Cortisol is a necessary hormone produced by the adrenals, that assists in keeping our bodies in homeostasis. Our prehistoric ancestors benefited greatly from cortisol, as it is what allowed them to escape the wrath of a woolly mammoth or saber tooth tiger. In modern times, it is what our body calls upon when we need to immediately slam on the brakes to avoid a car accident. One of the pitfalls of modern life, however, is that most people consistently have stress reactions to stressors that are not actually life or death, such as a big exam, being late to work, or an argument with a loved one. Thus, it is critically important to naturally balance your cortisol to avoid the detrimental consequences of being chronically stressed.
Cortisol levels should fluctuate throughout the day following a circadian rhythm, starting high in the morning to provide energy when we wake up, then tapering off in the evening and night so we can sleep. During extended periods of high stress, our cortisol patterns can shift, become too high, or too low. Increased cortisol is a byproduct of chronic stress and can lead to health conditions such as blood sugar imbalances, insomnia, decreased bone density and muscle mass, lowered immune function and slow wound healing, and difficulty losing weight, especially abdominal fat. Below are 8 natural ways to balance your cortisol, feel refreshed in the morning, sleep well at night, and improve your stress response.
8 WAYS TO NATURALLY BALANCE YOUR CORTISOL
A great way to lower cortisol, studies have shown that meditation decreases cortisol. Saying “OM” repeatedly actually tones the vagus nerve, which helps relax the body and also improves digestive function. A great app to us for this is calm.com. It includes guided meditations, body scans, and different meditation programs of various lengths.
Foods high in Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Omega 3 fatty acids, and Magnesium can help lower cortisol. Some examples of these foods are walnuts, wild salmon, citrus fruit, spinach, berries, liver, papaya, and dark chocolate.
3: Walk in Nature
We all know that walking is great for us and slow leisurely walks can be very meditative. Research has shown that walks in nature lower cortisol more dramatically than walking in a city or on a treadmill. When it is safe to do so, looking up at the sky while walking can provide even more cortisol lowering benefits.
Develop an attitude of Gratitude! Researchers have known for a while that feeling grateful improves our health all around. Research demonstrates that after 4 weeks, individuals who cultivated appreciation and other positive emotions were able to lower their cortisol levels by 23%. A great way to do this is to have a gratitude journal by your bed. Every night, write down 3-5 things for which you are grateful.
This one is a bit complicated as exercise temporarily increases cortisol, using it to burn fat for fuel. However, when we are sedentary, the hypothalamus in the brain does not optimally balance cortisol released from the adrenals. With regular exercise though, the hypothalamus’ function improves and there is an overall cortisol lowering effect.
The beauty of yoga is that it combines exercise and meditation. There are poses that are invigorating and ones that are relaxing. Working some relaxing poses into your evening routine can help lower cortisol and improve sleep. Yoga Download offers classes online for various skill levels. Look for Hatha and Restorative classes.
Herbs known as adaptogens can help bring balance to the body, manage cortisol, and help you adapt to stress. Good ones which are well researched are Holy Basil, Rhodiola rosea, Ashwagandha, and Ginseng. If your results on a salivary cortisol lab test indicate high evening and night cortisol levels, my favorite supplement containing adaptogens is Cortisol Manager by Integrative Therapeutics.
How we hold our body is often overlooked but has a huge influence on our health. Dominant expansive postures that keep our back straight, chest open, and head up can help lower cortisol, and do so quickly. For example, a 2010 Columbia and Harvard study had participants stand with expansive body language in two different poses for just 1 minute each, and took before and after saliva samples. They found a measurable decrease in cortisol levels after this short period of holding the pose compared to the control group which held a low power pose with slouched posture. Of course, on the flip side, poor posture can raise cortisol.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO BALANCE YOUR CORTISOL?
Let me know in the comments!