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5 Surprising Ways to Lower Cortisol and Beat Stress

Want to lower cortisol and beat stress? Get-Fit Guy Ben Greenfield has you covered.

By
Ben Greenfield
6-minute read
Episode #275

In a past article about identifying stress, I wrote about the adrenal glands and the four stages of adrenal exhaustion. These stages were first identified back in the 1950s, when Dr. Hans Selye conducted experiments creating stress in rats. In the experiments, poor little rats were forced to tread water with their legs tied together until they became exhausted and died.

Dr. Selye then removed the adrenal glands from the rats at various stages of drowning and discovered that the adrenal glands respond to stress in several distinct stages. In the initial stage, they enlarge, and the blood supply to them increases, but as the stress continues, the glands begin to shrink. Eventually, as the stress continues, the glands reach a completely depleted stage of adrenal exhaustion.

This makes sense, because in a stressful situation your adrenal glands are responsible for causing your body to release the stress-hormone cortisol, raising your blood pressure, transferring blood from your gut to your extremities, increasing your heart rate, suppressing your immune system, and increasing your blood-clotting ability. These glands work really hard to allow you to survive!

But this response is supposed to be short-lived, not a constant “treading” day after day. For example, if our ancestor were walking through the forest and saw a wild animal, the adrenal glands would kick in. Her heart rate would increase, her pupils would dilate, the blood would go out of her digestive system into her arms and legs, her blood-clotting ability would improve, she would become more aware, and her blood pressure would rise. At that point, she’d either pick up a weapon and try to fight the animal or run.

And if she survived the ordeal, chances are that it would be while before a similar strain was put on her adrenal glands, and she would have plenty of time to relax, eat, recover, and play.

Our adrenal glands still work the same way, but most of us do not give our bodies the luxury of a recovery period after overworking them. As a result, we suffer from the ravages of chronic stress. Constant simulation of the adrenal glands causes a decrease in immune system function, so if you’re under constant stress, you tend to catch colds and have other immune system imbalance problems, such as allergies or exercise-induced asthma. Blood flow to your digestive tract is decreased, so you’re prone to irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and diarrhea. The increase in blood-clotting ability from prolonged stress can also lead to the formation of arterial plaque and heart disease. The list of deleterious repercussions from stress goes on and on.

So to effectively care for your adrenal glands, you must eliminate excess stress from your life while maximizing your stress-fighting capabilities. Although emotional stress is what most people think of when stress is mentioned, there are many other forms of stress that you must manage, including thermal stress from exposure to temperature extremes; chemical stress from pollution; rapid changes in blood sugar or pH; ingestion of food additives, molds, or toxins; and, of course, physical stress from heavy physical work, exercise, poor posture, spinal and structural misalignments, and lack of sleep.

Although there are a plethora of ways that you can lower cortisol and reduce stress in your life (especially if you’re a hard-charging exercise enthusiast!), reduce the propensity for adrenal fatigue or recover from overtraining. In this article, I’m going to focus on five little-known ways to lower cortisol and beat stress—methods that I’ve personally implemented. Read on for some helpful strategies.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.