Produced by your adrenal glands, the stress hormone cortisol helps regulate blood pressure and the immune system in a sudden crisis, whether from a physical attack or an emotional setback. Though it means well, cortisol just doesn’t know when to quit. When not needed, cortisol can alter the nervous system, immune responses, and fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism rates.
Luckily, the body’s fight-or-flight mode has found its match: the relaxation response. Here are four ways to boost your Zen and dampen stress – and in some cases, cut your cortisol levels nearly in half
TO CUT CORTISOL 66% – Grab Your Headphones
Music can help calm the your brain, especially if you’re coping with a super-stressful event. When doctors at Japan Osaka Medical Center played tunes for a group of patients undergoing colonoscopies, the patients’ cortisol levels were less than those who underwent the same procedure in a quiet room.
When you’re working on a tight deadline, paying your bills, or hosting dinner for your in-laws, throw on some background music. To wind down faster at bedtime, switch off the TV and listen to calming music instead.
TO CUT CORTISOL 50% – Tune In Early Or Take A Nap
What’s the difference between getting 6 hours of sleep and getting the suggested 8? 50% MORE cortisol in the bloodstream, experts say. When a pilot group slept 6 hours or less for one week, their cortisol levels jumped and stayed elevated for 2 days, according to a study from Germany. The recommended 8 hours of shut-eye permits the body enough time to recover from the day’s stress.
When you fall short of the 8-hour benchmark, take a nap the next day. Pennsylvania State University researchers found that a midday snooze cut cortisol levels in subjects who were sleep-deprived the previous night.
TO CUT CORTISOL 47 % – Sip On Tea
Tea has deep associations with comfort and calm and science confirms the connection. When volunteers at University College London were given a stressful task, cortisol levels of regular black-tea drinkers fell by 47% within an hour of completing the assignment. Others, who drank some kind of fake tea, experienced only a 27% drop. The researchers suspect that natural chemicals such as polyphenols and flavonoids may have calming effects.
TO CUT CORTISOL 25% – Seek the Spiritual
Religious ritual fortifies many people against everyday stresses, and it can also lower cortisol secretion, according to the University of Mississippi researchers. Churchgoing study subjects had lower levels of the stress hormone, on average, than those who did not attend services at all. If organized religion isn’t your thing, head outdoors to “nature’s cathedral” to de-stress.