Cortisol is a stress-induced chemical that is produced by the adrenal glands. This “stress hormone” helps regulate blood pressure and the immune system during a sudden crisis, whether a physical attack or an emotional setback. This helps you to tap into your energy reserves and increases your ability to fight off infection. The trouble is, relentless stress can keep this survival mechanism churning in high gear, subverting the hormone’s good intentions. Chronically high cortisol levels can cause sleep problems, a depressed immune response, blood sugar abnormalities, and weight gain (especially in the abdominal area). When cortisol spikes, it tells the body to eat something with a lot of calories—a great survival tactic if you need energy to flee a predator but not if you’re fretting over how to pay bills. You don’t have to “feel” stressed out for your body to be stressed.
Fortunately, an antidote to the body’s fight-or-flight mode has evolved: the relaxation response. Here are some things to manage stress that can reduce your cortisol levels and get your body (and your mind & spirit) chilled out.
- Breathing / Mindfulness Meditation
- Check out the CALM app or Deepak Chopra’s Meditations
- Take a Nap
- Go to bed earlier
- Improve sleep hygiene practices
- Hang out with a funny friend
- Comedy – watch a movie; head out to a comedy club
- Read or listen to a “mindlessly” funny book and escape the world for a while
- Book a Massage
In addition to keeping cortisol under control, massage sessions reduce stress by promoting production of dopamine and serotonin
- Cut back or eliminate sugary and heavy-duty caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks
These beverages spike cortisol levels almost immediately
- Reduce the amount of processed foods in your diet
- White bread and pasta; candy, cookies, snack cakes, etc.
Processed flour & sugary carbs (usually found together) cause a spike in cortisol & increase blood sugar levels which makes you feel anxious
- Make sure you are drinking enough water
Just a half-liter of dehydration can raise cortisol levels. Stress can cause dehydration, and dehydration can cause stress. If your urine is darker colored, it’s probably a sign that you’re not drinking enough water. Adequately-hydrated individuals have urine that is light, almost water-like, in appearance.
- Add more Omega 3 fatty acids into your diet
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids (check out my blog post for more info)
- Brew up some black tea
The “cup that cheers” has deep associations with comfort and calm—just think of how the English revere their late-afternoon teatime. As it turns out, science confirms the connection: When volunteers at University College London were given a stressful task, the cortisol levels of those who were regular black-tea drinkers fell by 47% within an hour of completing the assignment. Study author Andrew Steptoe, PhD, suspects that naturally occurring chemicals such as polyphenols and flavonoids may be responsible for tea’s calming effects.
- Low Intensity / Relaxing Exercise
- Yoga. Pilates. Tai Chi.
- Listen to Relaxing Music
- Sit down with a Coloring book and Crayons
- Head outside and spend some time with Nature
- Stretch out and relax in a field of daisies and just enjoy the sun and gentle breeze on your face
- Lie in a hammock under the stars
- Grab some binoculars and head out for some bird watching