June 04, 2024

How to Lower Your Cortisol Levels

Woman sitting with her eyes closed

Cortisol is your body’s primary stress hormone. When you perceive a threat, it can increase the amount of sugar in your blood, promote the conversion of glucose into energy, increase heart and respiration rates, and cause other changes that support the so-called fight-or-flight response. Essentially, it prepares your body to take action in stressful situations.

Cortisol affects nearly every type of tissue — musculoskeletal, nervous, immune, cardiovascular, reproductive, etc. — so it’s crucial that your body only releases it when appropriate. Ongoing exposure to cortisol is unhealthy.

This article explains how you can lower your cortisol levels when the hormone isn’t needed.

Health Problems From Excessive Cortisol

If your body stays in fight-or-flight mode after a threat has passed, the heightened level of stimulation can cause, worsen, or increase your risk of several health problems, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Weight gain
  • Digestive issues
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis

Tips for Lowering Cortisol Naturally

The actions below can help reduce your stress level and decrease the amount of cortisol in your blood:

  • Eat a healthy diet. What you eat can affect your cortisol levels. For example, excessive sugar intake can elevate them, while consuming whole grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and plenty of water can help you manage your cortisol levels. Your doctor can provide more details on foods to avoid and favor.
  • Exercise regularly. Your doctor can advise you on the intensity and amount of exercise that’s right for you based on your health, but a good rule of thumb is to try and get 150 to 200 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity exercise weekly.
  • Get enough sleep. Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, limit caffeine and nicotine intake (especially later in the day), reduce exposure to bright light (like screens) for an hour or more before bedtime, and sleep in a cool, dark, quiet environment.
  • Catch and correct stressful thinking. Practicing mindfulness is one of the best ways to avoid thoughts that raise your stress level. That means learning to focus on what’s happening in the present moment rather than thinking about past or future events. In other words, what sounds, smells, textures, etc., are you experiencing right now?
  • Use deep breathing exercises. Breathing slower and more deeply helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Rather than fight-or-flight, its role is “rest and digest.”
  • Practice prayer or meditation. Developing or returning to spiritual practices can help reduce your stress hormones.
  • Laugh often. Laughing suppresses stress hormones and releases endorphins. Interestingly, both natural and fake laughter can help lower your stress level.
  • Develop hobbies. Activities like listening to music, dancing, gardening, and creating art are excellent ways to lower stress and cortisol levels.
  • Create and maintain positive relationships. Spend time with people you like. If you find yourself in conflict with someone, work to resolve the issue in the best way possible.
  • Adopt a pet. Caring for a companion animal can reduce cortisol levels and benefit the pet, too!
  • Talk with your doctor about supplements. Evidence suggests supplements like fish oil and ashwagandha may support lower cortisol levels. Ask your physician if supplementing your diet is a good option for you.

A Note on “Cortisol Imbalance”

Be aware that the term “cortisol imbalance,” which is being used more frequently (particularly on social media), has no medical meaning. Your cortisol level may be high (or low), but the notions of “balancing” your levels or “treatments” for imbalances are misleading.

Your focus should be on reducing your stress. As you make progress toward that goal, your cortisol levels will decline.

Get Help With Stress Reduction From Baptist Health

Everyone experiences stress periodically. However, being frequently or continually stressed and producing more cortisol than necessary is bad for your body and mind. Contact your Baptist Health primary care physician for help managing your stress.

Need to find a doctor? Check out our online provider directory.

Learn More.