Is it just me or do you too feel guilty after enjoying a good portion of carbs?

Do you have trouble falling asleep at night even when you are completely worn out?

Do you feel irritable more often than not?

If you’re feeling all of this stress, your cortisol levels could be a total mess. Here’s everything you need to know about increased cortisol levels and how to lower them naturally.

What is cortisol and how does it affect your body?

This fancy-sounding word is our body’s main stress hormone. It is responsible for those nasty mood swings, stubborn weight gain, skin breakouts, random cravings, and a lot more. Now, most women can easily mistake these for PMS symptoms. Cortisol is a hormone that is released by the body in stressful situations and induces the fight or flight response. It helps us deal with immediate situations, but high cortisol levels for longer periods can be harmful to the body. Here are a few things that are affected by it.

  • Blood sugar levels in the body
  • Sleep cycles
  • Blood pressure
  • Metabolism regulation
  • Memory retention and concentration

Symptoms and causes of high cortisol levels

The adrenal glands are responsible for producing cortisol in times of distress. It helps us adapt to such situations and function accordingly. However, excessive production of this hormone can be harmful in the long run. The body naturally starts assuming we’re in a tricky situation which starts affecting the functioning of the body. Below are some symptoms of increased cortisol levels:

  • Weight gain around the abdomen and face
  • Constant fatigue
  • Disrupted sleep cycle and irregular sleeping patterns
  • Random headaches
  • Irritability
  • Feeling unfocused and distracted all the time
  • Skin breakouts
  • Weakness in muscles
  • High blood pressure
  • Thin skin and frequent bruising
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Delay in the menstrual cycle

Now that you know the symptoms, you can spot the changes and know that your cortisol levels are unbalanced. But what leads to this spike? Multiple causes could make the adrenal glands produce excess cortisol, here are some of them:

  • Stress, one of the most common factors
  • Pituitary gland issues
  • Adrenal gland issues
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Cushing syndrome
  • Obesity

How to lower cortisol levels naturally

The increase in cortisol levels sounds scary as it affects so much on the inside and outside. But you can balance it by simply making some lifestyle changes and staying consistent with them. It might not be possible for some people to be completely stress-free and take a vacation every once in a while. However, following these steps can help you regulate your cortisol levels and bring them within a normal range.

1. Focus on your diet

If you have irregular eating patterns, it is time to mend your ways. Putting too much gap between meals, overeating, or undereating leads to increased stress levels in the body. So, making a diet chart and having a balanced meal is a great start to fixing your cortisol levels. A fibre-rich diet with a good intake of omega-3 and fatty acids is the correct way to plan your meals for the day. Include foods like whole grains, lentils, yoghurt, apples, chia seeds, flax seeds, fruits, beans, nuts, and seafood in your meals.

2. Be consistent with your sleep schedule

It is important to create a sleep schedule for yourself as it is extremely common to have a bad sleeping cycle due to increased cortisol. So, try fixing a sleep and wake-up time and be consistent with it. Avoid caffeine in the evening, get off screens half an hour before bedtime, put on white noise, dim the lights, make sure the room is at the right temperature, and skip evening naps. Getting 8-9 hours of quality sleep could rapidly improve your cortisol levels.

3. Practise good mental health habits

It is impossible to completely avoid stress as the smallest of things could turn into a quick trigger. But that doesn’t mean you’re always in overdrive and putting yourself in high-stress situations. Practising mindfulness by prioritising your things, engaging in social activities, taking breaks between work, going for therapy, and letting go of things you have no control over are some ways to naturally lower your cortisol levels.

4. Try some supplements

Your cortisol levels aren’t going to reduce overnight and require consistent effort to improve. While you will have to make certain lifestyle changes, opting for some supplements could help you. These include fish oil which is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and ashwagandha, a natural stress reliever. You should consult your doctor before starting any new supplements if you have any underlying medical conditions.

5. Exercise

You don’t have to get a gym membership to reduce your cortisol levels. Intense workouts can also lead to a spike in cortisol. Trying low-impact exercises and physical movement is a great way to kill the stress and change the mood. You can go for early morning runs, walk on the treadmill, go cycling in the evening, join a Zumba or aerobics class, or practise home workouts.

6. Adopt a pet

Increased cortisol is a problem, so you can use this as your sign to adopt a pet. The idea is to reduce stress, and the feel-good hormones as a result of having a furry friend do a pretty good job of regulating cortisol. So, if you’ve been thinking of getting a pet, now is the right time to bring one home.

7. Lean into your spiritual side

One of the best ways to reduce cortisol levels naturally is by leaning into your spiritual side. Practices like meditation, guided breathing, spending time in nature, joining social groups with like-minded people, and much more impact cortisol levels positively.

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