7 natural ways to balance your stress levels
Many people have heard their doctor talk about the importance of eating healthy and exercising as part of a healthy lifestyle. A third and often overlooked component to a healthy lifestyle is stress management. Cortisol, your most powerful stress hormone, is responsible for telling your body how to react in times of stress.
When stress happens, cortisol levels rise to give you a surge of energy to help escape “danger.” This hormonal response doesn’t distinguish between good stress (a challenge at work) and bad stress (unemployment). With any stress, cortisol raises your blood sugar and blood pressure while lowering immune system response. The resulting “fight or flight” energy burst can feel good for about 10-20 minutes. When it’s gone, it leaves you feeling tired but wired.
Keeping blood cortisol levels even is an important part of feeling good, staying healthy and managing weight. Too much cortisol prompts the body to store fuel in the form of fat, usually around the waist. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to keep your cortisol levels under control.
Aside from drastic swings in response to stress, cortisol levels fluctuate normally according to things like time of day, foods eaten and exercise schedules. Knowing this can help you control stress triggers through diet changes, exercise habits and finding ways to relax consciously.
Due to frequent hormone changes with their monthly menstrual cycle and with pregnancy and menopause, women especially experience cortisol levels change, sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis.
Here are some natural ways to balance your cortisol levels:
- Go to bed each night at the same time, wake up at the same time and get out in the sunshine. This creates a good circadian rhythm, which optimizes your hormone balance naturally.
- Limit alcohol. You might think it relaxes you, but alcohol actually increases cortisol.
- Avoid caffeine, sugar and processed food.
- Exercise. But be aware that running hard and overtraining without enough rest can increase cortisol. The constant demand for glucose to the muscles can create a form of chronic stress. You may find yoga, Pilates or walking in nature helps relax your mind while exercising your body
- Get a monthly massage to reduce stress and relax muscles.
- Consider talking to your doctor or pharmacist about taking dietary supplements such as vitamin B complex, vitamin C and fish oil, as intake levels vary.
- Try meditation to slow your mind down, reduce anxiety and lower cortisol levels. Even deep breathing can help.
About the Author
Paula Carlton, NP is a Nurse Practitioner at Aurora Health Center in West Bend, WI.