Cortisol is typically known as “the stress hormone.” In our modern day culture where busy is the new norm, stress definitely seems to be something we’re all trying to avoid, and therefore cortisol is usually seen as an enemy.
Cortisol, however, isn’t all bad. In fact, it plays an important role in fat loss too. Dr. Jade Teta and author of the Metabolic Effect more accurately describes cortisol as the Jekyll and Hyde of hormones for how it impacts fat storage (by interacting with insulin) and how it also impacts fat release (by interacting with human growth hormone, catecholamines and lower levels of insulin.)
Most people want to avoid fat storage and many who want to lose weight want to encourage fat release. For people who are physically and mentally stressed out, this may require working to lower higher than normal cortisol levels to help restore balance.
Lowering cortisol naturally means taking a step back to identify unhealthy lifestyle habits that may be leaving you feeling overworked, drained, fatigued and just plain stressed out. These habits will need to be restructured or replaced so that your lifestyle habits work to nourish and rejuvenate your body rather than do the opposite.
Low-calorie diets have been shown to increase cortisol production, making it seem almost impossible to keep the weight off over the long run. Other research even suggests that stress reduction is actually more important than trying to eat healthy all the time. Rather than restricting calories in a way that becomes stressful on the body (and the mind, too), you’d be much better off eating healthy foods that you actually like to eat, remaining aware of your eating patterns and maintaining good portion control.
1. Go for Leisurely Nature Walks
Leisurely walking is a low-intensity form of physical activity that can have an enhanced stress-relieving effect on the mind when done in an outdoor nature setting. In a study on forest bathing (a.k.a. the Japanese therapy practice of taking in the forest atmosphere) where saliva samples were taken from subjects to measure cortisol levels, researchers found that the forest environment promoted lower cortisol levels compared to a city environment. It also resulted in lower pulse rates, lower blood pressure, increased parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity.
2. Practice Yoga
Yoga isn’t just exercise performed on a mat for greater balance and flexibility — it’s a complete mind-body therapy that offers both physical and psychological stress relief. Research has shown that yoga can help reduce cortisol by acting at the level of the hypothalamus in a way that has anti-stress effects. Hatha, Iyengar and Kripalu are styles of yoga that are gentle to practice and ideal for beating stress.
3. Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is typically a sitting practice that can be done with eyes open or closed. It involves bringing awareness to the body, breath, and thoughts. In one study, 30 subjects had blood samples taken before and after a four-day mindfulness meditation programme. The blood samples revealed significant lower cortisol levels after mindfulness meditation compared to before, suggesting that a few minutes a day of mindfulness meditation may be an effective natural aid in restoring balance to stress hormones.
4. Enjoy Live Music
Almost everyone can attest to the mood-boosting effects of music, but now there’s evidence of an anti-stress effect that comes from watching and listening to live music. Subjects who had their stress hormone levels monitored by saliva samples before attending a concert and then again one hour later during intermission showed that cortisol levels had been reduced right across the board. So whether you love going to loud rock concerts or enjoying classical pieces played by a live orchestra, going to a live music event should help you feel a little less stressed by the end.
5. Do What Relaxes You
Researchers can have their say in what works to lower cortisol for most people, but only you are the expert on what calms your own mind and soothes your own body best. Whether it’s reading a good book in your favorite chair, taking a long bubble bath, playing with your pet or indulging in a creative hobby, doing more of what you know relaxes you as often as you can should be a priority. Combining stress-reducing activities backed by science with personalized activities known to help you relax will offer you a much more complete solution to balancing cortisol naturally.
Remember that a little stress can be good, but a lot of it can be pretty bad. The trick is to maintain good balance by making stress management a serious part of your lifestyle.