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Genius Tapping Trick Tames Chronic Stress + More Easy Ways To Reduce Cortisol

Permission to skip the elaborate meditation rituals. Experts say these easy stress busters can be done in 5 minutes or less

You already know it’s normal to feel a little tense now and then. Who could blame you when you’re juggling a packed schedule, taking care of your family and a mile-long to-do list? But when you start to feel stressed out more frequently, your mood and your health can take a hit. To blame: High levels of the stress hormone cortisol. While cortisol is essential for a number of bodily functions, persistently elevated levels of the hormone can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure and even weaker bones. Here, experts reveal how to reduce cortisol naturally so you feel happier and healthier.

What exactly is cortisol?

While cortisol is commonly known as the body’s stress hormone, it also plays a role in everything from regulating your sleep-wake cycle to keeping your immune system humming.

“Cortisol is a substance in our body that actually gives us the impetus to get up and move,” reveals Wynne Brown, MD, medical director of integrative medicine at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist. “If we don’t have enough cortisol, we can’t get up out of bed, we can’t do anything. But having balanced cortisol is the issue, and our society really doesn’t support balance when it comes to cortisol.”

Related: How to Fight Stress Belly — The Tricks That Tame Tension and Speed Weight Loss

Chronic stress keeps cortisol elevated

Your body’s cortisol level naturally fluctuates throughout the day, starting with a boost first thing in the morning to spur you awake. When you exercise or experience stress, your adrenal glands churn out cortisol, too. But for some, those periodic spikes of the hormone can become more frequent. Persistent stress can push the body into a constant state of elevated cortisol.

“With external stressors, we think about our job or the things we have to do at home that are stressful, or interacting with family and friends,” Dr. Brown says. “But then there are internal stressors — which I don’t think we talk enough about — things that we worry about, the messages we give ourselves can create internal stress. And that can cause high cortisol levels, as well.” (Click through to learn how yoga for menopause eases stress as we age.)

A woman holding her hands to her head while closing her eyes due to elevated cortisol

Related: Chronic Stress? Experts Say These Delicious Cortisol-Lowering Foods Can Help

How excess cortisol affects your health

Chronically elevated cortisol can dampen more than just your mood. It can also lead to:

  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Muscle weakness
  • Decreased bone density
  • Insomnia

“A lot of people will have chronic anxiety, and the other thing that often happens is interrupted sleep,” Dr. Brown notes. “Sometimes people can’t get to sleep, or they wake up continuously during the night, or wake up and can’t get back to sleep due to high cortisol.”

High levels of cortisol also can also raise your risk of a condition known as Cushing’s Syndrome, which occurs when your body makes too much cortisol over a long period of time. This can lead to complications such as heart attack, stroke, blood clots, high blood pressure, depression and type 2 diabetes. So it’s not surprise that so many women want to know how to reduce cortisol to stay happy and healthy. (Click through to learn how reducing stress can cure an itchy scalp and hair loss and get rid of canker sores, too.)

Related: The 15¢ Herb That Lowers Cortisol Levels to Burn Off a ‘Stress Belly’ — It’s So Effective Even Doctors Are Using It!

How to reduce cortisol naturally

Now for some good news: If you’re wondering how to reduce cortisol, you don’t need to rely on lengthy, complicated relaxation rituals or pricy prescriptions. Our experts say these simple, natural remedies can help.

1. Take ‘micro breaks’

Sure, a relaxing week at the beach can lower your stress levels. But what about the rest of the year when you’re not on vacation? Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, says building short breaks into your everyday activities can help you reset and decompress when stress levels increase. (Click through to learn how to lower cortisol in the morning to start your day stress-free.)

“Take micro breaks,” she suggests. “Stand up and get some fresh air, because we know sitting all day is horrible for us. Taking a break does not mean waiting for vacation.”

A quick break — even as little as 60 seconds — to pop outside on your porch and listen to the birds chirping or stroll through your garden to admire your favorite blooms can work wonders. (Tip: Need a little help bringing more cute critters to your yard? Click through to see the best window bird feeders, and to see how walking barefoot tames stress, too.)

A woman with her hands behind her head standing a park to reduce cortisol

Bonus: Dr. Brown says incorporating gentle movement (such as a short stroll) on your micro break boosts the benefit. “Moving your body is really essential when you have high cortisol,” she says. “It helps to release some of that built up tension in the body.”

