Stress. It just seems like an inevitable byproduct of everyday life. Or as it’s referred to today … adulting. Yes, adulting can be tough. However, we can’t let it get the best of us. Once we succumb to stress, we open the doors for this state of mind to become chronic.
We don’t need to live our lives subservient to stress. There are many methods to combat this nuisance naturally. In fact, here are eight easy ways to manage your cortisol levels.
What Causes Stress?
The hypothalamus is attached to our adrenal glands. When the adrenal glands process the message, it causes our body to go into fight-or-flight mode. This is when cortisol enters the system.
Chronic stress is caused by our hormone, cortisol. When we encounter moments of stress, the incident stimulates a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus.
As stress mounts up, it causes the body to stockpile on this precautionary instinct. When stress becomes chronic, cortisol production does too. In times where the system becomes overloaded with cortisol, our emotions, body, and health are all at risk.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol gets a bad wrap, but it is a necessary hormone. When you’re in a dire situation and your intuition kicks in, that’s cortisol at play.
Stressful situations aren’t always a bad thing. Think back to your first kiss. That moment can be very stressful. Leaning in to seal the deal, you either want to vomit, run away, or crawl in a fetal position. This is cortisol at work.
When cortisol enters the bloodstream, your amygdala kicks in. This is where our brain stores our emotional reactions to similar situations in the past. So, when you lean in for a first kiss and feel stressed, your amygdala immediately jumps into the fray. Your brain tells you that first kisses are awesome, and then happy neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline are released.
Why is Too Much Cortisol a Bad Thing?
Now, let’s think of the dreadful stuff. You hate your job. Your spouse cheated on you. You are fighting an illness. Your child is failing school. These are all everyday stressors that can happen to anyone at any point in their life. Unfortunately for some, these situations can happen all at once.
Experiencing episodes of stress one after another is much like hooking up a faucet up to your adrenal glands. You’re just pouring cortisol into that bloodstream.
When cortisol levels get too high, there’s less room for other neurotransmitters to flourish. Remember dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline? If your life isn’t full of first kiss sparks, then there’s nothing triggering the release of these hormones. Stress produces stress, and once cortisol reins supreme, your whole system will feel it.
Symptoms associated with increased levels of cortisol include:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Loss of sleep
- Weight gain
- Heart disease
- Sexual hormone imbalance
- High blood pressure
As you can tell, stress can hinder almost every aspect of your daily routine. The longer we fight stress, the more damage it can do to our system, our mental state, and our future. That is why we must do all that we can to keep cortisol levels even-steven.
While you may not have control of life’s stressors, there are things you can do in your everyday life to help shift the balance of power back in your favor. By implementing these techniques, you may be able to process stress better. In turn, your cortisol levels should naturally decline.
Managing Cortisol Levels Naturally
There are many prescription medications out there that promise to help balance out cortisol levels. As anyone who has watched an ad during Jeopardy! knows, these medications tend to come with a long list of side effects. Thankfully, there are side-effect-free ways to manage your cortisol. Here are eight of them!
- Take Up Yoga/Deep Breathing Techniques
We know it doesn’t sound ideal, but imagine a situation where you are stressed. How do you think you look? Tense? Clenched? Balled up? Do these words describe your demeanor? Then in the words of Ariana Grande, “Just keeping breathing, breathing, breathing, breathing.”
Breath is our body’s reboot button. When we are under intense scrutiny, our instinct is to ball up. By clenching up, these actions cut off blood flow to areas of the body. This just creates a tight room for stress to fester inside.
Instead, let your breath clear the path. Studies show that deep, diaphragmatic breathing can help reduce stress levels. Sit up straight, and let the blood circulate to as many areas as possible.
Pay attention to your breaths getting deeper each time. By counting your breath intervals, you give your mind a reprieve from everyday stress. Instead of worrying about bills, work, or relationships, it has a task … counting.
A great way to improve your deep breathing techniques is yoga. Yoga is not only a body strengthener but a mind strengthener. To effectively combat cortisol, try a Vinyasa flow. This marries movements to breath. In turn, you are getting a better workout, redirecting your train of thought, and improving your diaphragm breathing.
- Change Up Your Diet
Diet has more to do with your stress than you realize. One thing that will always remain true is if your body is stressed, you will feel stressed. Therefore, if you’re not eating foods that play nice with your body, your body isn’t going to play nice with you.
Everyone needs to eat less refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, and dollar menu items in the drive-thru. Instead, we should be consuming more whole foods, whole grains, complex carbs, and lean proteins.
