Cortisol plays a role in many bodily functions, and abnormal levels can cause health issues. Learning how to lower cortisol levels is essential to maintaining your physical and emotional health. When your levels are high, your body thinks that it is in a constant fight-or-flight situation, triggering severe issues.
As the primary stress hormone, cortisol affects almost every area of your health. It aids in regulating sleep cycles, managing the utilization of nutrients, reducing inflammation, and controlling blood pressure.
While cortisol levels should rise during stressful situations, they should quickly return to normal. When they don’t return to normal, it can negatively impact your health. Thankfully, you can figure out how to lower cortisol with some lifestyle changes.
By learning how to reduce cortisol and implementing the tips, you can balance the hormone level. Since the long-term stress and anxiety can be detrimental, finding a balance is life-changing. When you lower cortisol levels, you can maintain a calm mind and a healthy body.
What is Cortisol?
The adrenal cortex of the adrenal glands produces cortisol. It is a glucocorticoid, which is a steroid hormone naturally produced by the body. Cortisol is necessary for the proper functioning of the body, but too much can cause severe health issues.
Two of the most significant contributors of high cortisol are chronic stress and the long-term use of corticosteroids. When people are unable to produce enough hormones naturally, they may use a prescription corticosteroid to help. They are used to treat inflammation, immune system disorders, and electrolyte imbalances.
The body requires communication between the adrenal gland, pituitary gland, and hypothalamus. With effective communication, your body can produce the correct amount of cortisol. Not having enough cortisol and having too much are both harmful for the body.
Cortisol supports overall health when the levels are maintained. It helps you wake up, gives you energy during the day, lowers it at night, and helps you sleep and rest. This hormone also has anti-inflammatory properties that boost your health and well-being.
Cortisol also helps you deal with stressful situations as your brain triggers its release through your sympathetic nervous system. This system is your fight or flight response, and many forms of stress trigger it. When your levels stay high for too long, though, it can harm you more than it helps.
If you feel uneasy when you have a close call while driving or get startled by a loud noise, it shows cortisol at work. It makes your blood pump faster, raises blood sugar, and triggers the release of glucose for energy. The problems with cortisol occur when the levels stay high for weeks or months.
If you want to learn how to lower cortisol levels, it’s important to figure out the root cause of your stress. Once you know the cause, making lifestyle changes is essential to reducing the stressors and allowing your body to find balance.
Once your cortisol levels return to normal, you must maintain them to stay healthy. Continue following the same plan that helped you reduce them in the first place.
What Happens When Your Cortisol Levels are High?
Studies indicate that high cortisol levels can cause many health issues, including:
- Chronic Disease: Long-term high cortisol levels can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and other chronic diseases.
- Weight Gain: High cortisol can increase your appetite, leading to eating more. Plus, it causes your metabolism to store fat rather than using it for energy.
- Sleep Problems: With high cortisol levels, you might experience a lack of energy or difficulty sleeping. It interferes with other hormones that impact sleep quality and length. Too much cortisol is linked to obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia.
- Trouble Concentrating: Those with high levels often experience brain fog, difficulty focusing, and a lack of mental clarity. It can also interfere with your ability to form memories.
- Weakened Immune System: High levels of cortisol can interfere with the immune system. It makes it harder for your body to fight infections and prevent illness.
- Cushing’s Syndrome: High cortisol levels cause this rare but severe condition. Cushing’s Syndrome leads to other issues such as weight gain, acne, skin injuries, muscle weakness, and other health concerns.
- Infertility: Studies show that women with high cortisol levels are less likely to get pregnant. This study included 400 women and followed them through one year of trying to conceive.
- Irregular Menstrual Cycles: Some women with high cortisol levels experience irregular periods. Other women find that their periods stop altogether.
- Obesity: Since increased cortisol leads to increased blood sugar levels, it can contribute to weight gain and obesity. Plus, it can cause fatty deposits to form.
How to Lower Cortisol Levels
Now that you know all the red flags, let’s look at what lowers cortisol.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep can reset your circadian rhythm and help rebalance your hormone levels. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Sleep deprivation can increase the cortisol levels in your bloodstream even more, so you must find a routine.
Some of the ways you can get more sleep and fall asleep easier include the following:
- have a consistent bedtime routine to signal your brain to start winding down
- wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day, even on weekends
- exercise at least two to three hours before bedtime
- limit caffeine intake at least six hours before bedtime
- avoid alcohol and nicotine
- sleep in a quiet room, using only white noise if necessary
- take naps whenever you can
- limit exposure to bright and blue light at least an hour before bed
Many night-shift or rotating shift workers struggle with this as they don’t control their sleep schedule. Even still, they can implement some ideas to help optimize their sleep.
2. Exercise Regularly
Exercising four to five times each week for 30-60 minutes can help lower cortisol levels. It helps with handling stress better as it promotes the health of your autonomic nervous system. Additionally, regular exercise improves sleep quality and overall health, further managing your cortisol levels.
If your workout is too intense, it can have the opposite effect, so focus on low or moderate-intensity exercises. Yoga is a good choice because it is low-intensity and had a mindfulness aspect to it. Plus, give yourself plenty of time to rest in between workouts.
The appropriate amount and type of exercise for each person depends on their level of physical fitness. If your body is doing strenuous things that you aren’t used to, it increases the production of cortisol to adapt.
3. Recognize Stressful Thinking
By recognizing stressful thinking, you can learn to change your thought process for the better. Negative thinking increases cortisol levels and lowers oxytocin, a relaxing hormone and neurotransmitter that calms the nervous system.
