The Cortisol Cure

Laurie Heap, MD

Chronic stress feeds the cortisol fire in our bodies. In response to stress—either physical or psychological— the adrenal gland kicks into gear and produces cortisol to help the body cope. Unfortunately chronic stress leaves the cortisol fire burning continuously, which has been proven to adversely affect our health in many ways: heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and thyroid system dysfunction, just to name a few.

Positive psychology research shows that happiness and optimism improve mood, thereby reducing stress—and its byproduct, cortisol. Here are some specific ideas based on positive psychology research, lifestyle alternatives, and nutritional supplementation that can boost your mood and lower cortisol in your body:

  • The gratitude bell: Think of three things you are grateful for three times a day—set the alarm on your phone if you need a reminder.
  • Write a friend a thank you note/email—just for being a good friend.
  • Forgive someone who has hurt your feelings and try to forget it.
  • Do something thoughtful for someone close to you and go out of your way to make their day better.
  • Gain control of your thoughts and make a conscious effort to be more optimistic.
  • Find a mission—look at the talents you have to offer and apply them to a suitable cause by helping others.
  • For women: Call a close friend and confide in them.
  • For men: Find a quiet place and have some “me time" or “man cave time".
  • Get plenty of sleep: The adrenal glands, when they have been working overtime, need sleep.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise (30 minutes as many times a week as you can) has been shown to decrease cortisol levels. Exercise also releases beta endorphins in the brain, which is our body’s natural “feel good” drug, hence the high we get after a good run.
  • Vitamin E, vitamin C, and B-complex vitamins (in the form of Brewer’s yeast) are good for people with chronic stress.