Here are some foods you should really start working into your menus:
- Salmon (rich in heart-healthy and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids)
- Dark greens (high in magnesium, a nutrient many are deficient in)
- Dark chocolate (boosts dopamine)
- Fermented foods (natural probiotics)
- Herbal tea (caffeine-free and in moderation lessens urination and electrolyte loss)
You want a balanced diet that consists of foods from every color of the rainbow. Each pigment contains unique compounds that other pigments don’t have. By getting a wide variety of micronutrients, your body is less susceptible to inflammation.
- Soak Up Some of that Vitamin D
We have the greatest natural resource up in the sky, and yet we rarely get to benefit from it. For many of us who work 9 to 5, we spend a good portion of our day in a cubicle or office. Therefore, we miss out on one of the most vital nutrients in the world, vitamin D.
Our body makes very little vitamin D on its own. Therefore, we must rely on the sun (or fortified milk) for this vital mineral. Seeing as our lifestyles aren’t conducive to sun-worshipping, over one billion people are vitamin D deficient.
While vitamin D is most associated with strong bones, there is more to this important nutrient than meets the eye. Studies have found that vitamin D is essential to the health of the adrenal gland.
As you may remember, this gland is the one that takes a severe beating every time our cortisol production gets out of control. Therefore, low levels of vitamin D may aid in symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue (whose symptoms mirror those of chronic stress).
You can take vitamin D supplements. Just be sure that they are taken with vitamin K2, boron, magnesium, and zinc. This will help with absorption. Otherwise, step outside. Many studies show that walks in nature go a long way in fighting stress.
- Catch Up on Your Zs
Ever get that instinct to take a nap when you’re stressed? Maybe you should. When your mind is on overload, sometimes it’s just best to shut it off.
Sleep is the only time of day where our body gets to repair itself. This includes fighting off all the symptoms associated with too much cortisol production.
One of the reasons we miss out on sleep during times of stress is that our body relies on hormones to fall asleep. In particular, it needs melatonin.
As we mentioned, when cortisol is running the show, then there’s no room for other hormones. So, fight fire with fire. Take a supplement rich in melatonin. This will help regulate your sleep cycle. And hey, while you’re asleep, you surely won’t be stressed. Therefore, your body will naturally cut down cortisol production.
- Cut Down on Caffeine
Sure, we all love of our coffee. However, it might not be loving us back. Studies show that too much coffee can elevate levels of stress.
Think of that burst of energy you get with coffee. Yes, it helps us speed through our day, but our body isn’t meant to be pushed that hard. You can have your first cup, maybe two … but then stop. Drink water instead. Not only will you feel energized, but your body will feel much less stressed.
No matter what, don’t drink coffee in the afternoon. Caffeine cuts off blood supply to areas of the brain. As a result, your pineal gland isn’t getting adequate nutrition. In turn, you may not produce the proper amount of melatonin in time to get shut-eye.
- Keep a Gratitude Journal
Want to feel less stressed? Dwell in it less. It’s hard to feel stressed when you are feeling grateful. That is why you should keep a gratitude journal.
A gratitude journal is a wonderful way to keep the big picture in perspective. It’s an opportunity to draw attention to the blessings rather than the curses.
To get in the habit of gratitude, keep a journal next to your bed. That way you can jot down what you are grateful for first thing in the morning. This is an easy way to start the day off on a positive note.
- Look Deep Within
Sometimes we need to face our demons in order to conquer stress. When stress becomes chronic, it means a cog within the machine isn’t working. We aren’t on this planet to live a life under constant stress. That isn’t living. That’s suffering.
So, figure out what is causing this stress. Has your relationship run its course? Did your career plateau? Are you due for a move out of this town?
Truth is, if you start to wonder about a scenario enough, it might be time to pull the trigger. Opt for change. It’s when we are outside of our comfort zones when we learn the most about ourselves.
- Take All-Natural Supplements Such as Ashwagandha
Supplements are great because they do just that … they supplement your everyday life. So, give your life a little extra pick-me-up. Take all-natural supplements that have shown to lower cortisol levels.
While we mentioned vitamin D and magnesium, one well-rounded supplement is ashwagandha. This supplement has been used in Ayurvedic practices for centuries. Today, studies confirm that ashwagandha is extremely effective in battling stress. In fact, ashwagandha KSM-66 lowered serum cortisol levels in test subjects by 27.9%!
This is because KSM-66 possess GABA-like activity. This is a neurotransmitter that helps settle down over-excited neutrons. As the name suggests, over-excited neutrons create an over-excited mind.
As you can see, you’re not alone in feeling the stress of everyday life. While the misery of others may seem comforting, there’s an even brighter side … others have fought cortisol overproduction naturally. That means you can as well.
Have you tried any of these techniques to lower your cortisol levels? What other techniques have you used? Let’s talk stress in the comments below!