Of course you’d like reduce stress so you don’t, you know, feel stressed out — we’ve all had our days so busy that we start crying on the drive home, right? But there’s also a scientific reason you should work on reducing those stress levels. Cortisol (the stress hormone) effects many things in your body, including blood pressure, inflammation, and managing how the body uses macronutrients (like fat, protein, and carbohydrates). Too much cortisol not only makes you feel stressed, it also puts stress on your body, resulting in weight gain, fatigue, decreased immune system, and worse.
Working on reducing cortisol is not only a mental health issue, it’s a physical one, too. Everything from random weight gain/loss to your weird breakout to irregular periods to that unexplained reoccurring symptom could be explained by excessive cortisol. Instead of quick fixes or unhealthy stress reducers (like a Netflix binge and a carton of cookie dough), here are easy, natural, healthy ways you can lower your cortisol levels every single day.
1. Sleep right
You know that getting at least seven hours of sleep is crucial for optimal health, but everything from your diet to exercise routine can impact your quality of sleep, no matter how many hours you’re in bed for. Rotating shifts in sleep patterns can disrupt hormone levels and insomnia causes high cortisol for up to 24 hours. Keep a regular bedtime as much as possible (that means limit those late weekends, too!), avoid caffeine past 3pm, try melatonin, turn off screens two hours before bedtime, limit light, and don’t sleep past nine hours, ever (it will throw off the next sleep cycle).
2. Have a go-to relaxation technique
Chronic stress is now linked to basically every health problem or complication out there. When we’re under a tight deadline, have a fight with a friend, or get road rage in traffic, the brain produces cortisol and sends chemical signals around the body, including to the heart, lungs, digestive system, etc. That’s why your heart pounds or your stomach aches under stress, but the stress on the body can also cause more serious problems long-term. You might not always have control over situations, but you can have control how your brain reacts. Have a go-to technique that helps you relax, like breathing techniques, listening to a certain kind of music, or meditation to reduce the cortisol levels your brain releases in moments of anxiety or stress.
3. Exercise the right way
You already know that exercise is great at decreasing cortisol — you’re all too familiar with that feeling after a really good yoga class or an outdoor jog. However, exercise that is too intense can actually temporarily increase cortisol. While this isn’t a big deal because it decreases in the long-term, if you’re having symptoms related to high levels of cortisol, you might want to decrease the high intensity workouts. A good rule of thumb should be that you should leave your workout feeling refreshed, energized, and happy — if you’re feeling depleted or exhausted, you’re doing your body more harm than good.
4. Use adaptogens
Adaptogen herbs have been used for centuries to decrease stress and improve health. They may be the latest wellness trend all over your Instagram, but there’s also a lot of powerful benefits backing up these ancient superfoods. Certain adaptogens can help fatigue, balance blood pressure and blood sugar, work as an antidepressant, and reduce inflammation — all things that help to reduce and control cortisol levels. Herbs like ashwaganda, holy basil, and cordyceps have all been proven to lower cortisol levels, so stock up on the powdered form to add in your coffee, or a pill version to take with your probiotic.
5. Focus on eating hormone-balancing foods and an anti-inflammation diet
High levels of inflammation and high or low blood sugar levels can contribute to hormone imbalances, including excessive cortisol. Stick to unprocessed foods that are high in fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, while limiting processed sugar, caffeine, and alcohol (which cause inflammation). Also make sure you’re getting enough healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
6. Practice mental health every morning
So you have a skincare routine, a wake-up ritual (a morning stretch and five minutes of Instagram scrolling, thank you very much), and maybe even a coffee schedule (a cup before breakfast, a cup after, and a cup in the afternoon if it’s a Monday). So why not also include some mental health in your morning routine? Studies show that meditating in the morning (especially when it’s in placement of bad habits, say, five minutes of Instagram scrolling), has dramatic effects on the brain throughout the day — including boosting self control, improving productivity, and decreasing stress or anxiety.
If meditation is not your style, you can also go for a walk in nature, journal morning pages, or pick a daily mantra. Not only will adding mental health to your morning routine change your brain for the rest of the day, but your long-term cortisol levels will drop, too.
7. Use essential oils
You’ve heard of essential oils to add to your skincare routine, make your house smell good, and help you relax (shout out to lavender!), but did you know that essential oils can be used to reduce cortisol levels as well? Oils like myrrh, bergamot, and lavender contain active ingredients that reduce inflammation, improve sleep quality and digestive function, balance hormones, and boost immunity, all of which also helps to improve cortisol levels. Sniff from a jar when you’re feeling stressed, diffuse through your home throughout the day, or DIY bath soaks and lotions to add to your beauty routine.
Laughter has been proven to reduce levels of all stress hormones, including adrenaline, dopamine, and yes, cortisol, while also releasing feel-good hormones (like endorphins) that also happen to have their own health benefits. Besides just what happens physically in your body when you laugh, having a sense of humor is good for you too. Humor offers a more lighthearted perspective — if we’re able to laugh at ourselves when we trip in front of the whole office, or see the humor in a date that went bad, our brain doesn’t view those experiences as bad, meaning less release of cortisol than if these moments stressed you out. Life really is what you make it, so make it without increasing your stress levels!