Stress is the body's natural response to any kind of demand or threat. In small doses, stress is actually quite helpful and could even save your life. But past a certain point, it becomes a huge problem. It can damage your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and quality of life. Here's how it happens:
In the face of harm or emergencies, the sympathetic nervous system activates your stress response or fight-or-flight response as a way of giving you protection. This involves the release of stress hormones known as adrenaline and cortisol.
If there is a physical release of fight or flight, cortisol levels will eventually go back to normal. In the absence of release, however, cortisol builds up in the blood, and this is when it becomes dangerous. Having too much cortisol in the blood is not only stressful for the heart; over time, it also increases your risk of developing serious health problems, such as Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and hypertension.
Natural ways to reduce cortisol levels
Fortunately, there are many ways of lowering your cortisol levels. Taking supplements together with healthy food and making smart lifestyle choices can help you cope better when you're stressed.
Fish oil – Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, the main contributors to fish oil's ability to decrease blood cortisol levels. Omega-3s are found in food but can also be taken in supplement form. Omega-3-rich fish oil is beneficial to people because it supports heart, eye, and skin health, helps with certain mental disorders, aids in weight loss, and reduces fatty liver and inflammation.
Probiotics and prebiotics – Probiotics and prebiotics are not only good for the gut, they also reduce stress symptoms and boost immune health. Probiotics are live bacteria that are naturally created through fermentation. These live bacteria support digestive health and even alleviate gut problems caused by infections. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are non-digestible fibers found in foods like bananas, onions, garlic, and beans. Because they cannot be digested, they go through the small intestine intact and are fermented in the large colon.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
If taking supplements doesn't appeal to you, there are simple lifestyle choices you can make that will lower your cortisol levels. Here are five things to incorporate into your life:
Regular physical activity – Aerobic activities like jogging or swimming can become your outlet as it can help you recreate the "flight" response. By getting physical release, you can reduce your cortisol levels naturally. Learning kickboxing or other fighting forms could also recreate the "fight" response and become another way of getting physical release.
Meditation – Deep breathing is helpful for lowering anxiety and cortisol levels because it engages the vagus nerve that regulates heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels. Practicing meditation can also instill a sense of calm in your mind as well as the rest of your body.
Social connectivity – Aside from deep breaths, the vagus nerve also responds to human connectivity and physical touch. Therefore, building close bonds with other people may help lower your cortisol levels. Additionally, the tend-and-befriend response, which is also our body's response to threat in some situations, is the opposite of fight-and-flight. This gentler response is accompanied by an increase in oxytocin, a hormone that reduces blood pressure and cortisol.
Laughter and levity – Having fun and enjoying other people's sense of humor can also reduce your cortisol levels. Laughter is linked to lower levels of stress hormones.
Music – Enjoying music is another way to return your cortisol levels to normal. Music has the power to improve our moods and reduce stress. It can also make us happy, which is very effective at reversing the effects of stress.