Cortisol is a hormone that is released by the adrenal glands in times of stress to help the body cope with situations that feel threatening. However, if cortisol remains high, it can cause health complications like high blood pressure, insomnia, and more. High levels can also contribute to developing diabetes. This is why it’s important to know how to lower cortisol levels in your body, including the role Pellecome in Randolph, NJ can play in helping you find a solution.
How Do You Lower Cortisol Levels?
Get More Sleep
Studies show that over time, not getting enough sleep raises cortisol levels. This is especially true if you don’t have a consistent sleep routine and can be more of a problem for people who work rotating shifts. If your sleep gets interrupted frequently, your cortisol levels will increase, so you should try to sleep in an area and at a time that limits interruptions. While this may not always be possible, you want to create the best sleeping conditions possible.
Some tips to help you develop a better sleep schedule include the following:
- Exercise during the day, but not too close to bedtime
- Set and keep a regular bedtime and wake time
- Limit screen use just prior to bedtime
- Use white noise, earplugs, and silence your phone to limit interruptions
- Take naps when possible to help prevent a sleep deficit
Experts recommend getting seven or eight hours of sleep per day, but this is not an average because you cannot make up a sleep deficit by sleeping more on the weekends. So, while daily naps help stave off a deficit, sleeping extra hours a couple of days a week does not.
Be Mindful of Stressful Thoughts
Cortisol levels can increase just by thinking about situations and things that cause stress. Therefore, you want to learn how to recognize stressful thoughts and how to calm your body’s response to them. This is known as mindfulness-based stress reduction, and it’s been proven to lower cortisol levels in people who have learned to control their breathing, heart rate, and other physical responses to stress. Putting yourself in control of your stress keeps you from becoming a victim to it.
Understanding how your body responds to stressful stimuli, including your thoughts, is the first step toward successfully managing stress in your life. When you recognize when your body is reacting to a stressful situation, you can consciously alter your body’s response to a healthier reaction, which lowers cortisol levels and reduces the adverse effects of stress on your body. This could include tense muscles, tension headaches, stomach aches, panic attacks, insomnia, weight gain, and more.
Exercise is a double-edged sword when it comes to reducing cortisol levels. When you exercise intensely during the day, your cortisol levels increase because of the stress the activity places on your body. However, despite this temporary increase, exercise will cause your cortisol levels to drop at night. As such, the initial increase in cortisol through exercise is normally mitigated by the later drop. However, physically fit individuals experience a smaller increase during exercise and a bigger drop at night.
This means that if you are not yet physically fit, you still want to exercise, but in moderation so that your cortisol levels do not increase more than they will be able to drop at night. Intense exercise should be left to those who are already physically fit, because their body is already used to the added stress and won’t increase cortisol levels as much. As your body becomes more attuned to exercise, you can increase your intensity level.
Get a Hobby or Go Out With Friends
The feeling of happiness is known to reduce cortisol levels, and one way to become happier is to develop a hobby or activity that gives you joy. Studies have also shown that laughter lowers cortisol levels, so engaging in social activities with friends and laughing together is another way to keep your cortisol levels down. Although it can be hard right now to get together with a group of friends, you can still have some positive virtual engagement with friends.
Developing a hobby is probably the single best thing you can do for yourself to improve your sense of well-being. Contentment is the antithesis of stress, so when you are content, you won’t have feelings of stress, thereby reducing cortisol levels. Keep in mind that some hobbies may actually increase stress, such as high-risk activities and those that require significant exercise, so if you gravitate toward those types of activities, consider including some passive hobbies in your life as well.
Get a Pet
A relationship with a pet can lower cortisol levels by calming your body and making you feel happier. In fact, some studies have found that pets do a better job at reducing stress levels in their human companions than human friends do. Even people who’ve never owned a pet before experience a reduction in stress when they spend time around an animal like a dog or cat. Interestingly, pets seem to get the same benefits through their relationship with humans.
If you’re unable to adopt a pet for some reason, you can still get the benefits of being around animals by volunteering at a pet shelter or offering to pet sit your friends’ animals. Allergies can also be a problem, but studies have shown that a pet doesn’t have to be a cat or a dog to reduce cortisol levels. You should be able to find an animal that does not trigger your allergies.
