Its causes are absolutely everywhere. Would you agree?
Our natural “fight or flight” stress response is supposed to help us escape injury or death in an emergency and then return to normal after we’ve, well, fought or flew. But, in our society, with stressors basically ever-present – it becomes a long-term reaction. It becomes chronic.
You might already be familiar with the main stress hormone, called “cortisol.” It’s released from your adrenal glands in response to stress. It’s also naturally high in the morning to get you going, and slowly fades during the day so you can sleep.
Now did you know that too-high levels of cortisol are associated with belly fat, poor sleep, brain fog, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and even lowers your immunity?
Do you experience any of these? Keep reading – I have a list of foods, nutrients, and lifestyle recommendations to help you lower this stress hormone naturally!
Foods and nutrients to lower cortisol
Let’s start with one of the biggies that increase your cortisol.
I’ll give you a second to guess.
Did you guess?
Ready? Sugar. Whaaat?!
… Okay, no one’s surprised here. Sugar is getting a well-earned bad reputation for being at the root of myriad health problems, and stress is one of them. Reducing the sugar we eat and drink can be a great step toward better health for our minds (and bodies).
High doses of caffeine also increase your cortisol levels. If coffee makes you feel anxious and jittery, then cut back on the amount of caffeine you ingest. Check out my recent post on who should and shouldn’t have caffeine here.
Also, being dehydrated increases cortisol. Make sure you’re drinking enough water every day, especially if you feel thirsty.
Alright, those are things to avoid, but what can you have?
Eat a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods; this doesn’t just help reduce stress hormone, it helps all aspects of your health.
Lower your cortisol levels with tea and dark chocolate (NOT the sugary milky kind!). Have a bit to unwind. They contain an amino acid called l-theanine that supports neurotransmitters like GABA and serotonin, which help to keep anxiety at bay and make you feel calm and happy.
Don’t forget your probiotics and prebiotics! There is so much new research about the gut-mind connection, and how taking care of your friendly gut microbes is key! Make sure you’re eating probiotic-rich fermented foods like kimchi, tempeh, and sauerkraut, and getting a healthy dose of prebiotic fiber, high in foods like asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, avocados, and sweet potatoes.
Lifestyle techniques to lower cortisol
It’s not just food, but there are things you can do with your time that can lower cortisol.
Reduce your stress with mindfulness. Many studies show that reducing stressful thoughts and worry reduces cortisol. One of my favourite ways before bed – when anxiety can swirl unbidden for far too long – is to physically write down what’s stressing me in an actual journal, whether it’s my to-do list for the next day (or the next week), how I felt about an interaction that day, or whatever else I feel is swamping my thoughts… and then literally close the book on it all for the night.
Get enough exercise (but don’t overdo it). While intense exercise increases cortisol levels temporarily, it can reduce overall cortisol levels.
Get enough sleep! Getting adequate sleep is way too underrated. Sleep reduces cortisol levels and also helps improve your overall health in so many ways. Check out my recent post on improving your ability to sleep here.
Relax and have fun. Things like deep breathing, massages, dancing, playing an instrument, taking a walk, and listening to music all reduce cortisol. Reading and playing videogames or tabletop roleplaying games (I’m a D&D gal myself) are also great ways of getting out of your own head and into someone else’s (i.e. your character’s).
Be social and bust loneliness. Would you believe me if I told you that science has shown health risks from social isolation and loneliness? It’s true! Maintaining good relationships and spending time with people you like and who support you is key. If you’re an anxious introvert like me, don’t panic. This doesn’t mean go out to a loud party or crowded event if that’s not your thing. Make time within your own limits, with a close friend or family member for quality time over a matcha latte.
Too much of the stress hormone cortisol can have several negative impacts on your health. There are many proven ways to reduce levels of cortisol naturally.
In terms of foods and nutrients, have less sugar and caffeine. And have more water, fruit, tea, dark chocolate, probiotics, and prebiotics.
Lifestyle factors are huge when it comes to cortisol. To lower yours, exercise (but not too much), get more sleep, relax, and have more fun.
In the comments below, let me know your favourite ways to bust the stress hormone cortisol!
De-Stressing Chocolate Pudding
- 3 ripe avocados
- ¼ cup cacao powder (unsweetened)
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 dash salt
Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Try adding a pinch of cinnamon for a deeper flavour.