We all experience stress in our lives. Whether it be due to family, work, school or other environmental factors, it is something that we all need to deal with. In this article we will cover how to lower cortisol levels naturally.
Our body has a way to respond to stress via a mechanism known as the HPA axis (H= hypothalamus; P= pituitary, A= adrenal).
When our body experiences a stress it triggers a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus which then releases a hormone called corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH). CRH then reaches the pituitary gland and another hormone called adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) is released. ACTH then reaches the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands then release our primary stress hormone, cortisol.
Cortisol triggers a ‘stress response’ in our body which is designed to help us ‘fight or flight.’ Our heart beat and breathing rate increases, blood circulation and blood pressure increases, our muscles tense, and our thinking patterns change. Our mind gets into defensive mode and starts ‘looking’ for danger and solutions to problematic situations. That’s why many people talk about having a racing mind during stressful situations. This is helpful when there is danger, but becomes problematic when the danger is in our imagination; or if the danger or stressor is chronic.
This HPA response is very helpful during times of stress, but for many people it is triggered too frequently and/or its response is excessive given the stressor. When cortisol is elevated for too long it can damage various organs in the body, particularly the brain. Cortisol can also disrupt several other important hormones in the body including insulin, testosterone, oestrogen, mood-related neurotransmitters, plus many more.
If you are suffering from chronic stress then it is important that you learn ways to reduce cortisol circulation in the body. Some solutions include:
Participating in regular exercise can help move your mind away from the stress that is occupying your life. Higher cortisol levels are also useful during exercise, so in a sense, exercise can help utilise the cortisol.
When we are stressed our diets often deteriorate. Unfortunately skipping meals, eating sugary foods and drinks, and consuming additive loaded foods will on serve to continue to disrupt the HPA axis.
This can involve learning formal relaxation such as progressive muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, meditation and yoga. However, these forms of relaxation take practice. Consider other activities that you find soothing. This will vary greatly across individuals. What activities help move your attention away from the stress?
While our lives can be stressful, often stress occurs in the mind. We predict bad future events which then triggers the HPA response. Our body doesn’t really care if the stress is real or imagined. It reacts the same way. Leaning a therapy known as cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) can help you to change (or react differently) to your thoughts. There are different forms of CBT available. These can be learnt from reading a good self-help book, completing an online program, or seek the assistance from a mental health professional such as a psychologist.
While there are certain medications that can regulate the HPA response, there are also several natural herbs and nutrients that can achieve this outcome. Studies show that theanine from green tea, rhodiola, and magnesium can lower cortisol levels. Even fish oils have been found to lower cortisol concentrations in the body. If you are looking for a high-quality form of these nutrients, then focus on buying Australian-manufactured and owned brands of these supplements.
If you are someone currently suffering from chronic stress and anxiety, you are not alone. However, there are effective, natural ways to lower your stress response… many of these outlined in this article.