Last Updated on December 30, 2020
Want to feel better right now? Lower your cortisol levels. Here are 10 easy ways to reduce cortisol, many of which will make you feel better immediately.
You can feel better and protect your health with some unbelievably simple steps. Here are some easy ways to get healthier and feel great INSTANTLY, no expensive pills or complicated diet plans required!
What is Cortisol Anyway?
When we’re stressed — whether because we have too much to do or something is making us anxious — our body secretes a hormone called cortisol that can help us respond quickly to danger. While cortisol is helpful in certain situations, say when we meet a bear in the woods and need that fight or flight response to survive, when we’re producing it constantly because of an overly stressful lifestyle, researchers have discovered it can take a serious toll on our health.
Excessive cortisol has been linked to a number of health problems, including:
- Weight gain
- Cardiovascular disease
- Sleep problems
- High blood pressure
- Decreased immunity
- Shorter lifespan
Want to reduce your cortisol levels and protect your health? You can start RIGHT NOW with some simple techniques, most of which won’t cost you a dime:
1. Reduce Cortisol with Deep Breathing
If you’re already into meditation, you know how deep breathing tunes you into your body and instantly relaxes you.
If, like me, you tend to get so focused on what you’re doing you sometimes forget to breathe, take a minute to take some extra deep breaths. Feels good, doesn’t it? Your muscles relax. When I remember to take some deep breaths while I’m working, I feel so much better. More positive, more productive, less tense, all around happier.
Breathing shallowly can actually send the message to your adrenal glands that you’re in fight or flight mode, and they’ll pump out more cortisol. You can stop that reaction in its tracks by remembering to breathe deeply.
Feeling stressed? Try a few deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose, slooooooowly. Fill your belly with air. Then let it out even more slowly through your mouth. Some experts recommend breathing in for four counts, holding for 7, and exhaling for 8 to maximize the relaxation response. Do that 4-8 times several times per day if you can.
But even remembering to breathe deeply every now and again is an improvement over breathing shallowly all the time. Here’s more on breathing techniques you can try.
2. Get Outside
Studies have shown that our cortisol levels drop when we spend time in nature, among many other health benefits. In general, we suffer from a collective nature-deficit disorder, spending up to 90% of our time indoors. Find ways to incorporate some outside time in your daily life, and it’s likely to help your cortisol levels.
Sit outside when you can, and plan exercise outdoors as much as possible. Gardening has been shown repeatedly to have cortisol-lowering effects, plus you get delicious home-grown food!
Related: Get Outside! (Easiest Health Hack Ever)
3. Listen to Music
Gentle, pleasant music has been shown to have a positive effect on cortisol levels. Play some relaxing music to keep your cortisol levels in check. Need suggestions for a cortisol-lowering playlist? Check this out.
4. Reduce Cortisol by Laughing
Laughter is in fact a great — if not the best — medicine. Laughing not only lowers levels of cortisol, it may boost immunity and memory as well. Watch a funny movie or play a silly game with friends and reap the health benefits of a good laugh.
5. Get Moving!
Ever feel completely strung out, then soooooo much better after you go for a walk or a run? Light exercise is a terrific way to reduce cortisol. Go for a stroll in the woods and you’re soaking up some of that cortisol-lowering natural scenery as well.
6. Eat Stress-Busting Foods
You know eating a varied whole foods diet is a healthy move in general, and it can also help reduce your cortisol levels. Refined and sugary foods can actually prompt your body to make more cortisol, not what you want! In contrast, getting enough of certain nutrients can help regulate cortisol levels. Some of the key players:
- Magnesium (here are top magnesium foods and additional benefits of magnesium)
- Omega-3s (found in fatty fish, flax, walnuts, chia seeds)
- Vitamin C (broccoli, red and green peppers, kale, kiwi and strawberries are especially rich sources)
- Zinc (found in oysters, red meat, crab, lobster, yogurt, chickpeas)
- Folate and other B-vitamins (there are a bunch of Bs, so eating a varied whole-foods diet will help you get what you need. Vegetarians may need to pay special attention to meet daily intake recommendations — as will people who don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables! Here’s a nice overview of where to get your Bs.)
