Get A Good Nights Sleep
Sleep deprivation increases cortisol, particularly the evening after the lack of sleep has occurred. Cortisol is produced by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is also responsible for regulating sleep cycles. If the HPA axis is activated by stress, illness, or poor nutrition, it can have a knock-on effect on your sleep and subsequent stress hormone levels.
The best way to ensure you get restful sleep is to incorporate good sleep hygiene. Make your bedroom a peaceful environment by limiting things that disrupt your sleep, like noise and light. Blackout curtains, an eye mask, earplugs, or a noise machine can help.
What Are The Behavioural And Emotional Effects Of Stress
When you are stressed you may experience many different feelings, including anxiety, irritability or low self-esteem, which can lead to becoming withdrawn, indecisive and tearful.13
You may experience periods of constant worry, racing thoughts, or repeatedly go over the same things in your head. You may experience changes in your behaviour. You may lose your temper more easily, act irrationally or become more verbally or physically aggressive.14 These feelings can feed on each other and produce physical symptoms, which can make you feel even worse. For example, extreme anxiety can make you feel so unwell, that you then worry you have a serious physical condition.
Have You Had Any Recent Major Life Changes
Life changes such as getting married, moving to a new city, or losing a job can all be stressful. You can’t always control these things, but you can control how you respond to them.
To find out your current stress level based on recent changes in your life, try this Interactive Tool: What Is Your Stress Level?
Also Check: What Do You Do If You Are Stressed
Get A Good Night’s Sleep
Every dietitian we spoke with mentioned the positive impact an adequate night’s sleep can have on one’s cortisol levels. Cortisol rises and falls based on our sleep cycles: it’s highest just after we wake up and lowest right before we hit the hay. So, it’s no surprise that sleep and cortisol levels are so heavily interconnected.
“Due to cortisol levels being linked to circadian rhythm, making sure you are getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night will help keep cortisol levels normal,” explains White. “This can also help keep the fat off.” According to Wake Forest researchers, people who sleep five hours or less put on two and a half times more belly fat, while those who sleep more than eight hours pack on slightly less than that.
Learn To Recognize Stressful Thinking
Paying attention to stressful thoughts may help you reduce them.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a strategy that involves becoming more self-aware of stress-provoking thoughts, accepting them without judgment or resistance, and allowing yourself the ability to process them .
Training yourself to be aware of your thoughts, breathing, heart rate, and other signs of tension helps you recognize stress when it begins .
Recognizing stressful thoughts allows you to formulate a conscious and deliberate reaction to them. For example, a study involving 43 women in a mindfulness-based program showed the ability to describe and articulate stress was linked to a lower cortisol response (
Tending to your own happiness can help keep cortisol down. If youre feeling stressed, try listening to music or making yourself laugh.
Also Check: What To Take To Reduce Stress
Calm The Mind And The Body Follows
Study authors report that meditation-based mental training can seriously help lower long-term chronic stress levels. While this of course isn’t the first time meditation has been named as a great way to unwind and relax, this research, in particular, is especially groundbreaking because its conclusions are based on concrete, physiological findings as opposed to potentially biased self-assessments from participants.
It’s incredibly difficult to truly quiet the mind. Attempt to block all thoughts for a few moments and you’ll probably start thinking about how you shouldn’t be thinking! Meditation and mindfulness training come in many forms, but the general message of such practices can be boiled down to being totally present in the moment and serenely acknowledging fleeting thoughts as they enter the mind without placing emotional weight on them. In other words, you may not be able to stop that intrusive thought about Friday’s big deadline from entering your head, but you can let it drift away just as quickly as it appeared in the first place.
The research team concludes that consistently practicing meditation training that promotes mindfulness, gratitude, and compassion tangibly reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol in hair. After six months, study subjects saw the amount of cortisol in their hair decrease by an average of 25%.
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Dont Ditch Your Exercise Routine
When we are stressed, the level of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in your body increase. Exercise can help to stabilise excessive stress hormones, and restore your wellbeing to a calmer state. Being physically active wont make your stress disappear altogether, however, as the endorphins are released as you exercise, it helps you to feel better and maintain a positive attitude. Choose a sport or exercise class that you like, and keep it up on a regular basis to reduce stress levels. If you arent a fan of the gym, then choose an exercise class which is more fun and has a vibrant atmosphere. There exists a wide variety of classes that are quirky such as trampolining, disco yoga, aerial trapeze, FloatFit, Bikram yoga, BoomCycle or HulaFit.
