Most people with anxiety need to find ways to lower their cortisol levels to lower their anxiety. Cortisol is a chemical produced by your adrenal glands. It’s an important part of overall, robust health, because cortisol gives you the energy to face challenges and move past them. But, too much cortisol in your bloodstream causes and/or exacerbates anxiety, and can also wreak havoc on your health in lots of other ways. As part of self-help stress management, it’s important to find ways to lower your overall cortisol levels. This will also lessen your anxiety disorder symptoms.
What is Cortisol, Anyway?
Cortisol is a hormone that’s secreted by your adrenal glands, which are located on top of your kidneys. Often called the “fight or flight” chemical, cortisol acts as an overall stimulant, causing your heart to beat faster, your blood vessels to constrict, and your muscles to tense in preparation to meet a real or imagined threat. Healthy cortisol levels are important for overall energy levels, and for dealing with “healthy stressors,” e.g., starting a new job, getting married, traveling, or becoming a parent.
However, the seemingly endless, amorphous stressors of modern life, coupled with our generally sedentary lifestyle, conspire to raise coritsol levels to unhealthy extremes, with little or no release. Increased cortisol levels gives us the energy to cope with life’s problems, and that’s generally a good thing, provided it’s temporary. It’s when our cortisol levels are permanently elevated that we run into trouble. High cortisol produces excess anxiety, among other negative health concerns. That’s why it’s very important to lower your level of cortisol.
The Negative Health Effects of High Cortisol Levels
- Weight gain/obesity — High cortisol is linked to increased fat storage, particularly in the abdominal area.
- Increased risk of diabetes — Cortisol plays a role in the regulation of blood sugar levels, and of how responsive your cells are to the insulin produced by your pancreas. Lots of coritsol for long periods of time makes your body more insulin-resistant, which can lead to diabetes.
- Weakened immune system — In the long run, high levels of cortisol suppress your immune response, which increases the risk of developing all sorts of diseases, including arthritis, cancer, and auto-immune disorders.
- Increased risk of mental illness — Too much cortisol may actually trigger the development of mental illness, especially in adolescents with a potential genetic predisposition toward mental illness.
Ways to Lower Your Cortisol Levels and Your Anxiety
- Improve your diet — Eating a healthy diet is an important part of managing cortisol. Avoid or cut down on sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. Eat more protein and whole grains. Increase your intake of fiber by eating lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Engage in regular physical activity — Moderate, regular physical exercise does wonders to relieve stress and lower your cortisol levels. Find something you love (I like yoga, hiking, and weight lifting) and do it at least three times per week.
- Practice meditation — Even a few minutes of meditation a day has a cumulative, positive effect on your stress levels. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, or take a lot of time. You can try this easy one minute meditation as a place to start.
- Develop a spiritual life — Including some sort of spirituality in your healing process — which I define as feeling connected to a benevolent force larger than I am — is also a great way to manage your anxiety and your cortisol levels.
- Reach out for social connection — Isolation and loneliness increase stress, anxiety, aggression, and depression. It’s important to find ways to connect socially with other people to manage your stress. Try these tips for decreasing anxiety and loneliness for some ideas.
Cortisol gives your body necessary energy, as long as elevated levels are temporary. Long-term levels of cortisol in your blood actually zaps your energy, and leaves you more susceptible to anxiety and other health concerns. Fortunately, there are ways you can lower your cortisol levels, along with your anxiety. I hope these tips prove helpful to you in that regard.
- Cortisol — Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy
- 10 Fun Ways To Reduce Your Cortisol Levels
- Cortisol: Why “The Stress Hormone” Is Public Enemy No. 1