Try some of these amazing bean recipes, or make some kale chips to help your body reduce cortisol.
Emerging research linking gut health to mental health suggests that prebiotics and probiotics may play a part in regulating cortisol as well.
A regular black tea habit may also help you keep cortisol in check. Take it easy, though. Caffeine actually promotes cortisol production, though we seem to adjust ourselves accordingly if intake is consistent.
Here are some calming herbs to consider that can help your body deal with stress. An herbal tea ritual in itself might be calming, but add in some lemon balm or tulsi, and lowering your cortisol levels might become easier still.
7. Reduce Cortisol with Healing Herbs
Called adaptogens, these herbs have been used for centuries to help the body cope with common stresses. Some gentle herbs thought to be useful in managing cortisol include
- Avena sativa (oat straw or milky oats)
- Tulsi (holy basil)
- Reishi mushrooms
- Licorice Root
- Panax gingeng
I really like this post on herbs for managing stress from Seeking Joyful Simplicity, which got me started brewing calming teas. Try her daily wellness blend tea to start incorporating some adaptogens into your routine. You can also buy these herbs in supplement form (see links above).
Several of these herbs also support immune function, bonus!
8. Decompress with Essential Oils
Many essential oils may help lower your cortisol levels, so choose the ones that smell best to you. Some recommended oils to try:
You can use them in a diffuser, add them to your bath, or massage them into your skin. When applying to your skin, always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil, or buy a pre-diluted roller. Here’s how to get started with essential oils.
9. Reduce Cortisol with Massage
Besides feeling AMAZING, massages reduce cortisol. Add some essential oils to your massage and multiply the benefits. Acupuncture may also help reduce cortisol levels.
10. Get Enough Sleep
Skimping on sleep can raise cortisol levels. Make space in your schedule to get plenty of shuteye every night.
(Having trouble sleeping? Here’s what to eat for better sleep and some herbal blends that help support quality sleep. And here’s a fantastic and affordable non-toxic mattress to make that stress-busting slumber healthier still.)
What’s your favorite way to reduce cortisol and de-stress? Share in the comments!
This post is one in a series of Savvy Health Hacks, easy ways to ensure your body has what it needs to function optimally. Ready to hack your health? Check out these other practical tips to help you fight colds, sleep better, ward off disease, and have more energy:
- Are You Getting Enough Magnesium?
- Why You Need a Water Filter
- Immune Boosting Foods
- Health Benefits of Potassium
- Easy Health Hack: Sit Less
- Anti Inflammatory Food
- Health Benefits of Turmeric
- Are You D-ficient?
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Disclaimer: I’m a health enthusiast, not a medical professional. Content on this website is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to provide personalized medical advice. I draw on numerous health sources, some of which are linked above. Please consult them for more information and a licensed professional for personalized recommendations.
Photo credits: chintermeyer, Joseph, Nickolai Kashirin, Alon, tony, Colin, Honolulu Media, Klaus Pichler via Flickr
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.
Love this article Susannah! I sometimes “forget to breath” so that little piece was especially helpful.
Thanks, Michelle! Hope 2017 leaves you with more time to breathe a little more!
Teresa M says
Thanks for the lovely reminders and tips. I often find myself tossing and turning in bed for hours trying to fall asleep. Drinking a herbal tea blend of chamomile, lemon balm and lavender often helps, along with a few drop of lavender essential oil on the pillow too.
I love the fact that laughter and massage can both reduce cortisol levels. Both much needed in our hectic lifestyles. Great informative read!
Thanks, Teresa! I’m a huge lemon balm fan as well — check out this post for more on why it’s my go-to for sleep: lemon balm uses