Cortisol: The Stress Hormone.
That’s a scary-sounding nickname, isn’t it? Don’t let that intimidate you.
Learning how to take control of your cortisol levels is one of the best things you can do for your entire body. Your mind, too.
Balanced cortisol levels help keep you lean, well-rested, and infection-resistant.
Imbalanced cortisol levels, on the other hand, may contribute to excess body fat, bad moods, insomnia, higher stress levels, and even heart disease.
Sound like a lot? It can be – but we’re here to break it down.
Let’s get deeper into it!
What the Heck is Cortisol, Exactly?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, one of the various glucocorticoids secreted by the body.
It’s your body’s main stress hormone, and this is where it gets its nickname. When you experience stress, cortisol reacts – like an alarm system. It works with your brain to keep you motivated and energetic while the “fight-or-flight” response is triggered.
Cortisol is an essential hormone, which regulates a wide range of bodily processes. Almost every cell in the body has cortisol receptors, meaning it does a lot more than just deal with stress.
- Helps control blood sugar levels
- Regulates the metabolism
- Has anti-inflammatory properties
- Influences memory formation
- Controls the salt-water balance
- Adjusts blood pressure
- Helps metabolize fat, carbohydrates, and proteins
As you can see, cortisol keeps many of your vital functions in check. It’s not just the “stress” hormone (although stress has a HUGE impact on your levels). Cortisol participates in many everyday systems and we couldn’t live without it.
However, like every other hormone, there are negative consequences to both high and low levels. You may experience anxiety, depression, lack of a sex drive, and women may even see fewer to no periods (yet still experience all the discomfort). That’s a very small sampling of the dozens of ways it can affect your daily life.
What a pile of yuck!
How to Balance Cortisol Levels
Cortisol levels in the blood fluctuate naturally throughout the day. They are generally higher in the morning and lower at night. However, people who work night shifts have this process reversed, because cortisol and sleep work together to manage energy.
Cortisol secretion is coordinated between the adrenal glands, the pituitary gland, and the hypothalamus in the brain.
When the body is affected by stress, cortisol levels spike accordingly in order to help you manage the situation.
This is only supposed to be a temporary addition to the standard cortisol levels in the bloodstream. That’s because stress is supposed to be temporary, too.
If that spike doesn’t go down, all the systems that interact with cortisol fall out of balance.
Well, this is the point where we have to admit: life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.
Sometimes, it sucks a little.
Sometimes, we’re stressed out for long periods of time, and we’re just stewing in those elevated hormones throughout.
That’s when you want to know how to decrease cortisol naturally, safely, and effectively.
Let’s take a look at 10 tips you can start using right now!
#1 Be Mindful of Your Stress
The number one way to decrease cortisol levels is undeniable: lower and manage your stress levels.
Practice awareness to recognize your stressors, and try new ways to better cope with them. Here are some strategies that may help:
- Try meditation: 10 to 20 minutes in the morning and/or at night can have significant results.
- Use breathing exercises, like alternate nostril breathing when you feel high anxiety levels.
- Move your body! Dance, walk, and laugh during the day! Start your morning with a happy playlist and dance in the shower (just be careful not to slip, of course).
- Reserve time for fun and self-care (even during office hours). A simple five-minute break every hour will do wonders for you.
- Change your narrative. Using different words, like “I get to” instead of “I have to”, unconsciously triggers feelings of gratitude.
#2 Eat a Hormone Balancing Diet
Just like hormones and weight gain are connected, so are cortisol and nutrition. Some foods help you naturally manage cortisol in the blood. For example…
- Indulge in dark chocolate! Yes, you are officially invited to eat dark chocolate as studies show it helps decrease cortisol effectively.
- Enjoy bananas: the potassium in them helps lower blood pressure. It’s an inexpensive option if you’re wondering how to decrease cortisol quickly.
- Get probiotics: research shows that you can decrease cortisol levels by balancing your gut. You can find probiotics naturally in yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, pickles, tempeh, sauerkraut, and more. Or, try Organifi Balance and get your pre and probiotics all in one!
- Drink water or tea: green tea helps inhibit stress after mental tasks, while water flushes out toxins, hydrates pathways, and helps to decrease cortisol organically.
- Try adaptogenic mushrooms: adaptogens are foods that help you naturally manage stress. Reishi mushrooms, Cordyceps, Lion’s Mane, Shiitake, Turkey Tail, and Chaga are all adaptogenic mushrooms.
