Stress has become an inevitable part of our lives today. Cortisol is a naturally occurring hormone, often called the stress hormone, that plays a key role in your body's stress response. When a stressful or dangerous situation occurs, our brain goes into ‘fight or flight mode’, and signals the adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones — including cortisol and adrenaline. This release of hormones can cause your heart rate to increase, your breathing to quicken, and your muscles to tense.
Also read: How stress sabotages your mental and physical health, and how to manage it
Usually, the hormone levels go back to normal once the threat passes. But the cortisol levels remain increased in people under chronic stress. While cortisol is essential for survival, chronically elevated levels can lead to various health issues such as weight gain, impaired immune function, depression, digestive problems, and mood disturbances.
Fortunately, there are natural ways to help regulate cortisol levels and promote overall well-being. Here are five effective, natural ways backed by proven scientific researches, to turn the dial down on stress and lower the cortisol levels:
1. Practice mindful relaxation techniques:
Mindful meditation is a powerful technique that can help reduce stress. By focussing on the present moment and cultivating a non-judgmental awareness, such relaxation techniques have proven to decrease cortisol secretion. Allocating just a few minutes each day to practice mindfulness through yoga, deep breathing, and meditation, can provide significant benefits for stress management.
2. Get sufficient sleep:
Adequate sleep is vital for maintaining optimal cortisol levels. Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can contribute to increased cortisol production. Aim for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night to support healthy cortisol regulation. Establishing a consistent sleep routine and creating a relaxing sleep environment can improve the quality and duration of your sleep.
3. Engage in regular exercise:
Exercise is a natural stress reliever that can help balance cortisol levels. Engaging in moderate-intensity aerobic exercises, such as brisk walking or cycling, has been found to reduce cortisol levels and alleviate the negative effects of chronic stress. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week to promote optimal cortisol regulation and overall well-being.
4. Incorporate adaptogenic herbs into your diet:
Certain herbs, known as adaptogens, have been used for centuries to support the body's stress response. Adaptogens like ashwagandha, Rhodiola rosea, and holy basil have been shown to help regulate cortisol levels and enhance resilience to stress. These herbs can be consumed in supplement form or added to teas and smoothies.
5. Prioritise a balanced diet:
Eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet can positively impact cortisol levels. Include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds, as they have been shown to help regulate cortisol levels. Avoid excessive consumption of caffeine and refined sugars, as they can contribute to cortisol imbalances. Instead, opt for whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates to support overall hormone balance.