5 Surprising Ways to Lower Cortisol and Beat Stress

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

Ben Greenfield
6-minute read
Episode #275

Enter Shinrin-Yoku

Allow me to introduce you to your friend “Shinrin-Yoku.” Shinrin-Yoku is not, in fact, the chef at a local romantic sushi restaurant I’m recommending you choose for date night, nor is Shinrin-Yoku some never-before-seen, contortionist version of Kama Sutra. Shinrin-Yoku is in fact, the Japanese term for “forest-bathing.”

No, I am not referring to a kinky hot tub in the forest. I am talking about walking on a nature trail, in a forest, near an arboretum, or anywhere else where you are immersed in the sights, sounds, smell, and feel of nature. As I discussed in a recent podcast about the best ways to lower cortisol, Shinrin-Yoku has been clinically proven to expose you to high levels of specific plant and tree chemicals that lower salivary cortisol. Also known as “forest medicine,” Shinrin-Yoku is a term that means "taking in the forest atmosphere." It was developed in Japan during the 1980’s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. There is now a huge amount of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time in a living forest, including boosted immune system functioning, lower blood pressure, increased ability to focus, accelerated recovery from surgery or sickness, and increased sleep quality.

So how do can you use the concept of Shinrin-Yoku to lower cortisol and stress. Here are five quick and dirty tips that don’t involve you moving to the mountains or driving to a forest.

1)  Pine, evergreen, or cedar essential oil: Essential oils that have been extracted from plants and trees and subsequently concentrated into tiny bottles have been shown to have the ability to lower cortisol in the same way that a relaxing walk through the forest would. I personally sprinkle these oils in my sauna, on my upper lip, or pour them into the air in my office by using something called a cold air diffuser. When you walk into my office, it literally smells like a forest! Here’s a detailed podcast I recorded on essential oils and how to use them.

2) A log or stump from the forest: Next to my standing desk, I have a beautiful old stump that I found out in the forest. Upstairs in my living room, I have a big, uniquely-shaped bark-covered log that I also “harvested” from the forest. Sure, these aren’t the same as a whole tree complete with leaves or flowers, but by placing these pieces of nature in specific places in my house, I can add a touch of natural beauty while getting the functionality of being able to put a foot up on the stump while working, or sitting on or against the log in my living room.

3) NASA houseplants: NASA has found that specific houseplants can clean the air, reduce toxins in your home, and even cause a relaxing, destressing effect. In no order of importance, those plants include:

  • Ferns
  • Gerbera daisy
  • Heartleaf philodendron
  • Snake plant
  •  Spider plant
  • Chinese evergreen
  • Golden pothos

You can read more about the NASA houseplant study here.

4) A negative ion generator: A high amount of something called “negative ions” are found near running water, in fresh air, on the beach, etc. These ions are what give you that awake, aware, and relaxed focus when you’re in clean, fresh outdoor environments. You can get affordable negative ion generators (for just over twenty dollars) –that aren’t much larger than a golf ball and that pump out the same ions into any room in your house, and I personally have a negative ion generator installed in both my bedroom and office.

5) Your windows: You’ve no doubt heard that occasionally being a bit chilly or having the temperature in your house frequently fluctuate can actually be beneficial for your metabolism and fat loss, but you can also get fresh air, negative ions, cortisol and stress lowering natural scents from outside, and even the sound of birds or other forms of nature when you simply open the window in your office or home. Even if you live in an urban area, you’d be surprised at how much more natural things can feel when fresh air is pouring through a window.

Finally, I don’t want you to get me wrong: exercise is not bad. Exercise can reduce stress. In his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, John Ratey, describes in great detail how exercise grows brain cells, improves mental functioning, allows for better focus, and significantly reduces stress. I’d recommend you give that book a read!

But there’s also a law of diminishing returns. You need far less exercise than you think to lower stress or risk of chronic disease (check out my episode “How Much Exercise Is Too Much” for more on that), and if you’re a hard-charging person who has perhaps been putting too much stress on your body from exercise, relationships, work, travel, toxins, etc., and you’re discovering that overexercise or too much stress is disrupting sleep, fat loss or health, then you may want to incorporate these five little-known ways to lower cortisol and beat stress.

Do you have questions about any of these little-known ways to lower cortisol and beat stress? Join the conversation at Facebook.com/getfitguy.


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.