Read more: Fun exercises for those who hate working out
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Exercise But Not Too Much
Depending on the intensity of exercise, it can increase or decrease cortisol.
Intense exercise increases cortisol shortly afterward but will decrease a few hours later. This short-term increase helps coordinate growth of the body to meet the challenge. Additionally, the size of the cortisol response lessens with routine training .
Regular exercise has been shown in numerous studies to help improve sleep quality, reduce stress, and improve overall health, which can help lower cortisol over time .
Interestingly, regular exercise has also been associated with greater resilience to acute stress and may lower negative health effects associated with stress, such as high cortisol .
That said, overdoing it can have the opposite effect. Therefore, aim for around 150200 minutes of mostly low- to moderate-intensity exercise each week and allow yourself time to rest between workouts.
Exercising regularly can help you better manage stress and promote good health, which may help lower cortisol levels. That said, avoid overdoing it and aim for around 150200 minutes of low- to moderate- intensity exercise each week.
Spend Time With Friends And Family
Social support from friends and family can help you get through stressful times.
Being part of a friend network gives you a sense of belonging and self-worth, which can help you in tough times.
One study found that for women in particular, spending time with friends and children helps release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. This effect is called tend and befriend, and is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response .
Keep in mind that both men and women benefit from friendship.
Another study found that men and women with the fewest social connections were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety .
Having strong social ties may help you get through stressful times and lower your risk of anxiety.
Its hard to feel anxious when youre laughing. Its good for your health, and there are a few ways it may help relieve stress:
- Relieving your stress response.
- Relieving tension by relaxing your muscles.
In the long term, laughter can also help improve your immune system and mood.
A study among people with cancer found that people in the laughter intervention group experienced more stress relief than those who were simply distracted (
Try watching a funny TV show or hanging out with friends who make you laugh.
Find the humor in everyday life, spend time with funny friends or watch a comedy show to help relieve stress.
Not all stressors are within your control, but some are.
One way to do this may be to say no more often.
Read Also: How To Reduce Stress Incontinence
Avoid Or Limit Alcohol Intake When You’re Stressed
Because alcohol often puts people at ease and makes them feel relaxed, you might think that it has the ability to lower cortisol levels. In fact, the exact opposite is true. A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that men who had just one drink a week saw a three percent rise in their cortisol levels, and those levels can be even higher if you’re under a tremendous amount of pressure.
“We see people using alcohol to help relax however, alcohol is a depressant. While yes, in the moment you may feel ‘better,’ alcohol causes several issues that appear later on,” says Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, who serves on the advisory board for Smart Healthy Living.
“Also, alcohol can also depress your mood. Couple a depressed mood with stress and you may find yourself in a terrible rut,” she adds. “Alcohol can also disrupt deep sleep, so not only will you be hungover after a night of drinking, but you may also feel sick and lack a good night’s sleep!”
Quick Ways To Reduce Stress
Taking care of your long-term mental and physical health is an important part of stress management. However, there isnt always time to take a nap, hike a fourteener, or read a novel. Thus, here are 25 ways to reduce stress in five minutes or less. From eating chocolate to meditating, there is a quick stress-relieving tactic for everyone.
1. BreatheSlow, deep breaths can help lower blood pressure and heart rate. Try pranayama breathing, a yogic method that involves breathing through one nostril at a time to relieve anxiety. The technique is supposed to work the same way as acupuncture, balancing the mind and body.
2. Listen to Music No matter what the song, sometimes belting out the lyrics to a favorite tune makes everything seem all right. If youre in a public place, just listening to music can be a quick fix for a bad mood. Classical music can be especially relaxing right before bedtime.
3. Take a Quick Walk When youre feeling overwhelmed or having trouble concentrating, go for a quick stroll around the block. Youll get the benefits of alone time, physical activity, and a few minutes to gather your thoughts.
4. Find the Sun If its a sunny day, head outside for an easy way to lift your spirits. Bright light can be an effective treatment for people who suffer from depression, and can even cheer up otherwise healthy people.
