Cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone“, can cause big problems when its levels are elevated. Excessive cortisol levels increase the risk of mental illness, lower life expectancy, heart disease, and depression as well as cause weight gain, increases in blood pressure, and impaired immune function and interfere with learning and memory.
How does cortisol work?
Cortisol is released in response to stress or fear as part of our “fight-or-flight” response. Back when humanity existed as mainly hunters and gatherers, this response was developed to heighten awareness at times of danger and to mobilize the human body to get it ready for action. However, in the digital age, humans rarely encounter situations in which this response is necessary, so this response has become more of a hindrance than a help. There are simple ways to help lower your stress hormone level.
Simple ways to lower your cortisol
Research has consistently shown that laughter and simply having fun are effective at lowering stress hormone levels. A sense of humor and a little bit of levity will do the body a lot of good.
Letting out aggression with kickboxing or a punching bag and doing an activity like running or swimming (aerobic exercise in general) are all ways to release and lower cortisol levels. Additionally, because fear increases cortisol levels, becoming more self-confident and resilient, such as that which is gained through exercise, can decrease cortisol.
Failing to get eight hours of sleep can increase cortisol levels by 50%; if, for some reason, you are unable to get your full eight hours, taking a nap will help you cut your cortisol levels as well.
Music has a calming effect on the brain, so listening to music that you like and that suits your mood can help lower your cortisol levels or at least keep them stable during stressful situations.
Meditation has been shown to help reduce cortisol levels time and time again. There are several different types of meditation, so finding one to suit your personality and needs is fairly simple.
Getting regular massages can cut your cortisol significantly, according to a study performed at the University of Miami School of Medicine, as well as others. Additionally, massages increase “feel good” hormones—dopamine and serotonin.
Drink black tea
The natural chemicals in black tea, polyphenols and flavonoids, are likely responsible for the drink’s calming effects. When study participants were given black tea and a stressful task, their cortisol levels dropped by almost 50% within an hour of completing the task, compared to the 27% drop experienced by those in the placebo group.
Bergland, Christopher. Cortisol: Why “The Stress Hormone” is Public Enemy No. 1. Available from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1.
Svoboda, Elizabeth (2011) 8 Ways to Beat Your Stress Hormone. Available from: http://www.prevention.com/mind-body/emotional-health/how-lower-cortisol-manage-stress.