You may have heard a thing or two about the “stress hormone” cortisol. This hormone is largely associated with the body’s stress response, when cortisol production spikes, but it actually plays an essential role in numerous bodily functions like blood sugar management, inflammation response, sleep-wake cycles, and metabolism. However, when emotional or physical stress persists over long periods, sustained cortisol levels can have serious health implications—and a growing waistline is just the beginning.
If you’re worried about cortisol affecting your health, the foundation of your approach should be stress reduction. In part one of this piece, we explored key components of your physical lifestyle when lowering both stress and cortisol. Here are four essential things to do for your mind and spirit to keep cortisol under control.
1. Become More Mindful
It’s not as daunting as it sounds! Start by just sitting quietly with your thoughts, or perhaps with a journal, to understand where your stress is rooted. A 2014 study involving 43 women in a mindfulness-based program demonstrated that simply describing and accepting the experience of stress can lead to a lower cortisol response by buffering psychological distress. Just by recognizing your stressful thoughts, you start to form a conscious reaction to them.
Becoming mindful can include practicing meditation, journaling, yoga, listening to positive affirmations and more.
Another study of the meditation therapy technique Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) found that becoming more self-aware of stress-provoking thoughts, accepting them without judgment or resistance, and allowing them to pass naturally can be highly effective at lowering stress both in the moment and on an ongoing basis. A 2018 study on the effect of mindfulness training on stress responses in patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) showed that this technique can help lessen stress reactivity and improve resilience to stress overall.
2. Spend Time in Nature and With Animals
Just 20-30 minutes in nature can significantly reduce cortisol levels. A 2013 study measured salivary cortisol levels in middle-aged adults (35-55 years old) and found those who lived in places with more green areas had significantly lower cortisol levels than the individuals who lived in places with less green areas. The researchers concluded that greater exposure to greenery leads to a lessening of stress and thus cortisol production.
Relationships with furry friends have also been linked to reduced levels of cortisol. One 2014 study of 48 adults showed that contact with a dog proved more beneficial than support from a friend during a socially stressful situation. In another study, interaction with a therapy dog reduced distress and cortisol during a minor medical procedure in children.
3. Focus on Building Healthy Relationships
Our loved ones are a source of joy and great meaning in our lives. But sometimes, they can also be a source of great stress! A 2013 study shows that children in stable homes with a loving family life had lower levels of cortisol than children from homes with high levels of distress and conflict. And conflict with loved ones can result in short-term hikes in cortisol.
A 2016 study found that couples who were more positive and empathic with each other after an argument as compared to couples with more negative behaviors towards each other, more quickly returned to normal levels of cortisol. Another study showed that having either an affectionate (either verbal or physical) interaction with a romantic partner or friend before a stressful activity, resulted in lower stress-induced markers such as heart rate and blood pressure.
So prioritize warmth and clear communication with your loved ones, understand and implement boundaries, and experience mindfulness in your relationships so that they remain joyful and fulfilling.
Calm Your Mind With a Massage
A 60-minute massage has been proven to lower cortisol levels by an average of 31%! Even better for the soul, it was found to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, which contribute to a sense of happiness and well-being, by 28%.
Massage has also been shown to measurably reduce anxiety, improve cognition, and support healthier sleep. This adds up to a powerful boost for your mental health—and walking papers for your stress! Best of all, we’ll bring this super-therapy right to your door.