Even thinking about the past is considered stressful thinking, as it usually accompanies regret and rumination. Additionally, worrying about the future can cause stress, as well.
Recognizing this type of thinking can help you reduce negative thoughts, preventing and reducing stress levels. When you pay attention to your thought process, it offers a mindfulness-based stress reduction opportunity.
Accept the thoughts without judgment and don’t try to push them away. Instead, allow yourself to process them so that you can ease out of the negativity. Pay attention to your breathing, heart rate, and other signs of tension during these times of stressful thinking, too.
Deep breathing helps reduce stress, and you can do it no matter where you are. It is similar to mindfulness practices as it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is linked to cortisol levels and influences your ability to regain control when you become stressed.
Studies reveal that when participants implemented deep breathing regularly, they experienced a decrease in cortisol. For even more benefits, accompany deep breathing with yoga or other things that emphasize a mind-body connection.
Experts suggest doing deep-breathing exercises three to five times each day, for at least five minutes each time. As it lowers cortisol levels, it relieves anxiety and depression and improves memory.
Hobbies are satisfying and rewarding as they contribute to a more fulfilling, healthier life. When you do things you enjoy, it increases your overall sense of well-being. Studies show that doing the activities you love can lead to decreased cortisol levels.
Researchers tend to focus on gardening as a hobby, and results show a drop in cortisol. Some other hobbies that you can consider include drawing, painting, or crafting. It doesn’t matter which hobby you choose, as long as you spend time doing things you enjoy.
6. Take Care Of Yourself
Taking care of yourself requires taking care of your physical and mental well-being. Learning to let go of detrimental thinking or feelings can help you take care of yourself. When you feel shame, guilt, or inadequacy, it can lead to elevated cortisol.
In these instances, you must find a way to take care of yourself and overcome the negativity. Work on forgiving and accepting yourself and others, and you’ll notice an improvement in your sense of well-being.
Take care of your physical health, too. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water each day because your body requires it to regulate cortisol levels. Dehydration has the opposite effect and can trigger high cortisol.
7. Maintain A Healthy Relationship With People
Having healthy and happy relationships is essential when you are learning how to lower cortisol levels. Friends and family can bring happiness and stress relief, which play a role in maintaining cortisol. Of course, you will have conflict sometimes, but your relationships shouldn’t be a constant source of stress.
Studies show that when there is conflict within healthy relationships, the cortisol quickly returns to normal levels when the argument ends. If you can’t calm down after an argument, it is a clear sign that your cortisol levels are still high. Practicing compassion and empathy toward the other person can help manage the cortisol levels, too.
Another study shows that having an affectionate interaction with a friend or partner before a stressful situation helps keep your levels balanced. It results in lower stress, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Focus on stable, loving relationships with friends, family, and partners. By doing so, you will experience lower cortisol levels naturally, helping you get through stressful periods.
8. Follow A Healthy Diet
The foods you eat play a role in maintaining hormone levels. When you eat unhealthy, processed foods, it can contribute to high cortisol levels and imbalances. Try sticking to a whole food, an anti-inflammatory diet full of antioxidants, nutrients, and fiber.
By choosing healthy options, you can control cravings and maintain normal hormone balances. While any whole foods are beneficial, the best foods for this issue are adaptogen herbs that help fight high cortisol levels. These foods containing antioxidant, antibacterial, and antiviral properties include:
- cordyceps and reishi mushrooms
- licorice root
- holy basil
Other foods that lower cortisol levels include these:
- dark chocolate
- whole grains
- legumes and lentils
- fruits and vegetables
- black or green tea
- probiotics and prebiotics
- healthy fats
The worst foods for maintaining cortisol levels include added sugars, refined grains, and saturated fat. Studies show that these components contributed to higher cortisol levels when compared with a diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and polyunsaturated fats.
Research indicates that spending time with a pet can lower stress levels and decrease cortisol. Other studies show that contact with a pet relieved stress better than spending time with a friend. Additionally, pet owners are scientifically proven to have normal cortisol levels more often than non-pet owners.
If you can’t have a pet, consider visiting an animal shelter where you can spend time with the animals. Even spending short amounts of time with an animal can help reduce your stress levels. Additionally, spending time with animals increases oxytocin levels, which are hormones that make you feel good.
10. Take Supplements
A healthy diet is essential, but supplements to reduce cortisol levels. Fish oil is a beneficial supplement because it is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show that supplementing with fish oil significantly decreased the levels in response to a stressful situation.
Another supplement to consider is ashwagandha, an adaptogen herb used to treat anxiety and stress. Take between 200 and 300 mg of ashwagandha extract each day for the best results. Additionally, vitamin B12, folic acid, and vitamin C supplements can also support balanced cortisol levels.
If you aren’t consuming enough probiotics each day, you should consider supplementing that, as well. Probiotics support a healthy gut by keeping your gut barrier strong, fighting inflammation, regulating the immune system, and promoting mental health.
11. Avoid Caffeinated Drinks at Night
Consuming caffeine in the evenings can interfere with your sleep quality. When you don’t get enough sleep, your cortisol levels increase. Caffeine also increases cortisol secretion and increased blood pressure.
Additionally, consuming too much caffeine can cause adrenal fatigue, which is when your hormone levels are severely off-balance. Adrenal fatigue causes you to become extremely tired, and more caffeine will make it worse.
12. Laugh It Off
Your body releases endorphins while suppressing stress hormones when you laugh. It improves your mood, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and strengthens the immune system. Even forced laughter can benefit your health and reduce cortisol.