Cortisol is one of a myriad of different hormones produced by our bodies. It is commonly referred to as “the stress hormone,” and while it's true that cortisol levels spike when you’re stressed, it also has some important functions within the body as well. Cortisol plays a role in controlling blood pressure, regulating our sleep-wake cycles, and even in reducing inflammation.
As far as stress is concerned, the release of cortisol is triggered by our brains when the body is put through stressful situations. We usually hear it under negative connotations but the stress response is actually your body trying to protect you from something deemed harmful. That being said, too much cortisol pumping through our bodies for too long - as with the case of chronic stress - can lead to a whole host of issues, from anxiety, high blood pressure and weight gain to inflammation, moodiness and decreased energy levels. The good news is, there are plenty of natural options for reducing your cortisol levels.
Start with Sleep
Not getting enough sleep has a whole host of side effects, including irritability, anxiety and stress. A lack of quality sleep can send your cortisol levels soaring, which in turn can impair your memory, contribute to weight gain, and interfere with the release of other regulatory hormones. Make sure you are getting an adequate amount of restful, restorative sleep each night to keep cortisol in check.
Check in With Your Diet
Your diet has a major influence over so many of your body’s natural processes, and the release of cortisol is no exception. Sugar is one of the most obvious triggers for cortisol release. If you are regularly consuming high amounts of sugar, a good place to start is to try to decrease your daily intake. This isn’t to say you need to cut out sugar entirely, just find some places in your diet where you can reduce your intake.
On the subject of nutrition, there are some specific foods that have been shown to reduce cortisol levels. Things like dark chocolate, certain fruits, green and black tea, as well as probiotics can all have a positive effect on cortisol levels. It is important to keep in mind, however, that reducing cortisol levels through eating specific foods is negligible and you would be better off sticking to an overall healthy diet instead of focusing on these foods.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Taking active steps to relieve stress is going to be your best bet for naturally reducing cortisol levels, so taking time to practice relaxation is an important factor. This might include practices like yoga, tai chi, meditation or breathing exercises- all of which can reduce cortisol levels as well as improve brain function and memory. But it does not necessarily need to be these things- taking time to do something that relaxes you is what's important.
Research has revealed that spending time in nature can actually lower cortisol, calm your brain and even boost your mood.
Reducing stress is as simple as just being happy. A positive outlook is not only associated with lower cortisol levels but also lower blood pressure as well. Take time for activities and hobbies that make you happy and that increase your overall satisfaction with life.
At the end of the day, naturally reducing stress is all about making healthy choices that promote overall wellness.