Yes, You Need to Lower Cortisol Levels—In Order to Best Handle Stress

In today’s stress-prone world, it’s critical to lower cortisol levels in your body, protecting yourself from hypertension, weight gain, fatigue, and a lack of mental sharpness.

lower cortisol levels

Stress is omnipresent, it seems, in today's hurry-up world. We handle it better if we can lower cortisol levels; our post describes several lifestyle changes that will help you get there.

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In today’s “hurry-hurry/we-need-more” society, stress runs rampant. As stress builds, our bodies react—we gain weight and belly fat, our blood sugar and blood pressure both rise, and we feel tired all the time, often battling depression. And all of that just stresses us more! We need to decrease stress and get normal again. More specifically, we need to lower cortisol levels in our bodies.

Cortisol is a hormone released by our adrenal glands when we feel stressed, so our body is on alert and ready to do battle. That’s why it’s called the “stress hormone.” Cortisol is a good thing. It helps us think quickly in times of danger. The more stress we feel, the more cortisol is released.

However, our bodies weren’t designed to be under constant stress. Our bodies naturally lower cortisol levels during normal times, although situations are increasingly few and far between. The result is that cortisol continues to flood our bodies and gets out of control. If we want to combat the physical damage stress does, we need to find ways to lower cortisol levels.

You Can Lower Cortisol Levels

Getting cortisol under control is far from a matter of adding another drug to your medicine cabinet. It takes a lifestyle change.

Fortunately, usually you can lower cortisol levels without switching jobs or spouses. All you have to do is take charge of your life. Here are some tips on how to do so.

1. Start with diet

Avoid sugary, starchy foods. Look for fresh fruits and vegetables to help lower cortisol levels. Add fiber to your fare. Choose lean protein sources, like beans, pork tenderloin, extra-lean ground beef, and quinoa, which is a grain known to be a complete protein.

Consider taking ashwagandha, an herb from India that has scientific studies behind it to help you lower stress, which includes lower cortisol levels.

Looking for more stress-reducing foods to lower cortisol levels? Prevention magazine put together a solid list, although a few of the suggestions should be eaten in moderation because of calories and sugar:

When it comes to reformulating the way you eat, however, one thing is very important: Eat regularly and stay hydrated. Being hungry or dehydrated raises your stress level! So, develop a nutrition schedule, and stick to it. While you don’t want to consume excess calories, you can and should divide your daily intake into several meals at regular intervals. Avoid going six hours or more without eating.

2. Get moving

We all get it. When you come home from work, you just want to crash. But that’s the worst thing you can do, especially if you have a desk job or a very stressful job. Exercise will lower cortisol levels, improve your mood, and help you sleep.

According to, 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day can make a big difference in your cortisol levels. Something as simple as a moderately-paced walk around the neighborhood—or the local mall, if that’s all you can do—every evening can make a big difference. But try to get outside.

Do you have a zoo or park nearby? Great! Grab a friend—furry or human—and go for a walk to lower cortisol levels in both of you. Other aerobic activities include stair climbing, bicycling, and running. Your goal is to get your heart and lungs pumping.

3. Increase sleeping

We need six to eight hours of sleep each night, and cortisol levels naturally drop when we are asleep. We also need a sleep schedule, such as going to bed each night at 10 p.m. and waking at 6 a.m., to help us lower cortisol levels.

A 2017 study from the University of Leeds found that adults with poor sleep patterns are more likely to be overweight and experience poor metabolic health. Those who slept six hours a night, on average, had a waist measurement 3 cm greater than those who slept nine hours per night.[1]

Quality sleep is important as well. If you’re waking up frequently during the night, you’re raising your cortisol levels. A 2017 study from Johns Hopkins University showed that untreated sleep apnea, for example, raises blood sugar and stress-hormone levels, including cortisol.[2]

You can help your sleep quality if you:

  • Avoid looking at blue screens prior to bed.
  • Don’t drink alcohol prior to bed.
  • Keep the room dark and cool, at around 65°F.
  • Exercise several hours prior to going to bed.
  • Avoid reading or watching television in bed.
  • Stop drinking water a couple of hours prior to bed.
  • Don’t eat a big meal immediately before bed.

