10 Natural Ways to Lower Cortisol & Reduce Stress

Published: October 7, 2021

You may or may not have heard of the word cortisol, but chances are if you’re reading this you suspect a cortisol imbalance, or have recently been diagnosed with elevated cortisol levels. So let’s talk about some natural ways to lower cortisol!

Cortisol – The primary stress hormone, produced mainly in the adrenals glands in response to stress and low blood sugar levels.

My Experience With High Cortisol

I was diagnosed with elevated cortisol levels a few months ago, and ever since then I’ve been on a hunt to find the best natural remedies to bring balance back into my body. I can honestly say I have tried ALL of these tips and they all benefitted me to different degrees.

It was crazy to me that my tests came back with abnormally high cortisol, as I was already eating healthy, exercising, and meditating often. The problem was, I exercised  TOO MUCH and was eating too little to sustain it.

This led to anxiety, depression, and adrenal fatigue manifesting into my life, which was why I sought out testing. “I’m a pretty zen person, how can my cortisol levels be high?!” I thought to myself when the doctor told me the news. I didn’t necessarily feel stressed, but that was the problem. My body was so used to functioning on high alert, that I got used to the feeling! Once I made a big effort to incorporate all of these tips into my life, my symptoms started to abate.

What I can say is this: if you have a cortisol imbalance or suspect that you do, these tips will make a huge positive impact on your quality of life, and help you feel healthy again. 

So What Does Cortisol Do In The Body?

Cortisol isn’t an inherently ‘’bad’’ hormone, as it does serve an important function – triggering the fight or flight response in times of perceived danger. Cortisol levels also rise in the morning or during exercise and then fall throughout the day enabling you to wind down and go to sleep. It plays an important part in our body. However, having an excess of cortisol long term can have various negative effects on the body, such as:

  • Insulin resistance which can lead to weight gain
  • Breakdown of protein & Muscle wasting 
  • Weakened immune system
  • Osteoporosis
  • Lowers stomach acid secretion, affecting digestion
  • Impaired learning and memory
  • Affect mood & emotional regulation

Natural Ways To Lower Cortisol- How To Lower Cortisol Levels And Lose Weight

You might be asking, what are natural remedies for cortisol imbalance? In this article, we will cover ways to lower cortisol naturally.

Reduce stress

Stress is a huge trigger for the body in producing cortisol, so identifying and reducing stress levels is a great place to start. A great way to get in touch with what causes you stress in daily life is to listen to your body’s signals. Here are some symptoms you may experience if you are stressed:

  • Low energy
  • Rapid heartbeat or chest pain
  • Headaches/Racing thoughts
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
  • Aches, pains, and tense muscles
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent colds or infections
  • Lowered libido/performance in the bedroom

It is important to listen when the body whispers, so you do not have to hear it scream! If you find these symptoms starting to creep up during your day, take note of the situation you’re in, the thoughts you are having, and who you are around at that moment. These can be key indicators that something is stressing you out, and that is when you can begin to set boundaries or eliminate daily stressors.

Set Boundaries

For a lot of people, excess stress comes from the inability to say no and being stretched too thin, be it at work, in your relationships or with your kids’ extracurriculars. Setting strict boundaries with taking care of your needs in mind can drastically switch the focus of your life for the better! Many of us just want to make everyone around us happy but remember – you cannot pour from an empty cup! That is why it is CRITICAL for you to set healthy boundaries and prioritize time for you to recharge and do the things you love.

Practice Meditation & Mindfulness

Some great ways to do this are:

Cuddle With A Loved One Or A Pet

When you are cuddling, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin, which helps you better manage stress! Not to mention we could all use a few extra cuddles in our day!

Enjoy Light Exercise

Gentle exercise can yield stress-reducing benefits, but the key is not to overdo it! Here are examples of ways to incorporate gentle exercise into your daily routine. 

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Resistance Training
  • Dancing
  • Biking (outdoor or stationery)
  • Tai Chi
  • Elliptical

Doing any of these for 30 minutes 4-5 times a week will help you reach the recommended activity level for optimal health. Avoid sprints, Boxing, HIIT or heavy PR weight training if you have elevated cortisol levels, as these types of exercise will exacerbate the problem.

