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Balance Your Cortisol (Stress) Levels Naturally

Many people know and have heard their doctor talk about the importance of eating healthy and exercising as part of a healthy lifestyle. A third and often overlooked component to a healthy lifestyle is stress management. Cortisol, our most powerful stress hormone, is responsible for telling our body how to react in times of stress.

Our Bodies During Stress

When stress happens, cortisol levels rise to give you a surge of energy to help escape “danger.” This hormonal response doesn’t distinguish between good stress (a challenge at work) and bad stress (unemployment). With any stress, cortisol raises your blood sugar and blood pressure while lowering immune system response. The resulting “fight or flight” energy burst can feel good for about 10-20 minutes. When it's gone, it leaves you feeling tired but wired.

Keeping blood cortisol levels even is an important part of feeling good, staying healthy, and managing weight. Too much cortisol prompts the body to store fuel in the form of fat, usually around the waist. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to keep your cortisol levels under control.

Changes in Levels Is Normal

Aside from drastic swings in response to stress, cortisol levels fluctuate normally according to things like time of day, foods eaten, and exercise schedules. Knowing this can help you control stress triggers through diet changes, exercise habits, and finding ways to relax consciously.

Due to frequent hormone changes with their monthly menstrual cycle and with pregnancy and menopause, women especially experience cortisol levels change, sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis. (Read Managing Weight During and After Menopause)

Natural Ways To Balance Cortisol Levels  

  • Go to bed each night at the same time, wake up at the same time, and get out in the sunshine. This creates a good circadian rhythm, which optimizes your hormone balance naturally
  • Limit alcohol. You might think it relaxes you, but alcohol actually increases cortisol
  • Avoid caffeine, sugar, and processed food. Better-eating guru Michael Pollen’s quote “Eat foods from a plant, not made in a plant,” is a good reminder to eat food that is natural and whole
  • Exercise. However, be aware that running hard and overtraining without enough rest can increase cortisol. The constant demand for glucose to the muscles can create a form of chronic stress.  You may find yoga, Pilates, or walking in nature helps relax your mind while exercising your body
  • Get a monthly massage to reduce stress and relax muscles
  • Consider talking to your doctor or pharmacist about taking dietary supplements such as vitamin B complex, vitamin C, and fish oil, as intake levels vary
  • Try meditation to slow your mind down, reduce anxiety, and lower cortisol levels.  Even deep breathing can help. If you’ve never tried meditation, here’s a guide to help you get started 

As always, if you have concerns about stress or its effects on your health, talk with your doctor. Testing and/or treatment options may be recommended depending on your signs and symptoms.

Meet the Author

Paula Carlton, NP is a Nurse Practitioner at Aurora Health Center in West Bend, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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