It goes without saying that nobody likes to be stressed out. Yet sadly, in present times, stress is a feeling that many people have grown accustomed to. There are ways to deal with it, however — and the best one is to lower your cortisol levels.
Cortisol is the culprit behind various symptoms of stress, like sweating, rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, hyperventilating, etc. It’s released when you are experiencing anxiety or are in a stressful situation.
Besides the immediate effects, high levels of cortisol can also cause a lot of damage in the long term. So, it’s extremely important that you keep your stress levels as low as possible.
Luckily, that’s relatively easy to do. From having the right mindset to maintaining a proper diet and exercising regularly, here’s a comprehensive guide on how to lower cortisol levels.
The Consequences of High Cortisol Levels
Like I already mentioned, there’s plenty of ways in which cortisol can affect your health. Some of the most common symptoms of high cortisol include:
• Weight gain, especially in the abdomen area
• Skin bruising easily and healing slowly
• Muscle weakness and fatigue
• Irritability and frequent mood swings
• Difficulty concentrating
Those are just some of the symptoms you may experience, and they can get worse with time. So, it’s clear that knowing how to lower cortisol levels is important both for your mental and physical health.
How to Lower Cortisol: Start With the Right Mindset
If you want to know how to lower cortisol, you first need to learn how to be mindful of your thoughts and feelings. Thinking about something stressful is the easiest way to cause your body to release cortisol.
You can recognize when stress is about to creep up on you by making an effort to be aware of your thoughts, breathing, and heart rate. In fact, there’s a simple awareness exercise that you can practice to relieve stress as soon as you feel it coming. It’s called the body scan, and it’s quite easy to perform:
First, lie flat on your back and close your eyes. Then, start “feeling out” and becoming aware of each part of your body, one at a time. When you find an area that feels tense or sore, focus on it. Take deep breaths, and try to relax the problematic section. Once that happens, do the same thing for the rest of your body until you feel completely at ease.
In addition to this one, there’s plenty of other mindfulness exercises that you can do to keep stress at bay. You can check out Positive Psychology for more ways to recognize and deal with stressful thoughts.
Get the Right Amount of Exercise
It’s a well-known fact that exercising is a great way to maintain good overall health. That includes mental health as well, as physical activity is one of the best ways to lower cortisol levels. However, you have to make sure that you get the right kind and amount of exercise.
The reason for that is that exercise can also increase cortisol levels. However, it only does so in the short term, and it actually causes a significant drop in those levels at night. The rate at which exercise affects how much stress hormones your body produces depends on the type of exercise you engage in.
As with most things, moderation is key. A little bit of low-effort exercise can greatly decrease your cortisol levels at nighttime, without amplifying them during the day.
You don’t even need an actual exercise routine to get the right amount of physical activity. Here are a few things you can do to keep active and fight cortisol production:
• Walking (20-30 minutes per day)
These activities can fit into even the busiest of schedules. So, remember to do at least one every day to ensure that your cortisol levels are under control.
Get Quality Sleep
The amount of sleep you get is closely related to the amount of cortisol you produce. According to this article by The New Zealand Law Society, getting good sleep can reduce stress levels, and high levels of stress can deter your sleep quality.
So, getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night should help you lower your cortisol levels. Another important thing to keep in mind is consistency. Try to go to sleep at around the same time every night, and avoid caffeine after noon. That way, you ensure that you sleep well, which means less stress the next day.
Don’t Ignore Your Social Life
Social interaction does wonders for relieving stress. After all, everyone needs breaks from the hardships of everyday life, whether they’re related to work, school, family, etc.
Bonding with people and generally having fun triggers the release of oxytocin, which is a hormone associated with positive moods and fondness. So, it’s pretty much a no-brainer why it can help keep cortisol levels low and relax you.
So, no matter how busy your schedule is, try to take the time to go out with friends at least once or twice a week. It might be difficult at first, but you’re going to feel much better once you make a habit of it.
Take Up a Hobby
Even though it may sound silly, taking up a hobby helps with keeping stress at bay, and you — happy. And, as I mentioned, there’s no better way to lower your stress levels than by having a good time.
An activity like playing an instrument, gardening, or painting can keep you focused on something productive and distract you from everyday life. If none of these hobbies tickle your fancy, you can always start keeping a journal, as that’s a great way to materialize your thoughts and de-stress.
Maintain an Appropriate Diet
Maintaining good physical health is extremely important if you want to keep stress levels low. And when it comes to your physical well-being, food is just as important as exercise. A balanced diet is one that contains all the necessary nutrients for you to go about your daily life and feel good.
You’ve probably already seen countless lists of foods that benefit your health in one way or another. And there’s plenty of ways in which your diet can help you fight stress.
If you want to learn how to lower cortisol levels through your diet, here are 10 budget-friendly and widely-available foods that can help you:
Asparagus is high in folic acid, which makes it great for people who suffer from anxiety. Keep those cortisol levels low by adding steamed or roasted asparagus to your favorite meals.
Avocados are a great source of healthy fats and B vitamins. They’re also high in potassium, a mineral that you start to lose when you’re stressed. Here’s a great avocado toast recipe that you can whip up in less than 5 minutes.
Broccoli might just become your new favorite source of vitamin C. On top of all of the other good things it does for your body, vitamin C also plays a part in reducing stress. And if you’re not sure how you can make broccoli suit your taste, here are 27 broccoli recipes for you to try.
Carrots and most root vegetables help serotonin production, as they’re full of fiber. You can eat them raw, on the side of any dish, or incorporate them into a vegetable mix of your choosing.
Quinoa is a protein-rich superfood that keeps your blood sugar in check. Simply boil it and mix it with whatever fruits and vegetables you want for a tasty and healthy meal.
Almonds’ high magnesium content makes them perfect for keeping cortisol levels low, and they’re a great snack to take on the go. Almond butter is also a great option that you can add to your breakfast for a morning boost.
While some consider them unhealthy, sweets and desserts deserve a spot in your diet (in moderation). According to this study, dark chocolate can help ease stress and improve your mood. So, feel free to snack on a chocolate bar or two to keep those stress hormones at bay.
In addition to helping the digestive process, yogurt also helps with keeping cortisol low, as it’s rich in probiotics. You can have yogurt on its own, or add some chocolate chips or fruit to give it some flavor.
Eggs are many people’s breakfast of choice, and for good reason. They are high in amino acids that help serotonin production, so they’ll certainly have a positive impact on your cortisol levels. Whether boiled, fried, or mashed, eggs are a versatile and healthy addition to any diet.
Mushrooms are another great choice for keeping cortisol levels low. They’re rich in vitamins B and D, antioxidants, and amino acids, so adding them to your diet is definitely a good idea. Here’s a mushroom omelet recipe that is as tasty as it’s nutritious.
How to Lower Cortisol: A Few Final Words
While cortisol is a natural part of humans’ brain chemistry, excessive amounts of it can be dangerous. The consequences it can have on your health can be quite serious, but they’re also easy to prevent. A few changes here and there, either in your diet, schedule, or mindset can go a long way toward keeping stress and anxiety at bay.
If you follow this guide on how to lower cortisol levels, you’re sure to see quick and satisfying results. And remember, a stress-free life is all about balance. Keeping everything in order and paying attention to your health will help you be at your best, at all times.