How to Balance Cortisol Levels and Control the Hormone of Stress
Cortisol is a hormone that helps a person to survive in difficult situations, but it can become a real enemy and spoil life. This happens when the level of this hormone begins to rise and remains at a high level for a long time. In this article, you will learn why this happens and how you can prevent it.
- What Is the Role of Cortisol in Human Body?
- Stress-Related Health Problems
- Get Cortisol Levels Under Strict Control
- The Right Food and Drink Reduces Cortisol
- Include Supplements in Your Daily Ration
- Get More Positive Emotions
- Use Effective Relaxation Techniques
- Light Physical Exercises Decrease Cortisol
- Say No to Coffee and Alcohol
- Deep Sleep Balances Cortisol Levels
Stress is something that a person inevitably faces throughout their life. Stress can be severe and have a great influence on the psyche, or it can pass by as a common trouble. Whatever the stress, the body reacts to it by changing its hormonal background. During strong commotion, adrenaline, which helps to make decisions quickly and makes you stronger and sturdier, is produced in large quantities.
If the stress becomes protracted, the body produces a large amount of cortisol, which is also called the stress hormone. It depresses a person’s mental state, prevents emotional outbursts and helps to survive in difficult situations. Prolonged stress and chronic lack of sleep are the main factors causing the rapid increase of the stress hormone, and any violation of hormonal background causes a lot of unpleasant consequences.
What Is the Role of Cortisol in Human Body?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone, which in stressful situations is produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol is necessary for normal body functions, therefore, its level is normally highest in the morning hours. This makes a person more focused and resistant to troubles. By evening, the level of the hormone drops, which makes falling asleep easier. This increase and decrease of cortisol is not only safe but necessary.
What does a short-term increase of cortisol do? This hormone provides:
- increased metabolism;
- muscle tone;
- higher blood pressure;
- release of glucose from the liver, which provides better work capacity of the brain and muscles;
- better heart function;
- dilation of bronchioles.
All of the above-mentioned allows you to maintain maximum activity and efficiency during the day, deal with troubles and withstand stresses. However, this effect is provided only by the temporary rise of the hormone.
Problems begin when the hormone level remains high for a long time.
A constant increase of cortisol could result in:
- destruction of brain neurons;
- appearance of inflammatory processes in the brain;
- delayed recovery of nerve cells;
- memory impairment;
- decreased concentration of attention;
- premature aging.
Listed above are the first alarm signals that the level of the stress hormone is too high and it must be lowered.
Stress-Related Health Problems
Problems with mental health during prolonged stress can cause serious illnesses if they are ignored. A chronically high cortisol level often leads to:
- bipolar disorder;
- compulsive overeating or bulimia;
- borderline personality disorder;
- cognitive problems;
- alcoholism, addiction to cigarettes and narcotic substances.
Cortisol literally forces the body to work to the point of exhaustion, and that causes various diseases. If a person participates in sports, then elevated cortisol will not allow them to quickly lose weight and build muscles. The hormone causes the body to work in stress-mode, in which it is very important to conserve energy. For this reason, with physical exertion, the body will burn muscles instead of fat. Stress often causes a desire to have an off-schedule snack, so the fight against extra pounds becomes very difficult. Weight gain is a frequent companion of chronic stress, as the metabolic rate slows down, and the appetite increases.
The increased level of the stress hormone is extremely dangerous for women. It not only makes ladies less attractive and wrecks their figures, but can also significantly worsen their reproductive health. Excessive cortisol provokes the growth of prolactin, the excess of which can lead to infertility. Women with high levels of cortisol often suffer from hirsutism –excessive growth of facial hair.
A high level of the stress hormone is the enemy of beauty and youth. It reduces the amount of collagen in the skin, which leads to loss of tone, grayness, the appearance of wrinkles and stretch marks. You, for sure, have noticed that a small but constant lack of sleep affects how you look.
Сortisol causes a constant release of glucose from the liver, so foods with even an average glycemic index can be dangerous as they will raise blood sugar. Such actions can lead to disease of the pancreas and the violation of its secretion – diabetes mellitus. Unfortunately, this disease cannot be completely cured.
Get Cortisol Levels Under Strict Control
A high level of cortisol affects virtually all body systems since there are cortisol receptors in almost all cells of the human body. A necessary hormone can become a dangerous enemy if its amount is too large. Fortunately, an increased level of cortisol is usually caused by an unhealthy lifestyle and various bad habits, so it can be normalized. In rare cases, the growth of the stress hormone is caused by neoplasms and poor performance of the adrenal glands – in this case, it requires special treatment under the strict guidance of the doctor.
