High cortisol can interfere with your social functioning, as well as cause health issues such as gastrointestinal problems. Try these tips to lower your cortisol fast.
Cortisol is a hormone that plays an important role in many bodily functions, including regulating your blood sugar and metabolism and even assisting memory formation. It is, however, most commonly associated with its role in the fight-or-flight response and is often called the ‘stress hormone’. Although cortisol is necessary to assist a healthy body, too much of the hormone can have a negative effect.
Chronic Stress: Why High Cortisol Is Bad
High levels of cortisol can predispose us to overreact to minor stressors in our lives, like traffic jams or arguments with loved ones, and can also increase anxiety symptoms. Additionally, this state of chronic stress can be associated with many physical issues such as:
- Dry mouth
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Heart palpitations
- Unusual sweating
- Loss of libido
- Undereating or overeating
If you observe these symptoms in yourself, it might be a sign that you have high cortisol. If this is the case, contact your doctor. Additionally, you can try some of the methods below to lower your cortisol fast.
How to Lower Cortisol with Your Diet
The food you consume can affect your stress levels significantly.
- For example, one study looking at diet and cortisol levels found that higher carbohydrate intake was associated with lower levels of the stress hormone. However, high added-sugar intake may result in elevated cortisol levels.
- A different study found that consuming dark chocolate that is high in polyphenols can reduce cortisol levels.
Additionally, gut health may play an important role in regulating your stress levels and your mood as well. According to several researchers from the University of Oxford and elsewhere, ingesting prebiotics can not only reduce your cortisol levels but also reduce attention to negative information. Prebiotics are included in lots of vegetables like garlic, onions, or dandelion leaves. Incorporating more foods like these into your diet could therefore help lower your cortisol fast.
Sleep is another important facet of your health when it comes to reducing cortisol. Both individuals with sleep disorders and those who work night shifts tend to have higher levels of cortisol. A healthy circadian rhythm, therefore, appears to be crucial for regulating cortisol levels. To fix your sleep schedule, you can follow these tips:
- Always go to bed and get up at the same time, regardless of the day of the week
- Eat dinner early
- Reduce caffeine intake
- Create a nighttime routine
These tips can help you reduce your cortisol levels quickly and naturally.
Although exercise can temporarily elevate cortisol levels, it also affects the body in several different ways that seem to reduce stress responses over time. According to psychiatric research, exercise also releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with positive mood, and also reduces cortisol receptors, making it more difficult for your body to produce exaggerated stress responses. Additionally, regular exercise can also improve your sleep patterns, making it doubly helpful for lowering high cortisol levels.
Fight Stress With Mindfulness
Mindfulness-based stress reduction exercises bring attention to an individual’s sensory experiences like sounds, smells, and tastes. It is similar to spiritual meditative practices and helps you live in a more present way. A clinical study has shown that mindfulness-based practices may help reduce cortisol, as well as improve sleep. If you are experiencing high levels of cortisol, try incorporating a mindfulness practice into your daily routine.
Try Breathing Exercises
A similar technique you can use to lower your cortisol levels is to practice breathwork. One study found that a 90-minute breathing session practiced just once per week could reduce psychological stress as well as physiological markers, including cortisol levels. This is because deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight or flight response. Setting aside some time to sit and breathe can therefore help you relax and lower your cortisol.
Gardening & Nature
Another easy way to lower your cortisol is through gardening. One study found that gardening could help reduce your cortisol levels quickly, even compared to another relaxing activity like reading. Another study on greenspace interventions — nature-based health activities — found that interacting with nature could reduce stress and cortisol levels alike. If you have access to a garden or park, get outside and interact with the beauty of nature in order to help reduce your cortisol.
How to Lower Cortisol with Social Relationships
Several studies have found that cortisol levels are extremely sensitive to the quality of one’s relationships. Children with stable households have lower cortisol levels over time compared to those that don’t, and couples have heightened cortisol levels during conflicts. According to the latter study, mindfulness-based conflict mediation, in which couples practice conflict resolution using empathetic discussions also leads to faster recovery from periods of stress. So if you find yourself with symptoms of high cortisol, think about whether this might relate to social relationships and learn how to communicate effectively with your loved ones.
The old saying that laughter is the medicine may hold some truth when it comes to cortisol. Laughter decreases stress hormones including cortisol, and releases different hormones, like endorphins, which help elevate your mood. If you’re feeling stressed, then, you can tune into your favorite comedy show, or spend some time with a funny friend in order to get some beneficial laughs in.
How to Lower Cortisol with Hugs
In addition to learning how to interact better with the people around you, hugging them can also help reduce your stress. According to one study, being hugged after a stressful activity reduced cortisol levels compared to not receiving a hug. Furthermore, even if you’re unable to hug a loved one on a busy, stressful day, you’re still in luck — the same study found that self-soothing touches can also help reduce cortisol. So on those unfortunate days when you’re unable to get a hug, try wrapping your arms around yourself and imitating a hug there — it can help you more than you’d expect!
Other Surprising Factors: Animals, Spirituality and Self-Hypnosis
- In addition to interacting with the natural world, having contact with animals can also help reduce your cortisol levels. Several scientific studies have demonstrated the wonders of human-animal interactions. For example, children seem to experience less distress and have lower levels of cortisol during medical procedures when they are in the presence of a dog companion. Other studies hint that pet owners also have lower levels of cortisol compared to non-pet-owners. So if you have a pet of your own, why not try giving it a cuddle when you’re stressed?
- In addition to self-reported psychological benefits, individuals with a spiritual practice indicate some physiological differences with those without. One of these differences is that those who are more spiritual or religious tend to have lower levels of cortisol in response to stressors.
- Another relaxation technique that you could try out is self-hypnosis. There is some evidence that regular self-hypnosis over a period of six months can lower cortisol levels significantly. You can try self-hypnosis apps to get started on this method for lowering cortisol.
How to Lower Cortisol by Cutting Out Stressors
Not everything in our lives is within our control, but there are many things we can do to make our own lives better. Wherever you can, try to make your life easier by cutting out stressors and setting boundaries. For example, you can set boundaries with demanding family members, ask your friend or significant other to help you out, or cancel plans that you aren’t excited about. Show yourself kindness wherever you can, and it will lower the number of encounters you have with situations that could trigger your cortisol response.
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