The steroid hormone cortisol is an important part of the human body’s stress response. Released during stressful, fight-or-flight situations as well as during low blood-glucose concentration, the hormone provides anti-inflammatory benefits throughout the body, aids in glucose production and works with adrenaline to help the brain create useful trigger memories for dangerous or stressful situations in the future. It plays a key role in helping the liver to create and use glucose stores during periods of fasting or starvation, and in hydrocortisone form is used in many over-the-counter steroid creams for skin rash or eczema.
However, while these effects are beneficial in the short term, prolonged periods of stress (such as working in a busy, high-pressure job) can lead to an over-production of cortisol within the human body, resulting in far more detrimental effects including;
- High blood sugar and pressure, leading to Type-2 diabetes
- Increased appetite, carbohydrate cravings and storing of fat, leading to weight gain
- Tiredness, fatigue and irregular sleep patterns
- Weakened immune system
- Damage to the hippocampus, resulting in impaired brain function and ‘brain fog’
Luckily, there are many ways that you can change your lifestyle to lower your stress and thus, your body’s cortisol productions for a happier, healthier life. Using these 8 natural ways to lower cortisol might just be the best choice you could make:
Irregular sleeping patterns or sleep deprivation can lead to higher cortisol levels. One of the best natural ways to lower cortisol is to regulate and focus on your sleep, such as by exercising daily to expend energy, keeping a regular bedtime, avoiding caffeine late in the day and staying away from bright screens and fluids before bed. All of this should help you to unwind better at night and get your 7 or 8 hours of recommended sleep.
Expending energy through exercise and activity is not only vital for helping you sleep better, but is also important itself in lowering cortisol levels at night. While intense or ‘max effort’ exercise does put your body through physical stress and boost cortisol production immediately afterward, by the following day your levels will have lowered. If you want effective, natural ways to lower cortisol, then medium intensity exercise on a regular basis is the way to go, supplemented by more intense sessions.
By learning to recognize stressful behaviour or situations that you find yourself in throughout the day, you can better understand when to keep calm and focused, as well as avoiding disruptive, destructive situations, conversations or activities that are only going to stress you out and spike your cortisol levels. Being aware of your mental state and when you are in fact experiencing stress is the first step towards dealing with it.
The next step after being mindful of your own stress is to put yourself in more situations that will relax you and help to lower your cortisol production. Something as simple as breathing exercises can help, or meditative practices such as yoga, massage therapy and tai chi. Whether it’s any of the above, or even simply listening to music, focusing on your relaxation time is one of the best natural ways to lower cortisol.
5. Spending time with friends, families and pets
Another one of the natural ways to relax and lower cortisol is simply by spending time socially with your friends and family. Keeping good relationships and resolving any disagreements or negative feelings is an important part of this, as it means less weight on your mind and less to stress about. Spending time with an animal companion like a cat or dog is also a great way to lower cortisol, for both you and your pet!
6. Having fun
Probably most importantly, you should try to have fun and be active wherever possible! Doing something you enjoy such as a hobby and engaging in games or other activity with friends can be a brilliant way to relax, unwind and free yourself from stress, thus lowering your cortisol.
7. Healthy eating
A huge component of any happy and healthy lifestyle, what you eat has numerous benefits when it comes to regulating your body’s cortisol production. Key habits to develop are avoiding excess sugar consumption and incorporating cortisol-lowering foods into your diet, such as;
- Dark chocolate
- Plenty of water
- Soluble fibre (from fruit)
- Black or green tea
8. Natural Supplements
Finally, certain supplements can be used as natural ways to lower cortisol in your body. Omega-3 fish oils and Ashwagandha, an Asian herbal supplement used to help with anxiety, have both shown evidence of lowering cortisol levels in test subjects. Adding these to your daily diet can be an excellent way to stay on top of your cortisol levels (foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids can also act in the same way; such as fish, seafood, flaxseeds, chia seeds, soya beans and walnuts).
Natural Ways to Lower Cortisol with Personal Training
At PGPT, we specialise in providing comprehensive personal training programmes for busy Londoners looking to lower stress, exercise more, eat healthier, sleep better and have more time and energy in their days to enjoy life with their friends and family.
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