How to Lower Your Cortisol Levels Naturally When You Have Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are problems that a lot of people deal with on a daily basis (although more people are just stressed than those who actually suffer from general anxiety) and when under stress, levels of the hormone, known as cortisol, start to rise.
This is part of the body’s natural fight or flight response. While elevated cortisol can help you in a dangerous situation, chronically elevated cortisol levels can have serious negative effects on your health and overall wellbeing. These include:
Triggering fat gain in a lot of people. The fat especially starts to accumulate around the midsection, which can then increase the risk of heart disease.
An increased rate of ageing. Elevated cortisol levels can lead to the breakdown of collagen.
Elevated insulin levels. When cortisol is high, your liver starts producing more glucose. Insulin rises because of this. This happens because if you are in a dangerous situation, the additional glucose will help fuel your muscles to help you either run away or fight.
Just feeling bad. When your cortisol is high, you could struggle to fall asleep, experience heart palpitations, and perhaps even struggle to breathe properly (if you have ever had a panic attack, you know that it is not comfortable).
If high cortisol levels are a concern for you and if you struggle with anxiety in general and would like to reduce levels of this hormone, here are a few things you can do that will help:
Breathe Deeply and Do Breathing Exercises
This may sound obvious, but you may not be breathing deeply enough when going throughout the day, which can elevate cortisol, as the body starts releasing it when detecting shallow breathing.
If you are anxious or in a panicked state, you can start doing breathing exercises on the spot. Try breathing in through your nose for a few counts (I suggest four or more) and continue doing so for a few minutes.
After six deep breaths, your nervous system should already start to calm down and your cortisol levels should start decreasing.
Throughout the day, try to be more aware of how deeply you are breathing. If you can train yourself to breathe deeply in general (your chest and stomach should expand), then you will be able to better manage your anxiety and/or stress.
2. Take Magnesium and Potassium
Having enough magnesium in your system, which most people do not, can significantly improve cortisol levels if a deficiency is part of what contributed to the problem in the first place.
You can supplement, take Epsom salts (or bath in it), and eat more magnesium-rich foods like dark chocolate, nuts and seeds, and leafy green vegetables.
Potassium is also important for helping to keep your nervous system calm. You can supplement and ensure you eat foods that are high in potassium, such as bananas, coconut water, and avocados.
3. Work Out, but Not for Too Long
Exercising is one of the best things that you can do when you are anxious or stressed. Remember that the natural response to a stressful situation should be to run or fight, which are both rather physical.
Doing something active can help you get rid of some of the excess cortisol and make you feel a lot better rather quickly.
Resistance training, which includes weight lifting, can have an immediate effect, and if you prefer cardio, after two weeks of doing it regularly (if you are new to doing cardio) you will also feel the stress-relieving effects.
Be careful to not exercise for too long at a time, because exercise is still a type of stress. Try not to exercise for longer than 45 minutes or an hour, depending on the intensity of the workout. If it is a gentle walk, however, it should be fine to go for longer.
4. Get Enough Sleep
When you do not get enough sleep at night, your cortisol levels will generally be higher the next day. Ensuring that you get enough sleep, as well as improving the quality of your sleep, will help you to reduce cortisol levels overall.
5. Increase Human Growth Hormone Levels (HGH)
Increasing your human growth hormone levels can help, as cortisol decreases when HGH increases. There are different ways to do so, which include:
Getting enough sleep (aim for seven to nine hours a night)
Fasting (like with time-restricted eating and intermittent fasting).
6. Balance Your Blood Sugar Levels
What you may not know is that when your blood sugar levels drop, your cortisol levels also increase. Reducing the amount of sugar and processed carbohydrates that you consume can help you improve your overall blood sugar levels and help prevent blood sugar dips.
A high-protein, high-fat diet is a great start if you are concerned about cortisol. Cortisol is also usually at its highest in the morning when waking up, so if you do wake up feeling very anxious, try having a big breakfast that contains at least 30g of protein and see if you feel better.
Managing stress and anxiety and improving cortisol levels takes time, but following the tips above can help greatly if you make them part of your lifestyle.