8. Rub Your Feet Over a Golf Ball You can get an impromptu, relaxing foot massage by rubbing your feet back and forth over a golf ball.
12. Be Alone
Read Also: Can You Get Physically Sick From Stress
Tip : Connect To Others
There is nothing more calming than spending quality time with another human being who makes you feel safe and understood. In fact, face-to-face interaction triggers a cascade of hormones that counteracts the bodys defensive fight-or-flight response. Its natures natural stress reliever . So make it a point to connect regularlyand in personwith family and friends.
Keep in mind that the people you talk to dont have to be able to fix your stress. They simply need to be good listeners. And try not to let worries about looking weak or being a burden keep you from opening up. The people who care about you will be flattered by your trust. It will only strengthen your bond.
Of course, its not always realistic to have a pal close by to lean on when you feel overwhelmed by stress, but by building and maintaining a network of close friends you can improve your resiliency to lifes stressors.
Tips for building relationships
How Can We Handle Stress In Healthy Ways
Stress serves an important purposeit enables us to respond quickly to threats and avoid danger. However, lengthy exposure to stress may lead to mental health difficulties or increased physical health problems. A large body of research suggests that increased stress levels interfere with your ability to deal with physical illness. While no one can avoid all stress, you can work to handle it in healthy ways that increase your potential to recover.
There are several other methods you can use to relax or reduce stress, including:
Recommended Reading: Can Stress Cause You To Get Sick
Personal Problems That Can Cause Stress
- Your health, especially if you have a chronic illness such as heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis
- Emotional problems, such as anger you can’t express, depression, grief, guilt, or low self-esteem
- Your relationships, such as having problems with your relationships or feeling a lack of friendships or support in your life
- Major life changes, such as dealing with the death of a parent or spouse, losing your job, getting married, or moving to a new city
- Stress in your family, such as having a child, teen, or other family member who is under stress, or being a caregiver to a family member who is elderly or who has health problems
- Conflicts with your beliefs and values. For example, you may value family life, but you may not be able to spend as much time with your family as you want.
The Importance Of Managing Stress
If youre living with high levels of stress, youre putting your entire well-being at risk. Stress wreaks havoc on your emotional equilibrium, as well as your physical health. It narrows your ability to think clearly, function effectively, and enjoy life. It may seem like theres nothing you can do about stress. The bills wont stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day, and your work and family responsibilities will always be demanding. But you have a lot more control than you might think.
Effective stress management helps you break the hold stress has on your life, so you can be happier, healthier, and more productive. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and funand the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on. But stress management is not one-size-fits-all. Thats why its important to experiment and find out what works best for you. The following stress management tips can help you do that.
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How Can I Manage My Stress
Use your strengths and skills to make a positive plan to address the stressful events in your life and how youre reacting to stress.
Whether your stress is internal or external, relaxation techniques can help you manage stress and boost your ability to cope. There are many different techniques, and its important you find the ones you connect with. Examples include slow breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and exercise.
Read more here on relaxation techniques for stress relief.
A friend or family member can also be a great source of support, but at times you may feel that you need help from a professional. Consider talking with a counsellor, psychologist or social worker to work with you to identify the source of your stress and build strategies to better manage it.
Psychologists and other therapists use a range of approaches to help manage stress and anxiety. One evidence-based approach is a technique known as cognitive behavior therapy which is based on the idea that how you think and act affects how you feel.
Watch this video from This Way Up about ways to cope during stressful or difficult times.
Sleep Hygiene Tips For Lower Cortisol Levels
- Go to bed at a regular time each night.
- Set an alarm to get you up at the same time each morning.
- Wash your bedding and night clothes regularly.
- Keep distractions, like noise, tv, and phones, to a minimum before bed.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
- Dont exercise in the evening.
- Avoid bright lights and screens before bed.
FACTShift work from early adulthood is associated with increased, prolonged cortisol levels and a higher body mass index .
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Know What Brings You Pleasure And Find Ways To Enjoy The Experience
Perhaps you enjoy volunteer opportunities or cooking your favorite foods. By taking time not only to participate in these activities but to intentionally enjoy them, you can build a satisfying life rather than hurry through your relaxing activities at a stressful pace.
Written by American Heart Association editorial staff and reviewed by science and medicine advisers. See our editorial policies and staff.
Last Reviewed: Oct 31, 2016