Cortisol is a steroid hormone released by the adrenal glands. When the body perceives something as a threat, it triggers your adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenaline. This natural response results in a burst of new energy and strength.
The body can perceive stress as a threat, which is why cortisol is also known as the stress hormone. As people are getting used to living in a constant state of stress, their cortisol levels remain high. This is extremely disruptive to the body and may result in numerous health problems.
It puts you at a higher risk of reduced production of growth hormone, reduced glucose utilization, sleep apnea, osteoporosis, constipation, poor immunity, reduced muscle mass and increased abdominal fat.
It is very important to control the level of the stress hormone in your system to prevent several health issues that can occur when it is too high. Reducing your cortisol level is not difficult. With a few lifestyle and dietary changes, you can manage stress easily.
Here are the top 10 ways to reduce your high cortisol (stress hormone) level naturally.
1. Listen to Relaxing Music
During stressful times, listening to soft and soothing music can play a key role in reducing your stress hormone levels. In fact, music works as a natural stress buster and helps you calm down quickly.
A 2003 study by the New York Academy of Sciences found that cortisol levels decreased more rapidly in the saliva of subjects exposed to music than subjects recovering from stress in silence. The study suggests that relaxing music after a stressor can act by decreasing the post-stress response of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
Music is even useful in reducing stress in patients before operations or surgeries. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2011 found that listening to music reduces sedative requirements to reach light sedation under regional anesthesia.
A recent 2016 study published in Public Health found that attending a cultural event can have an impact on endocrine activity and in reducing cortisol levels.
Whenever you are under stress, listen to some music of your choice. If you are skilled at playing a musical instrument, play that instrument to combat stress in your life.
2. Practice Deep Breathing
To keep your stress hormones under control, practice deep breathing. It helps your body relax and reduces anxiety.
When you breathe deeply, more oxygen reaches your brain. This sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax.
A 2007 study published in Stress and Coherence hypothesized that by practicing deep-breathing strategies and positive imagery, one can quickly and perceptibly reduce stress.
Another study published in the Spanish journal Revista de enfermería in 2010 found that controlled breathing therapy helps reduce the cortisol level in the body. Deep breathing for even a few minutes diminished the cortisol.
Follow these steps to practice deep breathing:
- Sit in a comfortable position. Put your hands on your abdomen and relax your muscles.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding your abdomen.
- Slowly fill your lungs with air and count to 5.
- Hold your breath and count to 3.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, emptying your lungs completely.
- Count slowly to 5 and release your muscle tension.
- Repeat these steps for 5 to 10 minutes.
Everybody should try deep breathing for 10 minutes, 2 or 3 times daily. It benefits your mind and body in many ways.
3. Schedule a Massage
A little pampering through massage can rub your stress levels the right way.
Massage is a great way to calm down during stressful situations. It even promotes sleep, which can be difficult to get when trying to fight stress.
A 2005 study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that massage therapy has a positive effect on decreasing cortisol levels and increasing serotonin and dopamine levels in the body. Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters that influence your mood and promote feelings of happiness.
Another study published in Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic & Clinical in 2010 showed that just five minutes of touch massage is significant in reducing the body’s stress response.
Ask someone to give you a foot massage or full-body massage when you are under stress. You can also see a professional massage therapist.
4. Do Stress-Busting Exercises
Almost any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever. Being active can boost feel-good endorphins in the brain and combat stress and anxiety. This works as a natural way to decrease the production of excess cortisol.
Regular exercise can increase self-confidence and distract you from whatever is causing the stress. Plus, it will help keep you in shape.
Aerobic exercise helps produce endorphins, while weight training increases the human growth hormone level. Both help in controlling cortisone levels. Also, lifting weights helps increase the release of serotonin and dopamine.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation reports that low-intensity exercises help in reducing circulating cortisol levels.
Another 2014 study published in CNS & Neurological Disorders Drug Targets found that running for 15 minutes at a medium-intensity level was not able to significantly increase cortisol levels. In fact, it helped in reducing cognitive state anxiety in adolescents.
From walking to aerobics to yoga, you can try anything that works for you as a stress reliever.
5. Take Up Gardening
Gardening is a hobby that can be a great help in combating elevated stress hormones. It helps calm your mind and even distracts you from thinking about stressful situations.
It is considered a great exercise that will help lower cortisol levels. As a bonus, gardening will provide the satisfaction of growing beautiful flowers and healthy food.
In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, the stress-relieving effects of gardening were tested in a field experiment. It was found that 30 minutes of outdoor gardening led to decreases in cortisol levels. Positive mood was fully restored after gardening.
Another study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2015 points out that a green environment has potential benefits for emotional recovery from stress.
The next time you are under stress, take up gardening, a rewarding hobby and a great stress reliever.
6. Laugh Like a Child
Laughter has long been known to make people happier, and now it is a well-known technique for keeping stress hormones under control.
A short session of mirthful laughter appears to reduce serum levels of cortisol. It even helps lower two other stress hormones – adrenaline and dopac (a brain chemical that helps produce adrenaline).
A 2008 study by the American Physiological Society found that anticipating a laugh helps reduce potentially detrimental stress hormones.
Plus, a good laugh will help lighten your load mentally and keep you distracted from stress triggers.
So during stress, forget everything and start watching a funny movie or video. You can also call a jovial friend or colleague who can make you laugh.