If you have identified several signs of high cortisol, testing is recommended to make sure this really is an issue for you. If your suspicions are justified, then you can try to improve the situation naturally, without medication. Controlling the level of this hormone will help to avoid a variety of diseases, poor performance, fatigue and a bad mood.
The Right Food and Drink Reduces Cortisol
Bad eating habits are one of the most important factors that cause the increase in cortisol. The human gastrointestinal tract (GIT) not only provides digestion and nutrition for all tissues and organs, but is also largely responsible for immunity as well as brain function. Therefore, it is very important to use food products that improve the efficiency of the digestive tract. Good eating habits will help to avoid various disorders, maintain good health for many years, and provide for a good quality of life and high productivity. It is very important to stick to a certain diet for a long time, ideally for your whole life. This will prevent not only hormonal disorders, but also many other issues, including excess weight.
Start Your Day with a Cup of Tea
Drinking black or green tea in the morning and during the day is a habit of many people which has great health benefits. Tea not only tones up, invigorates and helps to concentrate, but also inhibits the production of excess cortisol.
Tea, black or green, contains theanine. This substance, according to the latest research, with regular use reduces the level of cortisol in the body. It increases the production of dopamine and reduces stress. Despite its calming effect, tea does not have a sedative effect, so you can drink it at any time of the day, without fearing that it will cause drowsiness. Cortisol starts to decrease if you drink at least four cups of black or green tea per day.
There is another miracle brew that helps to normalize hormone levels – chamomile tea. For many centuries, people have been drinking it to fight insomnia and anxiety. Chamomile contains coumarin, flavonoids, essential oils and many other compounds that can effectively combat anxiety and sleep disorders. Since cortisol begins to rise due to lack of sleep and excessive stress, chamomile will become a reliable assistant in lowering the level of the stress hormone. A lot of people who suffered from anxiety and insomnia for years noted significant improvements after beginning to drink enough tea and decoction made of chamomile. In addition, anxiety and discomfort are often symptoms of dehydration, so regular use of tea will make a person calmer due to saturation of body cells with liquid.
Eat a Chocolate
Chocolate, especially black, is an excellent way to recharge energy and cheer up. Chocolate contains many antioxidants and flavonoids, but it also effectively decreases the level of cortisol. This decline is very fast, so many people feel pacification and mood improvement after they eat chocolate. Also, this product improves brain function, which deteriorates due to too much cortisol.
It is important to remember that not every chocolate has this “curative” property. White and milk chocolate are simply delicious, high-calorie foods, but they have little effect on cortisol levels. Black chocolate containing the maximum percentage of cocoa, however, is an excellent choice. If you eat it quite often, then choose low-sugar chocolate bars.
Get Prebiotic-Rich Foods
Prebiotics are special substances found in food which are not digested by the human body. They enter the intestines, where they become fertilizer for gut bacteria.
Studies of Oxford scientists in 2015 showed that people who consume prebiotics have a lower level of cortisol compared to those who do not have this habit. Also, these people had a higher stress tolerance and more optimistic outlook. Prebiotics with regular use have an effect similar to that of antidepressants, but are not harmful to your health.
High amounts of prebiotics are found in these products:
These products contain a lot of resistant starch, which is an excellent prebiotic.
Prebiotics are not only a fertilizer for gut bacteria, but have several additional unusual properties. It has been proven by research that these microorganisms can reduce cortisol levels and anxiety. They also:
- improve immunity and reduce the likelihood of developing cancer. Prebiotics reduce the multiplication of putrefactive bacteria and reduce the number of carcinogenic enzymes in the intestines. The smooth functioning of the intestine improves the immune defense of the whole body;
- lower the level of cholesterol;
- reduce inflammation in the body;
- balance the level of electrolytes, including potassium and magnesium. This exerts a beneficial effect on the condition of the heart and normalizes blood pressure;
- aid in weight normalization. It is proven that people who consume a sufficient amount of fiber feel satiated for a long time and are not prone to overeating;
- heal the bones. Prebiotics improve the absorption of minerals, which are necessary for maintaining healthy, strong bones.
Include Supplements in Your Daily Ration
A good diet will undoubtedly bring positive changes, but do not expect this to be a quick fix. The “treatment” with food takes quite a long time. If you feel unwell and need help fast, you can use special supplements that reduce the amount of cortisol in the body. These herbal means, called adaptogens, regulate the work of the adrenal glands, lowering the level of cortisol. They also normalize function of the nervous system and increase resistance to stress. Adaptogens cannot be called sedatives or stimulants, as they just normalize the endocrine glands’ work. The most well-known of them are:
- ginkgo biloba;
- arctic root;
- holy basil;
In addition to herbal adaptogens, there are minerals and substances that can normalize the level of cortisol. Among them are:
- fish oil;
- vitamin C;
- probiotics and prebiotics;
All supplements can be easily purchased at the nearest pharmacy at an affordable price. In order not to overload the body, select a few of them, and do not buy everything at once. It is best to start with fish oil, vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium. They significantly improve the work of the body and are essential for all people.
