So how can you bring down that all important cortisol level without emptying your back pocket? Here are some easy and affordable ways you can relax.
1. Swimming: Any physical exercise will release the happy hormones, endorphins, leading you to momentarily lower cortisol levels. However, swimming takes things one step further, with the water providing a meditative effect to help calm and clear your anxious mind.
2. Yoga: “If you struggle to engage in mindfulness or slow breathing exercises, yoga might be for you,” says clinical psychologist Dr Rosalind Case. “It combines slow and deep breathing techniques with strong postures and movement, which many people find easier to focus on if they are distractible.” Before you start looking at the cost of classes, remember you can incorporate yoga into your daily routine by checking out a book at the library, finding a YouTube video, or downloading a phone app such as Daily Yoga or Asana Rebel.
3. Mindfulness: “Try some daily mindfulness with the Smiling Mind’s app. Remember, it’s normal for your mind to wander during mindfulness – resist the urge to do it perfectly! Just do it every day for a couple of minutes and you should start to notice results,” says Dr Case. Another option is to take time while stuck in traffic or lined up in a queue to observe mindfully, rather than getting impatient. Participants in a study at Maharishi University who meditated daily for four months decreased cortisol levels by an average of 20 per cent.
4. Music: In the journal Plos One, a study was published that looked at the effects of music on stress levels. It found that music was most effective when you used it prior to a stressful situation or environment rather than during or after. When doctors at Japan’s Osaka Medical Center played tunes for a group of patients undergoing colonoscopies, the patients’ cortisol levels rose less than those who underwent the same procedure in a quiet room.
5. Massage and pressure points: You could splash out on a professional full body massage, or you could gain most of the benefits for free at home! Grab some moisturiser, and mindfully rub from the tips of your toes, all the way up your legs, your back, your stomach, arms and chest. Breathe deeply, appreciate the light scent of the cream and think about each body part as you self-massage. For a quick stress relief while out and about, you can even use light acupressure. Pull down gently on your earlobes and rub the inner surface for two to three minutes to relieve some pressure.
6. Chew: Chewing gum may be the answer to a little stress relief. Findings from Northumbria University show that under moderate stress, gum chewers had salivary cortisol levels that were 12 per cent lower than non-chewers, and also reported greater alertness.
7. Have a cup of tea: While herbal usually receives the positive wrap, black tea is the way to go when you want to reduce that stressful feeling. Naturally occurring chemicals such as polyphenols and flavonoids are thought to be responsible for black tea’s calming effects. However, the process of brewing and sitting down to sip is equally calming whatever colour of tea you choose.
8. Sleep: Sometimes that nasty stress hormone can be the reason you’re not getting enough kip, whether you have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep. The average adult is recommended to get between seven to nine hours sleep every night; anything less, and you are rewarded with 50 per cent more cortisol circulating in your bloodstream compared to your well-rested friends. Keep technology out of your bedroom, keep caffeine to a minimum and try not to have any after 12 pm. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, write down what’s bothering you, or go to another room to read until you feel sleepy so your bedroom is reserved exclusively for zzz’s.
9. Get out: Socialising might be the last thing on your mind when those cortisol levels have ramped up, but it could be just what you need. A distraction from what’s setting you on edge and connecting with the real world might have you feeling a bit more normal. Studies published in the journal Science used mice to illustrate the connection between isolation and the level of cortisol that trigger a cascade of potential mental health issues.
10. Breathe: “Slow your heart rate down with slow breathing – check out the Breathing Zone app, which helps you slow your breaths down to an ideal seven breaths per minute,” says Dr Case. There are also various meditative breathing techniques to try including belly breathing or pranayama (forceful inhalation and forceful exhalation)
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