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Stress & Cortisol: What Are the Benefits of Stress Relief

What does stress do to the body?

Stress releases the hormone cortisol into your system which we often experience as the fight or flight response. Psychology Today reports that prolonged stress and too much cortisol causes difficulty with memory, lower immune function, increased weight gain, blood pressure, and cholesterol… not to mention heart disease, decreased resilience, and a trigger for mental illness.

Cortisol plays an important role in a number of things your body does. For example, it:

  • Manages how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins

  • Keeps inflammation down

  • Regulates your blood pressure

  • Increases your blood sugar (glucose)

  • Controls your sleep/wake cycle

  • Boosts energy so you can handle stress and restores balance afterward

What if you’re under constant stress? How can this impact my body?

It can derail your body’s most important functions. It can also lead to a number of health problems, including:

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Headaches

  • Heart disease

  • Memory and concentration problems

  • Problems with digestion

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Weight gain

As you can see, stress affects the body and can, in the long term, lead to serious health conditions. That's why it's important to find ways to deal with and release stress throughout your life.

What are some natural ways to lower cortisol?

1. Lower your stress levels

Find ways to lower stress levels. Grounding, yoga and meditation are great ways to lower stress.

2. Eating a good diet

Some foods that may help to keep cortisol levels stable include:

  • dark chocolate

  • bananas and pears

  • black or green tea

  • probiotics in food such as yogurt

  • probiotics in foods containing soluble fiber

Drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration also helps to keep cortisol levels lower.

3. Sleeping well

The amount of sleep that a person has can affect their cortisol levels.

A bad night’s sleep or more prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of cortisol in the bloodstream.

Therefore, it is essential for people to pay attention to the amount and quality of sleep they have and try to limit the chance of disruptions.

4. Trying relaxation techniques

People experiencing stress can try to manage it by experimenting with relaxation techniques.

Meditation, mindfulness, and even simple breathing exercises can help a person deal with stress more effectively.

5. Taking up a hobby

Hobbies can be a rewarding and satisfying way to lead a fuller and healthier life, and they can lead to an increased sense of well-being.

A study on substance abuse treatments found that gardening led to decreased levels of cortisol. It also seemed to improve quality of life more than the conventional occupational therapy.

6. Learning to unwind

People relax in different ways, so understanding what works on a personal level can be beneficial.

Research has shown that relaxation exercises and listening to relaxing music can both reduce cortisol levels, but whatever helps an individual to manage their stress will be beneficial.

7. Laughing and having fun

It is hard to feel stressed when having a good time, so finding time to have fun can also lower a person’s cortisol levels. One study showed cortisol levels decreasing in response to laughter.

Being happy and having a positive outlook appear to be related to lower cortisol levels, and happiness has other benefits too, such as lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system.

8. Exercising

Exercise can help to improve a person’s mood. Being physically active is beneficial to health and can improve a person’s mood. Intense exercise can, however, trigger an increase in cortisol levels, as this is the body’s way of coping with the additional stress that the exercise places upon it.

The appropriate amount of exercise depends on various factors, including a person’s physical fitness, and these factors play a part in how much cortisol the body will release during exercise.

9. Avoiding caffeine at night

People trying to lower their cortisol levels should avoid consuming food and beverages containing caffeine in the evening. Caffeine can interfere with a good night’s sleep, and sleeping well can keep cortisol levels low.

10. Maintaining a good bedtime routine

A good bedtime routine usually results in longer and higher-quality sleep. People should get into the habit of turning off all screens and just relaxing before heading to bed.

It will usually also help to keep phones, and any other potential distractions turned off. Limiting fluid intake before bedtime can also minimize the likelihood of disturbed sleep.

11. Having good relationships

Stable, loving relationships with partners, friends, and family can be vital when it comes to leading a happy and fulfilled life, and they can help a person get through stressful periods.

If relationships are unhappy and unhealthy, however, they can cause a great deal of stress.

One study indicated that a person’s cortisol level can rise after an argument with their partner. Another trusted source reported that children with a happy and secure family life have lower levels of cortisol than those living in homes where there is regular conflict.

12. Getting a pet

Some studies indicate that having a pet can lower cortisol levels.

One study measured levels of cortisol in children undergoing a standard medical procedure. Those who had a dog present during the procedure had lower cortisol levels than those who did not.

Another study found that contact with a dog was more beneficial for cortisol levels than a supportive friend during a stressful situation.

13. Taking supplements

Both fish oil and an Asian herbal supplement called ashwagandha have shown the ability to reduce cortisol levels, so taking these supplements alongside a healthful diet could be beneficial.

Parts of this article were sourced from


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