It’s common to feel overwhelmed during the holidays. But the last thing you want is for your busyness to turn into high cortisol. After all, high cortisol and too much stress are linked with fat gain, depression, and greater disease risk—none of which you need right now…or ever!
Don’t panic. Here are ten simple things you can do to get ahead of the game, reduce stress, and lower cortisol all at once.
#1: Hit The Gym.
Strength training will reset the HPA axis that regulates cortisol release so that the hypothalamus becomes more responsive and cortisol balance improves. Plus, lifting heavy things increases the release of hormones that offset cortisol, such as growth hormone and testosterone, for a better fat burning environment in the body.
#2: Keep Workouts To One Hour Or Less.
Cortisol will naturally be elevated during exercise due to the physical stress of training and this is a good thing. But, when workouts extend beyond an hour, cortisol keeps going up and the body begins to break down muscle tissue for fuel. Go into the gym with focus and drive and get it done.
#3: Do Intervals Instead Of Long-Duration Cardio.
Endurance athletes are well known for having elevated cortisol due to the stress the body suffers during long-duration workouts. Sprint intervals, on the other hand, will save you training time (you can get them done in 20 minutes) and they can make the hypothalamus more responsive in the same way strength training does for better cortisol balance.
#4:Don’t Fast Or Skip Meals.
Anytime blood sugar gets very low because you haven’t eaten in the past few hours, cortisol will begin to rise in order to release fuel stores to be burned for energy. If stress or high cortisol are an issue for you, pick a set meal frequency, such as 4 or 5 meals over the course of 12 hours in order to avoid hunger and keep blood sugar steady.
#5: Eat High-Quality, Protein & Veggies At Every Meal.
A key symptom of high cortisol is hunger and food cravings. Planning meals around whole protein (meat, fish, eggs, dairy) and vegetables will avoid this by increasing the release of gut hormones that keep you satisfied.
#6: Avoid High-Sugar “Comfort” Foods.
There’s a misconception that the body “needs” high-carb comfort foods when you’re stressed. Although it is true that high cortisol blunts your ability to make rationale food choices, it doesn’t mean that your body needs junk. Retrain your habits to think of protein, healthy fat, and veggies as “comfort” foods for better cortisol management.
#7: Avoid Caffeine Throughout The Day.
Research suggests that if you are anxious or mentally stressed, caffeine can increase cortisol levels higher than they would be in the absence of caffeine. And although habitual coffee drinkers don’t experience a cortisol spike in the morning, if you dose yourself with coffee throughout the day, cortisol will be elevated when you least need it.
#8: Stay Hydrated.
Dehydration can elevate cortisol and lead to an unfavorable ratio between cortisol and other metabolic hormones. Drink up!
#9: Seek Out Pleasure.
Holiday season is filled with parties. This is great news because having fun is one of the most powerful stress reducers available to you. Research shows laughing with friends, spending time with loved ones, listening to music, and giving gifts will all lower cortisol and balance hormones.
#10: Do Meditation.
Create a temporary sanctuary from the crazy aspects of the holidays with a short, daily meditation or deep breathing practice. Just a few minutes of mindfulness has been shown to help soothe the nervous system and balance cortisol with other hormones involved in body composition and quality of life such as testosterone, DHEA, and growth hormone.