Whichever supplement you choose, carefully read the instructions and follow the prescribed dosage. This way you can ensure that the drug will be safe and effective.
Consume Olive Oil and Essential Fatty Acids
Olive oil is a product that has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. It also contains oleuropein, a substance that can normalize the level of cortisol. To get a positive effect, it is enough to dress salads with olive oil and also take a spoonful of oil in the morning on an empty stomach (if the stomach handles it well). Regular use of oil improves immunity, saturates the body with vitamin E and favorably affects your physical appearance.
The best choice is extra virgin olive oil, as it contains the most useful compounds. Beware of counterfeits and buy this product only in trusted stores. Quite often, olive oil is diluted with corn or rapeseed oil to reduce its price. Do not expect any health benefits from these products.
Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants Against Stress
How to reduce cortisol without medications and special supplements? To do this, you need to eat foods rich in antioxidants every day. Antioxidants have many functions – they slow down aging, rejuvenate and improve all body systems. In addition, they are able to normalize the hormonal background, including excessive cortisol levels. A lot of antioxidants are found in fresh berries. The stress hormone also reduces anthocyanin, which can be replenished by eating dark berries.
There is no clear evidence that vitamin C reduces cortisol, but it is generally very useful for the body and helps to combat unfavorable external factors. In large quantities, this vitamin is able to slightly reduce the level of the stress hormone. During periods of chronic stress, a person always has a vitamin C deficit, so you should try to use it daily. If you go through a difficult period in your life, do not rely solely on food – buy concentrated vitamin C at the pharmacy.
The same can be said about vitamin E – it strengthens your health and gives peace of mind, which eventually leads to a hormonal balance. It is also abundant in vegetable oil, chicken eggs, and liver.
Curcumin Supports Brain Activity
Curcumin is the substance that makes a well-known Indian spice yellow. Curcumin is widely used in the food industry as a dye, and also has powerful medicinal properties. Multiple studies have shown that this substance is a powerful antioxidant with an anti-inflammatory effect which improves brain function. If the increase in the level of cortisol was caused by stress, then curcumin will help to normalize it.
To get the desired effect, you can add turmeric and curry to your food. To help your body better absorb the curcumin, it is recommended to use it with butter and black pepper. However, if you need to improve the work of the brain, then this substance must be taken in concentrated form as a supplement. Curcumin is cheap and can be bought in many pharmacies.
Get More Positive Emotions
Positive emotions and sincere laughter can become real medicine for many diseases. Positive emotions allow not only to get distracted from problems, but also to improve the state of health significantly. Positive emotions, no matter how they are caused, provide a beneficial effect on human health and normalize hormones. People with a positive mindset are less likely to get sick but live longer, and their lives are more joyful. Good mood improves the work of the brain, improving memory. It is proven that cheerful older people successfully avoid dementia and memory impairment, and they are more cheerful and healthier than their pessimistic peers.
How to “generate” positive emotions? This can be your favorite hobby, favorite movie, walking, enjoyable communication, music, dancing, playing with animals, etc. A person can find something pleasant and joyful for themselves every day, and then their life will become better, their health stronger and their level of cortisol lower.
Have Fun and Laugh
Laughter and joy are natural analgesics, so many people suffering from pain noted a decrease in pain when they were in a good mood. Doctors say that it is enough to laugh at least 10 minutes a day in order to feel more healthy and happy.
Positive emotions and sense of joy reduce cortisol by 50% and help to look more optimistically towards the future. People who go through life with a smile are better at coping with stress and rarely face depression.
If you have any difficulties or problems that prevent you from enjoying life, do not hesitate to contact a psychologist, as negative emotions over time can be really destructive.
Control Your Thoughts
Scientists argue that people become tired and upset not because of external factors, but because of own thoughts. Studies and surveys have shown that the vast majority of the time people’s heads are occupied by various thoughts, and 70% of these thoughts cause bad emotions. People remember the unpleasant things that have happened to them, scroll through them in their memory, again and again, thinking about the future and get scared of problems. As a result, a person is in a bad and depressed mood, although at the moment nothing bad happens to them. Constant negative thoughts cause stress that raises cortisol levels.
