Our modern world is stressful. Period. We humans are really not designed to handle the level and longevity and kinds of stresses that life in the 21st century places on us all the time. Work + family + health + financial pressures, oh my!

stressed woman

When stress levels run high, repeatedly and frequently, everything gets more difficult to deal with. Patience runs thin, enjoyment is in shorter supply, and it’s harder to find compassion and ease, within oneself, and with others.

And when that happens, it often leads us to have chronically elevated levels of stress, and elevated cortisol (the “stress hormone”).

Chronically elevated cortisol has several downstream effects that are hard on our emotional and physical well-being.

The first, and possibly most important, effect is that our adrenals – which produce the hormone DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) to reduce excess cortisol – get tired from having to work overtime, and thus have a harder time making this important compound. This lack of DHEA then accelerates aging, as cortisol regulation becomes more and more difficult with insufficient DHEA.

The second is, when the body gets into a cycle of repeated high stress, it experiences something called “the cortisol steal”, where cortisol production takes precedence over the production of other hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, which can lead to system-wide hormonal imbalances.

Repeated and lasting elevated cortisol can also impair sleep, mood, digestion, blood sugar regulation, energy, and much more.

So, if you have chronically elevated stress, and your cortisol levels are too high, either at certain times of the day or overall, what to do?

Happily, there are many natural ways to bring your cortisol levels down, gradually and gently, to support your body in restoring a healthy cortisol level and rhythm, creating a healthier stress response, aka improved stress resilience. The following foods, herbs and supplements can help, as can changing up some of your activities and habits.

Foods

  • Beef liver
  • Cold water fish
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Bone broth
  • Pastured eggs
  • Dark chocolate (<5g carbs/svg)
  • Green tea
  • Brassicas
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Microgreens
  • Greens powders (low carb)
  • Asparagus
  • Berries
  • Lemons & limes
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers

Note: Low blood sugar levels can stimulate excess cortisol production, so a low carb lifestyle is the best choice for moderating cortisol production. Also, a low carb snack or meal of mostly protein and fat before your usual high cortisol time(s) – a 5-point Cortisol/DHEA saliva test can tell you this – will help prevent the cortisol spikes commonly seen in the early morning (such as with Dawn Phenomenon) and in the mid-afternoon.

Herbs

These herbs help restore a healthy cortisol response and rhythm, but consult with your holistic or Functional Medicine practitioner before taking them to make sure the timing and amount of your dose is correct for you:

  • Ashwagandha
  • Astragalus (Huang Qi)
  • Bacopa
  • Cordyceps
  • Ginseng (American)
  • Holy Basil
  • Lemon Balm
  • Mucuna Pruriens
  • Reishi
  • Rhodiola
  • Schizandra
  • Shatavari
  • St. John’s Wort

Supplements

These supplements help restore a healthy cortisol response and rhythm, but, as with the herbs (above), consult with your natural-health-oriented practitioner before taking them to make sure the timing and amount of your dose is correct for you: 

  • Acai berries
  • Choline
  • CoQ10
  • Curcumin
  • Glutathione
  • L-Theanine
  • Magnesium
  • N-Acetyl-Cysteine
  • Omega 3
  • Phos Serine
  • Probiotics
  • Tribulus
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc

Activities

  • Community involvement
  • Positive social interactions
  • Friend time
  • Laughing
  • Walking (esp in nature)
  • Yoga
  • Gardening
  • Other leisurely “exercise”
  • Affectionate touch
  • Hugs
  • Massage
  • Lovemaking
  • Dancing
  • Singing
  • Listening to music
  • Playing music
  • Playing with children
  • Petting and playing with pets
  • Creativity
  • Journaling
  • Nasal breathing
  • Belly breathing
  • Deep sleep
  • Acupressure mat
  • Acupuncture
  • f.lux on computers (orange light filter for after dark viewing
  • Wearing orange glasses after dark to filter out blue light
  • Avoiding looking at TVs, phones, tablets and computers after dark
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Limiting caffeine, esp after Noon

 

Which of the above foods do you like best?

Which activities will you add to help improve your stress resilience?