17 ways to get your cortisol levels down
Stress is a sneaky thing. It can curl up inside you and grow like a Chia Pet until all the sprouts have grown out of control. Sometimes stress can manifest into physical symptoms, like temporary hives, one-day headaches, or long-term weight gain.
One simple way to deal is to let your body and mind reset. Take a nap — yep, even 10 minutes of napping can help. If you were sleepy in the first place, the lack of sleep can make it harder to manage stress.
Super quick de-stressing tips
1. Force a laugh or smile — even anticipating a laugh can boost your mood.
2. Make sure you’re not slouching, as posture can affect mood.
3. Mute all your phone notifications.
4. Give someone a hug.
5. Play a happy song, or a song that makes you happy.
But when the stress boilover happens during work, at a party, or in public, dropping everything to take a nap is definitely not a good look. And in these situations, stress can also join teams with anxiety, leaving you figuring out how to rein in both emotions.
Fortunately, there are tips and tricks that can help you get your cortisol levels down. If you need quick tips to keep your heart beating at a more manageable rate, read our ways to calm stress in five minutes or less.
If you’re noticing a bigger pattern, you might want to take a longer breather with our 30-minute tips or speak to a professional to get to the root of the problem.
Ways to calm stress in 5 minutes or less
1. Acknowledge your stress
Acknowledging your stress can really help lift the weight off your shoulders and could be the first step to asking for help.
Facing stress is an opportunity to reset your mind and take it as a chance to grow. Researchers say the brain is rewiring and trying to learn from the experience so you can handle it differently next time.
So, think about whether the stress is a buildup or related to a more long-term issue. If it’s unrelated to anything, maybe it’s a sign your mind and body need a break.
If it’s tied to a more long-term problem you can’t immediately solve, try another one of the quick relaxer tips below.
2. Chew gum
Chewing is a great form of stress reduction. If you have gum on hand, particularly scented gum, chew it for at least three minutes. One study of 101 adults found that people who chewed gum during work had a lower stress response.
But don’t chew half-heartedly! It may be useful to take out your pent-up energy on the gum. Another study found that vigorous chewing was required in order to achieve stress relief.
3. Drink stress-reducing tea
There are several supplements that can help reduce stress and anxiety, but many of these supplements may take a few weeks or months of intake before they have an effect.
However, the act of stepping away for a few minutes to make tea can be therapeutic. So why not also make a stress-relieving drink? Studies show that 1 gram of apple cider vinegarTrusted Source may take over 95 minutes to work its magic, while matcha may take up to an hour to workTrusted Source.
Although tea takes at least an hour to take effect, just stepping away can signal to your body to relax. Plus, once you get back to your desk, time may fly faster than you know it.
4. Inhale essential oils or invest in a diffuser
Inhaling essential oils may help calm the mindTrusted Source in times of stress, anxiety, and insomnia. This popular technique, also known as aromatherapy, focuses on using scents to holistically balance your physical, emotional, and psychological health.
Popular essential oils for combating stress include:
- Roman chamomile
- ylang ylang
- orange blossom
Choose scents based on your personal preferences. For example, if the smell of peppermint reminds you of holidays at home, use peppermint.
To use essential oils for stress, apply three dropsTrusted Source onto a cotton pad and breathe it in deeply 10 times. You can also purchase a diffuser for your room or desk so that it constantly releases a calming scent.
5. Stretch at your desk
It’s incredibly important to take breaks during work, even when you feel like there’s a rush to get your task at hand done. For the times when you can’t leave your desk, you can still stretch while sitting for five minutes without intervention.
Stretching can also help with discomfort and work-related pain or injuriesTrusted Source. The simplest stretch you can do is the upper body and arm stretch. To do this:
Clasp your hands together and push upward with your palms facing the sky.
1. Stretch and hold the pose for 10 seconds.
2. Try twisting your torso left and right for 30 seconds, then repeat.
3. For a full-body stretch, check out our desk-stretch routine.
Bonus tips for stress
- Keep a stress ball at your desk. Sometimes all you need to do is physically exert all the pent-up energy.
- Have a tactile item for comfort. This can be a crystal or a piece of velvet.
- Buy a massage pad for your chair. This $45 purchase is the most affordable, worth-it purchase for momentary relaxation. Sometimes stress can be a result of back strain or pain. Or your tensed muscles might be increasing your stress. A back massager with heated functionality will help you relax even more.
Ways to calm stress in 10 minutes
6. Go for a walk
Exercise or walking is a great way to manage stress. First, it lets you escape the situation. Second, exercise helps your body release endorphins, the neurotransmitters that make you feel warm and fuzzy.
Think of walking as moving meditation. A few laps around the block can help you forget previous tension and relax so you return to the situation calmer and more collected.
7. Memorize this yoga routine
Yoga isn’t only a popular exercise for all ages, but it’s also gaining traction for decreasing stress, anxiety, and depression. According to researchTrusted Source, yoga interrupts stress by producing an effect that’s opposite to your flight-or-fight response.
A simple routine can help lower your cortisol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate. One of our favorite 10-minute routines is by Tara Stiles. This routine starts off with a lot of relaxing swaying.