Like exercise, sugar can impact cortisol levels both positively and negatively. If you regularly consume foods that are high in sugar, your cortisol levels will remain high. However, in stressful situations, studies have proven that eating sugar can actually trigger a calming response, which explains why sugary foods are often considered comfort foods. Still, the lesson is that sugar can help relieve stress in moderation, but should not be the basis for an entire diet.
There are some foods that actually decrease cortisol levels, so focus on adding at least some of these to your diet. Dark chocolate, bananas, pears, black tea, green tea, and water are all known to lower cortisol in the body. Additionally, probiotics such as yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut, and prebiotics such as soluble fiber, work together to provide the body with friendly bacteria and food to feed that bacteria. This symbiotic relationship also reduces cortisol.
Learn How To Relax
This tip goes along with recognizing stressful thoughts because if you can make yourself relax, you won’t suffer the negative effects of stress. Deep breathing has been associated with a 50% drop in cortisol levels, so taking a few minutes during potentially stressful situations to breathe deeply can reverse your body’s natural defense response to stress. Massage therapy also tends to positively affect stress levels and reduces cortisol by as much as 30%.
Yoga, tai chi, and meditation are all good exercises for stress control. You learn to focus your mind on things that calm you rather than things that stress you, which automatically lowers cortisol levels. You can use these exercises to alter your body’s response to stressful thoughts as recommended earlier. If you’re not looking to learn these activities, you can also just listen to music, which has been shown by several studies to reduce cortisol in the body.
Nurture Healthy Relationships
Certainly, relationships with pets are excellent for stress levels, but you also need to have healthy relationships with humans if you want to keep your cortisol levels low. Family and friends can be a wonderful source of happiness and contentment, both of which are associated with low cortisol levels. People who show unconditional love and support toward you can lower your cortisol levels upon sight, which means you don’t even have to be with them physically to get the benefits.
When there is conflict between two people, cortisol levels rise because the body detects stress, but following the argument, those who have positive relationships with each other will see their levels return to normal more quickly than those whose relationships are not as healthy. Learning to forgive after a fight can also be beneficial to your body because you let go of anger and allow your body to relax more quickly, thereby positively impacting your cortisol levels.
This tip is challenging for many people as our society constantly tells people they should look or act a certain way to be considered “normal.” However, if you can learn to ignore those messages and appreciate yourself for who you are, you can reduce your cortisol levels by as much as 23%. If you feel guilt, it’s important to resolve the source of the guilt or learn to forgive yourself and move on to increase your sense of well-being.
Not only can forgiving yourself be healing, but demonstrating forgiveness toward others is a powerful stress reducer as well. As mentioned earlier, learning to forgive others is critical for maintaining healthy relationships, but it also releases you from the stress of being angry toward another person. When we hold onto negative feelings, we are punishing ourselves. Our bodies subconsciously respond to this type of stress by raising cortisol levels, and we probably don’t even realize what we’re doing to ourselves.
Develop Your Spirituality
This does not necessarily mean you need to be religious, but studies have indicated that people who have spiritual faith also have lower cortisol levels than those who do not profess to believe in spirituality. Finding a place where you can experience peace and be able to connect with something higher than yourself, whether it’s nature or church or something else, can increase your feelings of contentment, which as we’ve seen, can lower your cortisol levels.
If you don’t consider yourself spiritual, there are other ways to feed your soul, such as performing acts of kindness, volunteering, and donating to charities. These are all activities that can make you feel better about yourself, and as we’ve already mentioned, feeling good about yourself is critical for keeping cortisol levels low.
Consider Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy
This is a medical treatment that replaces a person’s natural hormones to make them healthier as their hormone levels decrease with age. Several supplements used in bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) target stress and cortisol, including Power T Booster, DHEA, and Pregnenolone. Your hormone imbalances are corrected using BHRT so that your body continues functioning at an optimal level. Supplements are used in conjunction with lifestyle changes to create a customized health program for your specific needs.
Ready to Lower Your Cortisol Levels?
The tips listed here will give you a great pathway toward lowering your cortisol levels; however, if you want even more effective results, give bio-identical hormone replacement therapy a shot. Contact our experts at Pellecome in Randolph, NJ today to schedule your consultation appointment.