Prioritize Sleep & Rest

Lacking enough sleep can raise cortisol levels, so you must make time for a full night’s sleep. Most adults need between 6-9 hours of sleep per night, so shooting within this range would be beneficial. Try to go to sleep and wake up at similar times each day, to help your body regulate its circadian rhythm.

Laugh!

Don’t take life too seriously! Although this point does tie into mindfulness and finding joy in the smallest things in life, it is also very important to laugh and ENJOY the human experience. An easy way to do this might be to listen to a funny podcast or watch a comedy movie. I find many of us often get much too caught up in the hustle and bustle of life to slow down and look at our mistakes (or silly mishaps) through a comical lens.

Natural Ways To Lower Cortisol: Nutrition Mindfullness

Lower Your Intake Of Foods That May Spike Cortisol Levels

Moderation is key when it comes to some of the foods on this list. They have been known to cause cortisol spikes and work against you in your efforts to lower your stress levels.

  • Trans fats & vegetable oils – These are most often found in fast food, however they can sneak into packaged foods from the store. Be on the lookout for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, as well as palm oil, canola oil,or vegetable oil on the ingredient list.
  • Fruit Juices – Due to the removal of the natural fiber that is present in whole fruits, fruit juices spike insulin, which lead to a sudden drop in blood sugar 1-2 hours later, spiking cortisol and hunger.
  • Caffeine – Spikes cortisol levels and places further stress on adrenal glands.That means reducing/eliminating energy drinks (which are full of chemicals anyways) as well as coffee. If you’re like me and could NEVER give up coffee, try switching to decaf. The first couple days suck, but after that you’ll find you don’t need coffee for energy and feel totally fine without it! I love decaf because it still fills that spot in your heart in the mornings that coffee used to fill, and it feels like the exact same morning ritual.
  • Alcohol – Causes oxidative stress in the liver and further wreaks havoc on cortisol levels in the body. It may be tempting to ‘’relax’’ with a drink after a stressful work day but it will only make the problem worse.
  • Starchy carbs – Without pairing them with a fiber, protein or fat source to balance them out. Things such as white rice, white bread, and potatoes are a few examples of high starch and high carb foods that increase insulin, and then a sharp drop which increases cortisol.
  • Any processed foods – Especially deli meats, have high levels of preservatives, additives, sweeteners or flavour enhancers added. These ingredients wreak havoc on your gut bacteria, and cause inflammation in the digestive tract, increasing cortisol.
  • Any foods you are allergic or intolerant/ sensitive to – These will trigger an immune  response and inflammation within your body, spiking cortisol. If you randomly feel shitty after certain meals but can’t really pinpoint why, an intolerance might be the cause. If you suspect any food intolerances or allergies, book an allergy test with your doctor to be sure. Allergies can come and go through life, so keep in mind just because a certain food didn’t bother you in the past, doesn’t mean your body isn’t reacting to it now!

Eat More Cortisol Reducing Foods: What Foods Lower Cortisol Levels?

  • Gut friendly foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, greek yoghurt, kombucha or any fermented foods
  • Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated will help to reduce cortisol levels. Your recommended daily water intake should be between 2-3 L depending on your activity level.
  • Any fiber rich, whole foods
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Papaya
  • Blueberries
  • Mango
  • Pineapple
  • Oranges
  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Mushrooms
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Leafy Greens 
  • Broccoli
  • Eggs
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Garlic
  • Holy Basil
  • Onions
  • Quinoa & Whole Grains
  • Black & green teas

Supplement With Cortisol Lowering Vitamins and Minerals

There are a few key vitamins & minerals you can add to your daily routine to significantly improve cortisol levels. I will be posting a list of all the great options for you soon so stay tuned!

Final Thoughts

Reducing your cortisol levels can make you happier, healthier, and improve your quality of life.  Speaking from experience, living life with an elevated level of cortisol is much more uncomfortable and difficult than living one with stabilized levels. Having implemented these tips into my own life has made a night and day difference, and I know they can for you too. Trying out these tips can be a way to improve your life easily and sustainably. I hope that these strategies will help you lower the level of stress hormones in your body so that you feel less anxious, and more at peace! If you have any questions or need help on how to implement these tips into your life, feel free to reach out to me via the contact me page, I’m always here to help!

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