Getting rid of bad thoughts will help gain control over them and realize that unpleasant situations and forecasts are not relevant at the present time. Meditation, soothing teas, breathing exercises and many other techniques will help clear the mind of the negative.
Play with Animals
A pet is not only a good friend, but also medicine. It was proved that communication with a dog or a cat calms people down for 20 minutes, raises the level of endorphins and lowers the level of cortisol. Cats and dogs, due to their therapeutic effects, are sometimes kept in clinics – they help people recover. Animals are able to find a connection even with autistic children, old people with dementia and seriously ill patients. If you do not have a pet, try to get one – a cat will give you comfort and pacification, and a dog will share your joy, which is so rare in the life of a stressed person. In addition, a dog will not allow the owner to stay put and mope within their four walls – a four-legged friend will provide regular walks and communication with other dog owners.
Spend Time in Nature
Nature always helps a person to calm down and relax. The sun, greenery – all this improves the mood of a person, no matter the situation. For people who are depressed, it is advisable to do gardening or at least start growing home plants. Contact with nature helps to significantly reduce the level of cortisol and improves the emotional condition. Being in the open air, especially if it is combined with simple work in the garden, lowers the heart rate and normalizes blood pressure. A person can forget about their problems for a while and free their brain from heavy and negative thoughts.
If you suffer from depression or are anxious, devote your weekend to a walk in nature. This can be a park, a garden, picnicking in the forest, fishing, etc. Absorbed by the city, people lose the ability to enjoy simple trifles, such as the singing of birds, sun rays, grass, and flowers. A walk in nature will help them reconnect.
Listen to Music
Music is a magic which not just creates a mood, but also takes a person to their own, private world. Scientists have found that listening to pleasant music relaxes us, calms us down and significantly reduces the level of cortisol. Listening to music before important and stressful activities helps to tune in to a positive result and get rid of anxieties and fears.
Dancing is a natural extension of listening to music. It also provides a positive effect on mood and causes the production of dopamine. It’s about dancing “for the soul”; there’s no need to professionally practice a choreography to get a positive effect from moving to the rhythms of music. In addition, dance is an unobtrusive physical activity that helps normalize the level of the stress hormone in the blood.
Communicate with People
Communication with friends and relatives is a powerful source of oxytocin. This hormone reduces the amount of cortisol. Surely you’ve noticed that after a conversation with pleasant people you began to feel better, be more cheerful and calm. It’s not just an emotional uplift, but a chain of chemical reactions that can improve your health.
Statistics say that people who are isolated from society and spend most of their life alone are more likely to get sick, unhappy with life, prone to mental disorders and live much less than those who have an active social life. Exhibitions, theaters, social events, meetings with friends, family parties, volunteering, meeting new people – all of these are able to prevent depression and significantly improve a person’s condition. In addition, people around you can help to relieve stress and provide support in a difficult situation.
Use Effective Relaxation Techniques
Tranquility is a guarantee of health and longevity, but every day we face many things that make us feel stressed. However, if you can find 10-20 minutes a day to work on your mental state, it will help you successfully withstand stress for the rest of the day. There are many ways for active relaxation, so you just need to choose the one that suits you best – massage, meditation, yoga, acupuncture, or breathing techniques. They help to cope with emotions, normalize sleep, boost courage and soothe. The best effect is achieved through the regular use of one or more techniques. Choose a suitable way of relaxation and regularly resort to it, and stress will have no chance.
Yoga and Meditation
Meditation is a conscious relaxation and detachment from unnecessary thoughts. It can be done through any method, both alone and in a group. A lot of people do not have to go beyond consciousness to improve their health. For them, it will be useful to just lie on the grass and look at the sky, discarding all thoughts. To accompany meditation, you can use incense, relaxing music or recorded sounds of nature.
Yoga is not only an opportunity to purify your mind but also to perform exercises useful to the body. Yoga also often includes breathing practices that allow you to tune into the right mood and recharge your energy. There are special asanas that help to relax and cope with stress.
In order to perform several useful asanas and learn simple meditation, it is not necessary to contact a specialist. It is enough to carefully study information from the internet or books. If you do not plan to become a yogi, but just want to calm down, this should be enough.
Stress provokes many changes in the body, including breathing rhythm. It becomes more superficial and frequent due to the fact that the muscles of the chest are compressed and do not move well. All this happens automatically, and after a tense situation dissolves, it quickly returns to normal. A lot of people breathe quickly and superficially even in a calm state, and because of this the body constantly receives a signal that something has happened. Improper breathing over a long time increases the production of cortisol and leads to anxiety. If you learn how to breathe deeply, you can calm down very quickly and bring your hormones back to normal. Only a few minutes of deep breathing can improve a person’s condition, calm them and reduce stress and panic.
