cortisol.
At their core, adaptogens help to relieve the overburdened adrenal glands so that your body can better handle stress and restore equilibrium.
But this doesn't just mean elevating your stress threshold.
No, in many cases, they can help restore natural release patterns from the adrenals, given that external stimuli which may have contributed to the problem in the first place are removed (such as caffeine).
Adaptogens come in many forms, including ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, ginseng, and holy basil.
These herbs have been used for thousands of years as part of ayurvedic medicine to maintain physical health and mental well-being.
Ashwagandha has become exceedingly popular in the past 2 decades, and does an excellent job of reducing stress, improving sleep, and even enhancing fertility in men under perceived high stress.
This really needs no prompting, does it? Not only does having sex help to relieve anxiety, but it fosters bonding and attachment; the natural enemy of stress.
This works for men and women, so don't use stress as an excuse to not get frisky.
The world can be a really stressful place. And truth be told, it's probably only going to get worse. While that much might be out of your control, what's in your grasp is what you can do to temper the response you get out of the ever-increasing burden.
If there are two things you take away from this blog now, it would be to make time to sleep some more and to try your hand at mindfulness meditation.
Don't wait until you wake up in a hospital bed (if you're lucky) from a stress-induced heart attack; start making small and meaningful changes today.