7 Natural Ways To Lower Cortisol

Hannah Burton/Bustle

We all know stress doesn't feel good emotionally, but it can also have a negative impact your body as well. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can cause all sorts of problems, which is why it's important to manage your stress and anxiety. Thankfully, there are some ways you can lower cortisol naturally, and doing so can make a big difference in both your physical and mental state. We can't always change life's circumstances, but we can manage how we deal with those stressful situations and mitigate the effects of stress on the body.

"In general, everyone has high cortisol levels from time to time," psychiatrist and neurologist Daniel G. Amen, M.D, tells Bustle. "It’s part of your body’s natural response to threats of harm or danger. Yet, having high cortisol levels over a longer period of time can have lasting effects on your health, such as heart disease, [...] and anxiety."

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of high cortisol, including chronic stress, according to Dr. Amen. The stress response triggers a combination of signals from both hormones and nerves, and these signals cause your adrenal glands to release hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Other factors can affect cortisol as well, such as circulating estrogen. "Excessive estrogen is the most common cause of high cortisol in women," he says.

To make sure you're keeping your mind and body healthy, you'll want to keep levels of the stress hormone at bay. Here are seven natural ways to lower cortisol, according to experts.

1. Exercise

Yulia Grigoryeva/Shutterstock

Regular aerobic exercise can help alleviate stress and lower cortisol. "'Burning off' or reducing cortisol through regular exercise helps leave you feeling more relaxed, along with a feeling of accomplishment and self-confidence," therapist Dr. Stephen Odom, tells Bustle. The power of exercise is so strong that in some clinical trials, they have successfully used exercise to treat anxiety disorders and clinical depression, according to Harvard Health.

2. Meditation

Svet_Feo/Shutterstock

"Meditation, mindfulness, Transcendental Meditation (TM), and guided imagery can lower stress," Dr. Odom says. One study published in the journal Health Psychology found that participants who spent three months practicing mindful breathing, observation skills, and cultivation of 'positive' mental states like compassion showed a decrease in cortisol levels from when they started their meditation practice.

3. Eating A Variety Of Foods

UfaBizPhoto/Shutterstock

What you eat can play a role in your cortisol levels as well. "There are foods that help keep cortisol levels stable, such as black or green tea, bananas and pears, probiotics, and dark chocolate," Dr. Odom says. Certain foods can trigger a stress response in your body, including alcohol, sugar, and coffee, which is something to be aware of, Dr. Sara Gottfried, M.D, tells Bustle.

4. Sleep

Ashley Batz/Bustle

It should come as no surprise that sleep is important even when it comes to managing your cortisol. "Getting the right amount of quality sleep can help to reduce cortisol levels," Dr. Odom says. "Sleep hygiene is an area most of us can improve upon, and it’s worth researching to learn various ways your sleep hygiene can improve."

5. Laughter

Ashley Batz/Bustle

There's a reason they say laughter is the best medicine. "Laughing and joking definitely reduces cortisol levels — even 'Dad Jokes,'" Dr. Odom says. Even just anticipating a positive event associated with laughter is enough to bring down cortisol, according to research published by the American Physiological Society.

6. Music

David Prado Perucha/Shutterstock

Music fans, you're in luck. "Any type of music you feel that you can relate to can reduce cortisol," Dr. Odom says. "Music definitely lowers stress and lifts mood." Listening to music has ability to decrease the psychobiological stress response, including lower concentrations of cortisol, according to research published in the journal PLoS One.

7. Socializing

Ashley Batz/Bustle

As if you needed any more excuses to see your friends, socializing and spending time with others can help you manage your cortisol. "People need people," Dr. Odom says. "Cortisol goes down as quality friendships and feelings of connection go up." One small study published in the journal Developmental Psychology found that having a best friend present during a negative experience helped prevent an increase in cortisol.

Stress is inevitable, but engaging in these habits can help you lower your cortisol levels and prevent any negative health effects down the line.