8. Intervene with mindfulness-based, stress-reduction techniques
Sometimes stress can cause your mind to spiral and lead you down an unnecessary rabbit hole of negative thoughts. One way of escaping that spiral is to anchor yourself to the present and focus on immediate results you can achieve.
Methods to try
- Close your eyes and scan your body. Pay attention to the physical feelings.
- Sit and meditate by paying attention to your breathing, sounds, sensations, and emotions. Let them pass through you.
- Change up your movement by taking a walk or standing up.
- Give full attention to small daily activities, like drinking water, eating, or brushing your teeth.
- 9. Write it out
Writing out what you’re stressed about can help you focus your thoughts on the positive or ways to tackle the negative.
Write away the stress
- Try the “so what?” exercise by asking yourself that question until it reveals something about yourself.
- See if there are any exceptions to your concerns.
- Keep a journal to track your changes and learnings.
- Treat this method of writing it out as a way of taking notes without derailing your whole workday. Keep these notes on hand to check for patterns to see if there’s a deeper reason behind your stress.
10. Try 4-7-8 breathing
The 4-7-8 breathing method is a powerful trick that gives your body an extra boost of oxygen. Deep breathing is an effective way to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression.
To do this: Place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and keep it there the whole time.
One cycle of 4-7-8 breathing
1. Part your lips slightly and exhale with a whooshing sound through your mouth.
2. Close your lips and inhale silently through your nose. Count to 4 in your head.
3. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
4. Exhale (with a whoosh sound) for 8 seconds.
5. Practice this mindlessly to let your brain relax.
6. Complete this cycle for four full breaths.
11. Try the emotional freedom technique (EFT)
Tapping or psychological acupressure is a specific methodic sequence that involves tapping specific meridian points (areas of the body energy flows through, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine) and reciting setup phrases that will help you acknowledge issues and accept yourself.
EFT in 5 steps
1. Identify what’s causing you stress.
2. On a scale of 0 to 10, write down how intense the issue is (10 being the highest).
3. Create a setup phrase that addresses your problem. For example: “Even though I’m stressed about this deadline, I deeply and completely accept myself.”
4. Tap on the nine meridian points (eyebrow, side of eyes, under eyes, under nose, chin, start of collarbone, and under arm) seven times. Repeat the phrase with each tapping point. Do this sequence two to three times.
5. Rate your final intensity to see if your stress level has gone down to 0. If not, repeat.
12. Talk in third person
Whether it’s to yourself or with a friend, talking can help tamper down your stress level. Yep, talking to yourself or about yourself in third person is a form of exerting self-control over negative emotions.
According to researchers, “Referring to yourself in the third person leads people to think about themselves more similar to how they think about others.”
Doing this can help you distance yourself from the experience or situation. The best part, though? It requires less effort.
Ways to calm stress in 30 minutes
13. Exercise, but make it daily
We mentioned walking earlier, but that was just a quick break. Routine exercise can help improve the way your body uses oxygen and helps you cope with stressful situations. The benefits of working out build up over time. You may be able to feel the difference as you stick to your routine.
It’s recommended to exercise for at least 30 minutes five days a week.
14. Take a hot bath
The answer to washing away a day of stress may be in your bathroom. Hot water is known to help release endorphins and increase blood flow to the skin. Warm baths can also:
- reduce risk of heart attack
- lower blood pressure
- burn calories
- For folks living with chronic pain, hot baths can also help keep muscles loose and reduce flare-ups.
- 15. Clean your room, desk, or dishes
Besides removing clutter and giving you relief from a crowded space, cleaning is an effective mindfulness practice. One study found that students who washed dishes had greater states of mindfulness and positive moods.
If you don’t have time to clean thoroughly, take this opportunity to organize items or tackle one cleaning task at a time. For example, if you have a load of laundry, use each washing and drying load to time your breaks.
16. Talk it out or reach out to friends
Social support is an extremely effective way to relieve stress. Ask a friend or co-worker to be a sounding board as you talk out your issues.
Sometimes the case with stressful situations is that you’re trying to find a problem or a connection when there isn’t one. An outsider’s perspective may help you see that more clearly.
If you do reach out to a friend, be sure to express your thanks and return the favor when they ask!
17. Foam roll out the tension
Sometimes stress becomes physical: It can cause your muscles to knot up. These knots can develop in very specific places that build up over time, which you can’t easily unwind via exercise or self-massage. That’s where foam rolling steps in.
Foam rolling adds pressure to those trigger points, signaling your body to increase blood flow to that area and for your muscle to relax. A full-body routine can help promote relaxation the way getting a massage will.
Take a closer look at your stress
Invisible stress is real, and it can build up into chronic stress. Sometimes we don’t notice it because it’s been there the whole time, like a freckle or mole. However, changing freckles or moles are something you want to take the time to check out, right? Stress is the same.
If you notice a change in your patience or find yourself more easily triggered by slight noises or simple mistakes, consider whether you need to take a break and calm your mind, or if there’s something bigger at play. Chronic stress can increase your risk for other mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety.
If these strategies aren’t giving you tools to cope, try seeking help from a professional.