Poor cortisol: It means well but just doesn’t know when to quit. Produced by your adrenal glands, this “stress hormone” helps regulate blood pressure and the immune system during a sudden crisis, whether a physical attack or an emotional setback. This helps you to tap into yourenergy reserves and increases your ability to fight off infection.
Fortunately, an antidote to the body’s fight-or-flight mode has evolved: the relaxation response. Here are eight surprising ways to invoke stress management—and in some cases, cut your cortisol levels almost in half.
To Cut Cortisol 20%…Say “Om”
People who practiced Buddhist meditation significantly decreased both cortisol and blood pressure in a 6-week Thai study. Similarly, participants who meditated daily for four months decreased the hormone by an average of 20% in a study at Maharishi University, while levels in the nonmeditating control group actually went up slightly.
To Cut Cortisol Elevation 66%…Make a great iPod mix
Music can have a calming effect on the brain, especially while you’re facing down a major stressor. 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 of others who underwent the same procedure in a quiet room.
To Cut Cortisol 50%…Hit the sack early—or take a nap
What’s the difference between getting six hours of sleep instead of the suggested eight? “Fifty percent more cortisol in the bloodstream,” Talbott says. When a group of pilots slept six hours or less for seven nights while on duty, their cortisol levels increased significantly and stayed elevated for two days, found a study at Germany’s Institute for Aerospace Medicine.
To Cut Cortisol 47%…Sip some black tea
The “cup that cheers” has deep associations with comfort and calm—just think of how the English revere their late-afternoon teatime. As it turns out, science confirms the connection: When volunteers at University College London were given a stressful task, the cortisol levels of those who were regular black-tea drinkers fell by 47% within an hour of completing the assignment, while others who drank fake tea experienced only a 27% drop.
To Cut Cortisol 39%…Hang out with a funny friend
The pal who keeps you in stitches can do more than distract you from your problems—her very presence may help temper your hormonal stress response. Simply anticipating laughter is enough to reduce cortisol levels by nearly half, according to researchers at Loma Linda University.
To Cut Cortisol 31%…Schedule a massage
A little pampering can rub your stress levels the right way. After several weeks of massage therapy, subjects’ cortisol levels decreased by nearly one-third, on average, according to studies at the University of MiamiSchool of Medicine and elsewhere.
To Cut Cortisol 25%…Do Something Spiritual
Religious ritual fortifies many people against everyday pressures, and it can also lower cortisol secretion, report University of Mississippi researchers. Churchgoing study subjects had lower levels of the stress hormone, on average, than those who did not attend services at all.
To Cut Cortisol 12-16%…Chew a Piece of Gum
Next time you feel frazzled, try popping a stick of gum into your mouth to instantly defuse tension, suggest new findings from Northumbria University in the United Kingdom. While under moderate stress, gum chewers had salivary cortisol levels that were 12% lower than nonchewers and also reported greater alertness than their gum-deprived counterparts.