The stress hormone cortisol has a bad reputation.
Cortisol is released in response to fear or stress by the adrenal glands as part of the fight-or-flight response. There are two types of stress — eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress).
Both of these release cortisol in response to stress, after which your body needs a physical release. Otherwise, cortisol levels build up and cause all kinds of chaos.
Eustress creates an invigorating stimulation, causing you to follow through. For instance, the feeling just before walking onstage to perform. Once you perform, cortisol levels return to normal.
Distress doesn’t usually offer an outlet for the cortisol, meaning the fight-or-flight response isn’t released, causing cortisol to build up.
Elevated cortisol levels affect learning and memory, lower immune function, mood irregularities, weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease and low energy levels.
All this may sound ominous, but luckily there are changes you can make to reduce stress and anxiety and help lower cortisol levels:
Practice deep breathing for at least five minutes, three to five times a day. Controlled breathing helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to lower cortisol levels. Set a timer or use an app like Calm or Aura.
To allow the body to heal, you need at least seven to eight hours of sleep. It’s one of the first things to be affected by high stress.
Aim for 150 minutes per week of low-to-moderate exercise. Studies show regular exercise improves sleep quality, reduces stress and improves overall health, all of which can lower cortisol.
It’s hard to do, but it’s too easy to get into a cycle where you need caffeine when you feel exhausted and stressed, which could be a hormonal imbalance and begin a vicious cycle.
The best way to destress is to do what you love. Write in a journal, knit, crochet, read, walk in nature, etc. This helps relieve stress. Doing something you love immediately puts you in a less-stressful mindset.
Not a replacement for a well-balanced diet, but supplements help when you lack something. Magnesium helps regulate cortisol levels while vitamins B12 and C and folic acid also help cortisol metabolize.
Laughing encourages the release of endorphins and suppresses cortisol. This leads to better mood, reduced stress and lower blood pressure. So watch a movie or talk with a friend and giggle a little.
Find a Coping Mechanism
Find something that helps you relax when you feel anxiety approaching. Work with a professional or try deep breathing, singing, focusing on tangible items in the room, etc.
Elevated cortisol levels can also be caused from underlying medical issues and medication side effects, so be sure and check with your physician if you feel it would help.
The best way to make changes is to do so a little at a time. Incorporate one or two of these into your routine until they become habit. Then start with another. Slow and steady wins the race.