4. Get creative

A 2016 study from Drexel University found that as little as 45 minutes of art creation—whether it’s great art or not—can significantly lower cortisol levels.[3]

Although the researchers believed that past experience in creating art might amplify the activity’s stress-reducing effects, their study found that everyone benefits equally.

“It was surprising and it also wasn’t,” said Girija Kaimal, EdD, assistant professor of creative arts therapies at Drexel. “It wasn’t surprising because that’s the core idea in art therapy: Everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting. That said, I did expect that perhaps the effects would be stronger for those with prior experience.”

So, get out those coloring books, Play-Doh, or just a blank piece of paper with some colored pens or pencils, and create your own masterpiece.

5. Force yourself to relax

While many people scoff at the idea of meditation or mindfulness, which is rapidly gaining a following due to its effectiveness and simplicity, the bare-bones fact of the matter is that these techniques help you relax, and that will help you lower cortisol levels.

But, if you’re too antsy to sit still and concentrate on just one thing, Fitness magazine discussed five yoga poses that take about eight minutes to do and will help your body relax:

  • Upside-down relaxation
  • Winding-down twist
  • Nighttime goddess stretch
  • Child’s pose
  • Rock-a-bye roll

You can see the article by clicking here. The photos are descriptive, and the how-to instructions are short and to the point. We believe you can combine going for a better night’s sleep with relaxation to help you lower cortisol levels.

For related reading, visit these posts:

This article was originally published in 2017. It is regularly updated. 


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Cindy Foley

Cindy Foley is the editor of several health reports, including Managing Your Cholesterol, Core Fitness, and Brain Power & Nutrition, among others. Foley has worked in the private medical practice field … Read More

View all posts by Cindy Foley

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  • First, I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who thought the suggestions were ridiculous. About the food intake. Are you suggesting one should eat at “regular intervals” even when one isn’t hungry? Also, the recommended sleep is 6-8 hours, so obviously someone isn’t getting up to eat during that time period. Do you see the contradiction? Also suggested is aerobic exercise; cardio increases coritsol, thereby creating stress. What do you recommend for people who cannot do cardio just yet?

  • Obviously people with depression do not want to be depressed and people with anxiety are unable to stop being anxious simply by wishing it. I do not believe the authors of this article were suggesting that. What they are trying to say is that these mental conditions have a direct impact on cortisol levels. And we need to be aware of this and make corresponding lifestyle changes if we hope to feel better. Yes this may or may not be possible. however there are some changes that could be implemented, such as reducing the number of obligations that we take on, learning how to meditate, incorporating a daily yoga practice, seeing a therapist, and learning techniques to stop ourselves when we begin a pattern of negative thinking. What the authors are trying to say is stress is harmful to the body. This fact has been proven many times over. I do not believe they were implying that it is easy to remove stress from one’s life.

  • I think it’s common sense that we don’t eat when we’re sleeping, and the “avoid going 6 or more hours without eating” is meant for during the day. You’re also right in that high-impact aerobic activity raises cortisol. What the article should have said about exercise is “low impact” aerobic activity. They do suggest a moderately-paced walk, which IS low impact. Other things you can do is yoga – it’s hard to do when you don’t feel like slowing down, but that’s why they say FORCE yourself to relax. I’ve been there. I hated yoga, but only because I really struggled with the “slow down and breathe” part. But that’s exactly what will lower your cortisol, as well as activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which will help your body calm down. People with chronic high anxiety generally don’t WANT to do this, but it’s worth it!!!

  • The article says sleep more as if it is possible for everyone! Would love to sleep more. I have midnight spikes of cortisol!!! Also cirtisol rythm needs to be tamed and controlled if possible. In my opinion it is best to have high impact workouts in the morning to raise the cortisol levels in the morning.

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