2. Quiet your mind

Research in Frontiers in Psychology shows mindfulness techniques such as meditation, yoga and deep breathing significantly reduce stress. Mindfulness in particular influences different pathways to the brain, changing activity in areas associated with emotion regulation. “Relaxation techniques actually work to lower your cortisol by helping your brain produce its own amazing pharmacy of chemicals,” Jackson Blatner adds.

And mindfulness doesn’t mean carving out an hour to visit a yoga studio and sit in silence, either. It can easily be done in just a few minutes anytime, anywhere. The gist: Clear your mind as you focus only the here and now, noticing the sight, sounds and smells around you.

“I like to pair a good walk with a mindfulness practice, quieting the mind while walking,” Dr. Brown says. “And it doesn’t have to be complicated — it can just be looking intently and noticing everything in your immediate environment while you’re walking.” Need some inspiration? Check out the 5-minute mindful walk meditation video below.

3. Try a tapping trick

Dr. Brown says acupuncture is a good way to balance cortisol levels. But if the idea of needles stresses you out, she says acupressure techniques can be just as effective.

“The tapping solution is a great one,” she notes. “You to go through a short series of movements, tapping on yourself on the acupuncture points, which can alleviate anxiety and high cortisol quickly.”

Dr. Brown says the gentle tapping motion helps soothe the body and brain, helping nervous energy to dissipate. Next time you feel tension building, follow the simple steps in the short video below to tap tension away:

4. Sip holy basil tea

Holy basil, also called tulsi, is an aromatic shrub proven to reduce physical, mental and metabolic stress, among other benefits. It comes in many forms, including pills and tinctures. But Dr. Brown suggests enjoying holy basil in a cup. “You can find holy basil as a tea, which you can drink throughout the day,” she says. “That can help with anxiety and high cortisol. It can even help you sleep better.”

Dr. Brown says holy basil’s properties make it ideal for reaching a happy medium of cortisol in the body. For best benefits, she suggests an organic variety, such as From Great Origins Tulsi Tea Bags (Buy from Amazon, $19.99). “Holy basil has both a calming and a slightly stimulating effect, but not very much,” she says. “Overall, the effect you get is bringing down the high cortisol and helping create that balance.” (Click through to see more benefits of holy basil.)

5. Stay social

You know that supportive friends and family lift your mood. Now, a study in Psychiatry confirms that spending time with loved ones (or even pets!) improves your mood and lowers stress, reining in high cortisol levels.

“Loneliness is one of our biggest health crises in this country,” Jackson Blatner says. “So you want to do fun things with friends, family, it could even be a pet. The bottom line is that social connection”, which helps keeps elevated cortisol in check.

Jackson Blatner says that doesn’t mean you need to plan a party or fill your schedule with coffee dates. It can be as simple as spending time with your dog or cat, inviting a neighbor to join you on your afternoon walk, sharing a laugh with your daughter or scheduling a regular call to check in with your best friend. (Click through to learn how many hugs you need a day to tame stress.)

A mother and daughter lying in a hammock together laughing to reduce cortisol
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty

How to reduce cortisol: When to see a doctor

Dr. Brown says it’s important to consult a doctor and get testing if you think your cortisol levels may be continually elevated. She says a simple saliva test, which is often covered by insurance, can help you better understand and regulate your hormone levels.

“With those results, it’s easier to know if the cortisol imbalance is one where it’s high all the time, or whether you have that high and low pattern or if it’s low all the time,” she explains. “Knowing what’s happening with your cortisol rhythm is very helpful.”

If you do identify elevated cortisol levels, trying to reduce stress and regain balance shouldn’t be a solo undertaking, Dr. Brown says. “With anxiety, it’s best to really get help, whether it’s with a friend or with a professional,” she says. “The key is to get some support, because otherwise you then feed that internal stress that causes things to get worse, not better.”

For more natural ways to keep your cortisol levels in check:

Chronic Stress? Experts Say These Delicious Cortisol-Lowering Foods Can Help

Top Docs: Easy Ways to Lower the Stress Hormone Cortisol in the Morning So You Feel Peaceful All Day + Lose Belly Fat Fast

The 15¢ Herb That Lowers Cortisol Levels to Burn Off a ‘Stress Belly’ — It’s So Effective Even Doctors Are Using It!

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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