To all people who want to be in a relaxed state, the “breathing belly” exercise is recommended for daily use. At first, it is better to perform it lying down, but with time you will be able to do this in any position. When you inhale, imagine that the air fills the stomach and makes it round, like a ball. At exhalation, pull in the stomach as much as possible. This exercise lasts for several minutes. Over time, you will be able to make belly breathing automatic and natural, and always breathe deeply without even thinking about this.
Massage and Essential Oils
Massage is a useful tool both for body and psyche. A good massage improves blood circulation, relaxes muscles, removes stagnation of lymph, provides calm and reduces the level of cortisol. You can find a professional masseur, or ask a loved one for a massage. For relaxation, the technique does not matter; the touch and soothing movements of the hands are much more important. You can also do self-massage while listening to music or watching your favorite movie. Before going to bed, a massage of the face will be very useful – it helps to fall asleep and prevents the appearance of wrinkles and swelling.
To enhance the effect, use massage oils with the addition of essential oils – their aroma will enhance the beneficial effects of the procedure. Lavender and lemon balm can calm the psyche and improve sleep, coniferous and citrus flavors have an antibacterial property and strengthen health, and ylang-ylang and bergamot invigorate and tone up. You can also use the aroma lamp to fill the room with the smells you need.
Light Physical Exercises Decrease Cortisol
Physical exercises are very useful for health, incl. hormonal background. Regular physical activity effectively reduces the high level of cortisol in the blood, soothes, and improves the work of internal organs, giving vigor and strength. Doing sports is one of the best ways to eliminate apathy. In addition, it helps to keep a healthy bodyweight and prevents obesity, to which people with elevated cortisol are prone because of malnutrition and overeating.
It is important to take into account that only moderate physical exertion is useful since too intense sports activities contribute to the increased production of the stress hormone. People running long distances, marathon runners, and powerlifters have the same level of cortisol as during intense stress. Yes, it helps them achieve athletic accomplishments, but negatively affects the psyche and health. Therefore, choose a suitable sport and do not spend more than 30-40 minutes a day on it.
Say No to Coffee and Alcohol
It is believed that alcohol helps to relieve stress and relax. This is true, but only if the amount of alcohol is minimal. Regular use of alcohol increases the level of cortisol. As a result, instead of calm, a person becomes irritable, depressed and has low stress-resistance.
The second product which causes the growth of cortisol is coffee. A lot of people have a cup in the morning and in the afternoon, but in some cases, it can be dangerous. A cup of coffee does not damage a person who is in a relaxed state. If you have high cortisol levels, slept badly or are depressed, then even a small dose of caffeine can aggravate the situation. During stressful situations, give up caffeine or at least reduce the consumption of coffee to a minimum.
How to Stay Focused and Awake Without Coffee?
As mentioned earlier, caffeinated beverages can serve as sources of trouble for a person in stress. Still, what if, without coffee, it is very hard for a person to concentrate on work? This is often a problem for those who work on a random schedule and change their sleep time before deadlines and academic exams.
For people who do not want to drink coffee (or those who it does not help), doctors usually prescribe nootropics – substances that improve brain function. They are safe (if taken correctly) and activate mental activity, significantly improving memory, concentration, and increasing the speed of reaction. At the ModafinilXL online pharmacy you can buy nootropics like Modafinil, Provigil, Nuvigil, and others at a bargain price. There you can order all needed drugs in a few clicks, after which they will be quickly delivered to your door in any city of the U.S.
Deep Sleep Balances Cortisol Levels
The reasons for high cortisol can be different, but most often it is a lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and stress. Doctors advise you to sleep at least seven hours a night, going to sleep and waking up at the same time. If it’s possible, sleep should be continuous and deep. Lack of sleep and a late bedtime cause the rapid rise of cortisol. This leads to fatigue and irritability on the next day, and with time, cognitive disorders and other health problems can develop.
The quality of sleep can be increased by:
- switching off all electrical appliances 30-60 minutes before bedtime;
- dimming lights in the evening;
- taking supplements containing magnesium and zinc before bedtime;
- wearing a blindfold if your room is not dark enough;
- eating three hours before bedtime;
- ventilating the bedroom well;
- going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day.
If for some reason you did not get enough sleep at night, try to take a nap the next day. Of course, this is not a full compensation for lack of sleep, but napping provides a positive effect on the nervous system.
Of course, it is better not to allow the increase of cortisol and not turn this hormone from a friend into an enemy. But if you notice the symptoms of stress hormone growth, then use the tips listed above. Most likely they will help you solve the problem without medical treatment.