3 Surprising Ways to Keep Your Stress Levels Down
Too much stress, too often?
It could help to engage in activities that reduce your cortisol levels so you can come back to calm.
Your body automatically releases cortisol, called the primary stress hormone, and adrenaline when you encounter stressful situations. This natural biochemical response primes your body to deal with danger by slowing digestion, reducing immune system function, flooding the system with glucose, narrowing the arteries, and increasing the heart rate, among other effects.
Once you’re out of danger, the body has a natural feedback loop that brings these hormones and functions back to baseline.
Unless you live a fast-paced, constantly stressed lifestyle with non-stop demands. If that’s the case, your body may produce cortisol almost continuously because it never feels out of danger.
The Dangers of Consistently High Cortisol
Consistently high cortisol levels can adversely impact your health. You might experience weight gain, digestive issues, high blood pressure, disturbed sleep, mood fluctuations, anxiety, depression, or headaches. Too much cortisol, on a continuous basis, can also contribute to diabetes and the onset of other serious health conditions like heart disease.
You might feel tempted to minimize the negative impact of stress in a culture that rewards hard workers and high achievers and frowns upon those who say no to extra hours or special assignments.
Naturally, you want to fit in. What’s a little lost sleep, weight gain, or moodiness if it will score you some points on the job?
But if you don’t pay attention to the early warning signs of too much stress, you might seriously regret it later if a serious condition develops.
So how’s your stress level? Be honest. If it's too much, too often, are you ready to take a crack at reducing cortisol?
3 Ways to Reduce Cortisol and Your Stress
There are many ways to reduce cortisol from eating specific foods to getting the right amount of sleep. I wrote about sleep and stress in The Sleep Stress Connection: How to Get the Rest You Need.
This time, I want to share two lesser known ways to reduce cortisol and an old standby which you may or may not be aware of, they are:
Let's see how each one can help you feel less stressed.
1. A Good Cry Can Relieve Stress
Did you know there are three different types of tears: reflex, continuous, and emotional?
According to a study conducted by Dr. William H. Frey II, a biochemist and director of the Psychiatry Research Laboratories at the St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Centre, emotional tears contain stress-related hormones: prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, and leucine enkephalin (a natural painkiller). Emotional tears shed in response to stress can help the body release chemicals that raise cortisol.
So if you feel stressed and overwhelmed, don’t hold it in. Let it out in a good cry. Studies show that almost everyone feels better after a good cry.
2. Sexual Intimacy Reduces Cortisol
Did you know that people with healthy sex lives have lower cortisol levels? In addition to lowering cortisol after an initial uptick, sex also releases endorphins - your body's feel-good neurotransmitters. And after orgasm, oxytocin levels increase, bringing relaxation and a decrease in anxiety.
There’s just one hitch. Too much cortisol can lower sexual drive. If you're constantly stressed, you may not feel the urge.
If so, make sexual intimacy a priority if you want to receive its stress-reducing benefits and all its other perks. Set up a regular date night, slip into something comfortable, and set the mood with candles and music — whatever works for you. Start with cuddles, hugs, and kisses, good ways to evoke the relaxation response.
3. Exercise for Less Stress
According to Harvard Health, aerobic exercise reduces the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin. It also releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which can have a beneficial effect on cortisol levels too.
You’ll need to exercise regularly to see a positive effect. That means 30-40 minutes of moderate exercise or 15-20 minutes of vigorous exercise most days of the week. If you’re not accustomed to exercise, start slow and build up.
Don't Go Overboard
Apply these cortisol reducers in moderation. Too much of a good thing can also have a detrimental effect.
The goal isn’t to reduce cortisol to zero, but for the hormone to function within a healthy range, which varies throughout the day. For example, in healthy people, cortisol levels rise in the morning to help you wake up and decrease at night to allow you to fall asleep
As always, you know yourself best. If you cry so much you can’t stop, it may not be an effective remedy for high cortisol. Only use methods that resonate for you, ones that really bring those stress levels down.
What's your favorite ways to stay out of the stress zone? I would love to hear in the comments.
Living with Ease Course
Need more help with stress? My e-course, Living with Ease, The Mindful Way to Less Stress, offers a complete roadmap for dissolving stress and preventing it from overwhelming you again. The course combines mindfulness, self-inquiry, and supportive stress reduction techniques to help you give stress the boot. Check out the course details here.
Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious! Don’t forget to sign up for Wild Arisings, my twice monthly letters from the heart filled with insights, inspiration, and ideas to help you connect with and live from your truest self. May you be happy, well, and safe – always. With love, Sandra