#3 Set a Regular Sleeping Schedule
Sleep has a huge impact on your cortisol levels, and vice versa. Going to bed and rising at the same time helps regulate your hormonal secretion system.
Pro tip: an hour or two of zero screen time before bed will lower your blue light exposure and help kick melatonin (the sleep hormone) into gear.
That means no TV, and no phones either! Grab a book instead, or listen to some relaxing music. It may seem old-fashioned, but trust us – that’s why the generations before us got much better rest.
Pro tip #2: Add a warm mug of Gold to your relaxing evening routine. These soothing superfoods are perfect for nightly rest and recovery.
#4 Find a Hobby
We love marathoning a streaming series as much as the next person, but like we said before, overexposure to blue light interferes with cortisol production. A hobby helps you feel more relaxed and fulfilled.
Learning new skills, solving puzzles, playing games, making art, and creating beautiful things… these are all great ways to use your private time. Never forget that: It’s your time. Make sure to include yourself in your time.
What’s important is finding the thing that speaks to your interests, your loves, and your desires. When it comes to a hobby, it truly is all about you.
Have fun with it! Because when you’re looking to decrease cortisol, fun is the surefire way to go. More on that in just a moment…
#5 Exercise in Ways You Actually Enjoy
Physical activity helps regulate cortisol levels, and you don’t have to necessarily break a sweat if you don’t want to. Swimming, yoga, and power-walking are all forms of exercise that can help you feel a lot better without exerting too much effort.
However, if you like breaking a sweat, go for it!
#6 Practice Mindfulness
Being in the present moment, in an aware manner, is what it means to be “mindful”. It sounds simpler than it is, and it requires practice. Anchoring your thoughts in the present moment helps you break obsessive and stressful thinking patterns – and that’s a great way to decrease cortisol using simple mindfulness.
#7 Avoid Caffeine at Night
Caffeine lovers know: the more you drink, the more you’ll need. Try to avoid caffeine after 2:00 PM and especially at night. Caffeine stays in your system for a few hours before it’s completely flushed out, even if you’re not feeling it anymore. Taking more will only restart your cortisol-fueled alert state, and will disrupt your sleep patterns.
#8 Schedule Time for Fun!
Our favorite cortisol-decreasing tool? PURE FUN. We’ve mentioned this before, and it can’t be said enough.
It’s easy to forget about fun when we get caught up in daily life. Work, relationships, the news, the kids, the state of the world… We’re not built for seriousness all the time. We need to have fun, or we will go insane.
If you don’t already consider fun to be a self-care practice, this is the time to start.
Book a painting class, learn to dance, go to a comedy show – whatever floats your fun boat.
#9 Try an Herbal Supplement
If you’re having trouble disconnecting from stressful situations, there are herbs that can help. Bach flowers, Valerian root, lavender extract, and ashwagandha are particularly useful. These plant-based supplements can be gentle enough that they won’t create dependency, but powerful enough to get you through a stressful time.
We put a clinical dose of ashwagandha in our Green Juice because it’s shown to help balance cortisol levels naturally, simply by consuming it. It’s safe to take every day, and it helps us feel great.
#10 Relax with Essential Oils
We live in a very visual-centric world. That means we often forget the power of aromas. Essential oils can be a subtle, yet very effective way to help you relax and lower cortisol levels.
How to decrease cortisol levels with essential oils:
- Get a massage from a professional or a loved one.
- Add them to your breathing exercises throughout the day.
- Have them in the background as you do other things – the smell will relax you subconsciously.
- Create a sacred space – light candles, diffusers, or incense as you say your thanks for the day.
BONUS: Spend Time with a Pet
Research shows that the benefits of hanging out with your favorite animal -from fluffy rabbits to rough turtles- bring stress levels down significantly. That’s the same for both animal lovers and non-animal lovers. Want to know how to decrease cortisol? Play with a pet, yours or not!
Elevated cortisol levels are dangerous for your overall physical and mental health. Learning how to balance cortisol helps you manage your body’s response to stress, sleep better, lose fat, reduce abdominal circumference, resist infections and colds better, and overall – just feel good.
For keeping your cortisol balanced, we recommend a hormone-balancing diet as the cornerstone of your protocol. Add sleep and fun activities as you go. Remember to emphasize the fun!
Any other ideas to lower cortisol? Let us know in the comments below!