Cortisol has been referred to as the "fight-or-flight" hormone, because it is produced in high amounts during fearful and stressful situations. It doesn't have to be life-and-death stress; even daily stressors can raise the levels of cortisol in our bodies. It is a hormone that is necessary for bodily functions, but when we have a continual raised level of cortisol, it does damage to our systems. Increased blood sugar levels, lower immunity and even weight gain are just a few of the negative side effects of high cortisol levels. Since cortisol levels are related to stress, there are simple, natural ways to reduce cortisol levels and promote health.
Get a good night's sleep every night. Cortisol levels are produced in a rhythm, and the lowest production level is at night. If you don't get enough rest, your cortisol levels will stay high. Not enough sleep makes cortisol levels rise, and raised cortisol levels will interfere with your sleep.
Meditate. According to Edward R. Rosick, D.O., meditation helps people manage stress and reduce cortisol levels. Meditation teaches you how to detach yourself from your stress issues, and it brings a calming effect to your mind and body, bringing down both cortisol and adrenalin levels. Meditation should be done 15 to 20 minutes a day, every day. It doesn't need to be elaborate. Simply sitting in a quiet spot and thinking about the good things in life or the beauty of a flower are good ways to start. You can pick up meditation tapes or CDs also if you would like some guidance.
Eat low glycemic foods. Low glycemic foods are those that enter your bloodstream slowly and therefore do not raise your blood sugar levels too quickly. One of the jobs of cortisol is to regulate blood sugar, so too much blood sugar will call for more cortisol production.
Get a massage. Massage relaxes both mind and body and relieves the stress put on them. A study done at Duke University Medical School showed that massage decreased the levels of cortisol and increased the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the participants. Massage therapy is used for stress-related conditions from job stress to depression and eating disorders. Just a rough day at home will cause increased cortisol production, so a relaxing massage would be beneficial in bringing it down. If you don't have someone to give you a massage, just relax and massage the parts of your body that you can reach.
Exercise. While cortisol can increase slightly with exercise, exercise also produces endorphins (feel-good hormones) that reduce levels of stress for longer periods of time. So if you hear that exercise raises cortisol, don't let it deter you from exercising, because the exercise and endorphins actually relieve mental and physical stress, and it is better for you in the long run.
If you have a hard time meditating, start by taking a relaxing candlelit bath and think about how good it feels to have the stress leaving your body.
If you have diabetes or hypoglycaemia, speak with your doctor before consuming only low glycemic foods, as this will directly affect your blood sugar levels.