T1D Living

How To Lower Cortisol Naturally

How many times have you heard, “you need to stop worrying” or “you must control your stress”. I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me not to stress about stress, I stress that I’m not de-stressing enough, and then I stress about how much I’m stressing. So before we all get stressed out wondering how to lower cortisol levels naturally, let’s first take a deeper look at cortisol and it’s very important role in the body.


Why Cortisol is Good

Cortisol, oh cortisol. It’s not you, it’s me. Literally.

Cortisol is referred to as the “stress hormone” because it’s one of the main hormones we release when under stress; helping us to “fight or flight” in dire situations. Not only does cortisol help to heighten both our awareness and response in these dire situations, but it also ceases non-essential functions of the body (like hair growth, digestions, and immune function, just to name a few). Which sounds like negative at first, until you find yourself back in 10,000 BC and running for your life from a cheetah. You’d be happy that you didn’t need to make a pit-stop for a  bathroom break.

Although we may not be running from cheetahs anymore, we face a greater stress: chronic low level stress.


The Problem with Chronic Low Level Stress

When our stress is constant or prolonged it causes a continuous cease of the “non-essential” functions of the body. These non-essential functions, tho not essential at the moment of a dire situation, are VERY essential for living the rest of your life outside of that brief moment of stress. Chronic stress contributes to hair loss/thinning, fertility problems, weight gain, accelerated again, GI problems, immune disorders, heart disease, and Alzheimers – just to name a few.

What contributes to chronic low level stress? How long do you have – because this list is long! But essentially it’s negative thoughts (anxiety, worry, anger), lack of sleep, inflammatory diet (aka the standard american diet), medication, chronic exercise, obesity, environmental toxins, etc.

Normally, once the stressor is gone, the body is able to self regulate back to normal hormonal balance, however with the abundance of stressors in today’s modern world our bodies don’t stand a chance. We are burying them alive in heaps of modern day stress. Which is why it’s important to learn how to lower cortisol levels naturally.


The T1D Connection

As type 1 diabetics we come with a little more chronic stress than your average Jane. Not only is managing T1D stressful in general but our endocrine systems are more delicate and susceptible to the effects of chronic stress.

It goes without saying that stress has a direct impact on blood sugar levels. We’ve all been there, walking into a job interview with a BG in normal rage and leaving with one 100pts higher. This is your body’s natural response to a fight or flight situation. By pulling glucose from your liver & muscle stores your body is just itching to explode with power in case you choose to “fight” or run for you life and “flight”. The problem is, very rarely now do we choose to “fight” or “flight” – we just kind of sit there – which means all this extra glucose is now just chillin in your bloodstream with nowhere to go.

Sometimes you can anticipate the stress and give yourself a pre-bolus for it, however I very rarely do this because it’s hard to guess how stressful a situation may be.

Another factor that contributes to chronic low level stress is inflammation. And unfortunately any blood sugar over 140mg/dL puts the body in a state of inflammation.


How to lower cortisol levels naturally

Although the title of this post is “ how to lower cortisol levels naturally ”, the real title should be “how to remove excess chronic low level stress so that your body can balance its stress hormones naturally, the way it has been doing it for hundreds of thousands of years until modern civilization came about and buried it alive.” But that was just too long.


1. Eat REAL Foods

Diets full of processed foods, grains, and sugar put a tremendous amount of stress on the body. They cause an inflammatory response which not only damages the gut lining but results in immune reactions as well.

A big mistake people make when trying to eat healthier is removing fat from their diet. But fat is one of the most nutrient dense foods out there and is necessary for optimal hormone production. Your body uses fat to manufacture hormones, produce new cells, and promote healthy brain function. Without consuming enough dietary fat your body  is unable to function properly and therefore becomes burdened with stress.

All fat in not created equal, so make sure you’re getting good sources of fat. Some examples are coconut oil, olive oil, lard from grass fed animals, avocados, and ghee from grass fed cows.


2. Exercise

Remember what I said about our bodies producing cortisol in response to stress to help us in a flight or flight situation? Well that’s because for the past 200,000 years we only had those two choices… fight or flight. We either had to fight that cheetah or run away from it. Either way we needed a surge of hormones to help us make it. Fast forward to today and most stressful situations just harbor inside of us with nowhere to go. Your boss just made another snarky comment and you have to sit there and smile. You just got served a $150 ticket for speeding and have to say “thank you, officer, won’t happen again”. One way to let out that stress is to do what your body has evolved to do. I’m not suggesting you slap your boss in the face, or flee from the police officer. No, that would be really bad. Instead pick up some weights or take a kickboxing class. That will recreate the “fight” response. You could also go for a sprint or take a spinning class; that will recreate the “flight” response. Either way, you’re using up those stress hormones the way nature intended.


