Understanding Stress and How to Deal With It

Cortisol is a stress hormone released when your sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) is triggered. Evolutionarily, the fight-or-flight response was useful for running away from a bear, but in our modern, fast-paced world, it is getting triggered during much more minor occurrences such as having to send a work email. Chronically high levels of cortisol may lead to: weight gain, high blood pressure, sleep disruption, memory impairment, as well as weaken one’s immune system.

Ways to Reduce Cortisol:

1) Exercise

A) Vigorous exercise (e.g. running, high impact aerobics) leads to a temporary spike in cortisol but a reduction later that night

B) Moderate exercise (e.g. brisk walk) has no immediate effect and lowers cortisol at night

2) Sleep

A) Keep a consistent sleep schedule

B) Aim for 7-8 hours a night

C) Get good quality sleep. But don’t lose sleep over not sleeping! Instead: Take some deep belly breaths to calm your nervous system.

3) Meditation

A popular form is mindfulness meditation. By focusing your attention on your breath, you become an objective observer of your thoughts: Noticing them without judgment. Click here for a guided meditation from the Mindful Movement, which is a great source of guided mindfulness meditations.

4) Other Relaxation Techniques

Deep breathing, visualization exercises, yoga, tai chi, massage, or listening to music that relaxes you

5) Do Things that Bring You Joy

Spending time outside, connecting with family and friends, and taking care of a pet have been shown to reduce cortisol levels.

6) Foods that Reduce Cortisol Levels:

A) Omega 3-rich foods such as salmon and flaxseed

B) Prebiotics such as whole grains, bananas, onions, and garlic

C) Probiotics such as yogurt and other fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut

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