Stress is a normal feeling—but living in a constant state of it isn’t good for your health. Luckily, figuring out how to lower cortisol can help relieve stress and therefore boost both physical and mental health.
Cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone,” is an important hormone produced by the adrenal glands, explains Deena Adimoolam, M.D., a specialist in diabetes and endocrinology and assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai. “It’s important to understand that it is normal for cortisol values, just like all our hormones, to fluctuate depending on the time of day, our activities, stress levels, sleep patterns, and beyond,” Dr. Adimoolam continues. These fluctuations are an important part of the body’s functioning.
Table of Contents
What happens if cortisol levels are too high?
While the hormone plays a key role in our bodies, when cortisol levels are too high you can experience a number of unwanted mental and physical consequences. Chronically high levels of cortisol can contribute to poor mood regulation, interfere with learning and memory, and even impair immune and metabolic function, according to Monisha Bhanote, M.D., A.B.O.I.M., integrative lifestyle physician and author of The Anatomy of Wellbeing.
How to lower cortisol levels
If you are concerned with the effects of stress or your cortisol levels, it’s always best to speak with your physician. But in the meantime, experts suggest trying out some of the below strategies to lower cortisol levels naturally.
1. Get enough sleep
Both Dr. Bhanote and Dr. Adimoolam agree that finessing your sleep schedule is key to regulating cortisol levels. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night to keep cortisol in check. Have trouble sleeping? Try a cup of chamomile tea, and check out some tips on how to sleep better than ever.
2. Eat a balanced diet
Consuming a balanced diet can also help regulate cortisol, according to Dr. Bhanote. Be sure to craft a diet with “adequate vitamins and minerals, particularly magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids,” Dr. Bhanote says.
3. Identify stressors
Stress is a substantial cause of high cortisol levels, which is why Dr. Adimoolam suggests figuring out what aspects of your life are stressful. By identifying your stressors you can then find ways to manage them and hopefully lower your cortisol.
4. Meditate and be mindful
Mindfulness is a great relaxation technique that has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, our experts explain. Dr. Bhanote suggests trying progressive muscle relaxation, which is a type of meditation that encourages focus on different body parts—from your head to your toes—and helps relieve tension by making you more aware of bodily sensations.
5. Try deep breathing
Dr. Adimoolam also suggests deep breathing exercises as another powerful technique for reducing cortisol and lowering stress. Breath work has even been shown to lower blood pressure and hypertension. There are numerous mindful breathing exercises you can try, like the 4-7-8 breathing technique that was popularized by integrative medicine specialist Andrew Weil, M.D.
6. Embrace nature
Nature has so many mental health benefits. Dr. Bhanote recommends spending time outdoors for lowering cortisol and reducing stress. Try out one of the best walks in America, visit a trail or botanical garden, or even just take your lunch break outside for an extra dose of sunshine and fresh air.
7. Increase social interaction
“Human connections and social support play a crucial role in managing stress and cortisol,” Dr. Bhanote explains. “Engaging in positive social interactions, seeking support when needed, and fostering strong relationships can be beneficial.”
8. Implement self-care strategies
A self-care routine is something everyone can do to keep cortisol levels in check, according to Dr. Adimoolam. Self-care can look different for everyone, but at its core, it “involves taking time to do things that will help you improve both your mental and physical health, ” Haley Perlus, Ph.D., sports and performance psychologist, previously told Prevention.
9. Limit caffeine
“Overconsumption of caffeine can elevate cortisol levels,” Dr. Bhanote explains. “It’s advisable to consume it in moderation.” According to one study, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system leading to higher cortisol levels. Try limiting yourself to one cup of coffee or tea (or your caffeinated beverage of choice) and notice the changes you feel each day.
10. Use herbs and supplements with caution
“Certain adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha and Rhodiola rosea have been traditionally used to combat stress,” Dr. Bhanote explains. However, it is always recommended to speak with your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet. “If you are concerned over your cortisol levels, talk to an endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in all hormones) and they can do some tests to help you understand if you should be concerned over your cortisol and what to do next,” says Dr. Adimoolam.
Dietary supplements are products intended to supplement the diet. They are not medicines and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure diseases. Be cautious about taking dietary supplements if you are pregnant or nursing. Also, be careful about giving supplements to a child, unless recommended by their healthcare provider.
Shannen Zitz is an Assistant Editor at Prevention, where she covers all things lifestyle, wellness, beauty, and relationships. Previously the Editorial Assistant at Prevention, she graduated from the State University of New York at Cortland with a bachelor's degree in English. If she’s not reading or writing, you can probably find her frequenting the skincare and makeup forums on Reddit or hogging the squat rack at the gym.
Dr. Brooke Williams, is an accomplished Board-Certified Internal Medicine specialist who serves as a dedicated Hospitalist in North Carolina. Having successfully completed her residency training in the vibrant South-suburbs of Chicago, she also took the initiative to co-found a commendable nonprofit organization named Color of Medicine. This organization is committed to promoting diversity in medicine and STEM fields, with a particular focus on empowering underrepresented minorities. Dr. Williams passionately advocates for enhancing cultural competency and addressing racial health disparities within minority communities, displaying unwavering dedication to creating a more inclusive and equitable healthcare landscape.