3. Meditation/Yoga

OMmmm. oo I’m already feeling more relaxed.

Meditation has proven over and over again to be a great stress reliever. Even just taking a few deep breaths engages the Vagus nerve and instantly lowers blood pressure, slows down heart rate, and decreases your cortisol levels.


4. Have Fun and Laugh!

Have you ever been super pissed off then something funny happens and you laugh so hard that you completely forget what it is you were pissed about? Then you start laughing about how mad you were? Doesn’t it feel good?! Studies have proven that even just the anticipation of laughter helps regulate cortisol levels. And bonus points if you have a pet. Extensive research has been done on the effects of pet therapy, proving that spending time with our pets fills our body with healing hormones (including oxytocin and endorphins) that support the body’s self-healing mechanisms.


5. Sleep

For over 200,000 years our bodies have evolved to sleep when it’s dark and to be awake when it’s light. If you think about it, that’s about 12 hours in the winter and 8 hours in the summer. Only recently (since the 1930’s) did we start interrupting our body’s natural circadian rhythm and staying awake longer. Today, the average american gets 6 hours of interrupted sleep per night, year-round.

Getting proper sleep helps our body’s detox, balance hormones, and restore the body. When we don’t get enough sleep, you guessed it, we get a buildup of toxins, our hormones (including cortisol) become unbalanced, and our body can’t perform regenerative processes.


6. Avoid Negativity

Easier said than done, I know. But avoiding negativity, whether it be avoiding negative people or avoiding negative self talk, will do wonders for your stress levels. When you find yourself getting sucked into the negativity trap think about this mantra, Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. You are the architect of your life. So make it beautiful!


7. Avoid Toxins

Toxins are a major source of stress for our bodies. And although our bodies come well equipped to detox (thank you liver & kidneys), they can’t keep up with the sheer volume that we’re throwing at them. The top ways I avoid toxins are

  • Using natural personal care products (toothpaste, deodorant, soap, makeup, etc).
  • Using natural cleaners and detergents
  • Avoiding plastics, especially in cooking/heating
  • Avoiding processed foods
  • Eating locally and/or organic whenever possible
  • Sleeping on a toxic free mattress and pillow

8. Adaptogen Herbs

Adaptogen herbs help balance hormones and reduce inflammation due to their high antioxidant content and antibacterial & antiviral effects. Herbs I particularly like to use (in tea form) are ginseng, licorice root, and holy basil.


9. Dry Brushing & Massages

If you haven’t tried dry brushing you haven’t lived. I will say that it does takes a couple weeks to get used to the feeling of the rough bristles on your skin, but after some time you’ll find yourself getting really excited when it’s shower time (which is when I typically do my dry brushing). Both dry brushing and massages increases circulation and stimulates dopamine levels, which in turn aid in cortisol balance.


10. Magnesium

Magnesium is renowned for it’s ability to help relaxation – which is why it’s a great sleep aid (and why I personally spray magnesium oil on my skin before bed). Low levels of magnesium can cause symptoms of anxiety, depression, and impaired sleep – all ingredients for a low level stress cocktail.


11. Earthing

Trust me, it sounds much more crunchy & complicated than it actually is. Earthing is just a fancy name for walking around barefoot. Studies have shown that coming in direct contact with the earth’s surface electrons does wonders on restoring hormonal balance, reducing inflammation, and strengthening our immune system.

I know this can be tricky because ever since diagnosis we’ve been told NEVER WALK AROUND BAREFOOT! YOU COULD INJURE YOUR FOOT AND NOT KNOW IT. Now unless you have diabetic neuropathy AND are blind I don’t see the issue with walking around barefoot – so I take the risk.


Stress is Unavoidable

Don’t get caught up in trying to be perfect and never stressing. Stress will happen. Curve balls will be thrown. But if you can take the stress, feel it, then brush it off, and move on, your life will be so much better.


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Leave A Comment

  1. Leena May 15, 2017 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    I absolutely adore everything this blog provided thank you so much for this information! Very helpful.

  2. emily February 14, 2020 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    This was so amazingly helpful. Thank you!

    • T1D Living February 20, 2020 at 11:37 am - Reply

      So glad you liked it!

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