Turning Down the Dial on Stress: How to Reduce Cortisol Naturally

Discover effective strategies for managing stress naturally with our comprehensive guide on reducing cortisol levels. Learn how to identify stressors, prioritize sleep, engage in physical activity, and adopt a balanced diet to enhance your well-being.

April 15, 2024

Cortisol, often dubbed the "stress hormone," plays a crucial role in our body's response to stress. It's part of our natural alarm system, gearing us up to face potential threats. However, when levels of cortisol remain high for extended periods, it can take a toll on our health, contributing to anxiety, depression, heart disease, and other conditions. Fortunately, there are natural ways to manage cortisol levels and reduce stress.

Navigating Modern Stress with Ancient Responses:

In our modern world, the primal instincts that once protected our ancestors in the wild are now triggered by the buzzing of smartphones and the pressure of deadlines. This fascinating juxtaposition between prehistoric times and today's digital age reveals how our ancient fight or flight response is constantly activated by modern stressors, even in the absence of real danger. Our ancestors faced threats like wild animals and harsh environmental conditions, which required immediate physical reactions for survival. Fast forward to the present, and we find ourselves responding with the same intensity to a barrage of emails, social media notifications, and the relentless pace of urban life. This evolutionary mismatch not only highlights the adaptability of human beings but also underscores the unique challenges of managing stress in a world where the saber-toothed tigers are replaced by digital demands and societal pressures.

Meet Cortisol

While cortisol is essential for survival, enabling us to respond quickly to threats, its chronic elevation can be detrimental to health. High cortisol levels over prolonged periods can disrupt almost every process in your body. This can lead to a myriad of health issues, including increased blood sugar levels, weight gain, hypertension, disrupted sleep, lowered immune function, and heightened vulnerability to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

We should all strive for healthy balance of cortisol as it is crucial not just for stress management but for overall health and well-being. This balance ensures that while your body can still respond to stress with appropriate vigor, it does not remain in a perpetual state of high alert that could lead to detrimental health effects. Understanding how cortisol works and its impact on your body is the first step toward managing stress effectively and leading a healthier, more balanced life.

A diagram of a stressed human holding his head
High cortisol levels over prolonged periods can disrupt almost every process in your body.

Step 1: Identify Stressors then Reduce or Remove 

The first step in managing stress effectively is to identify what triggers it. These triggers, or stressors, can vary widely from person to person and can include factors like work pressure, relationship issues, financial worries, or health concerns. Keeping a stress diary can be a helpful way to track these triggers. By noting down when you feel stressed and what events lead up to it, you can begin to see patterns and identify the specific stressors in your life. Awareness is the first step towards managing your response to these triggers. Identifying and managing stressors is a personalized journey, as what significantly affects one person might minimally impact another.

However, some common stressors many individuals can actively work to minimize or remove from their lives include:

  1. Work Pressure: Excessive workload, tight deadlines, and challenging relationships with colleagues or supervisors can lead to significant stress. Strategies such as time management, setting realistic goals, and seeking support from HR or a mentor can help alleviate this pressure.
  1. Technology Overload: Constant connectivity can be overwhelming, leading to information overload and difficulty disconnecting from work or social media. Implementing digital detox periods or setting specific times to check emails and social media can reduce this stressor. If you have more than 3 hours of screen time a day you should try Opal a “digital well-being assistant,” an app that can help you better monitor and manage your screen time usage.
  1. Financial Worries: Concerns about money, debt, and financial security are common stressors. Creating a budget, seeking financial advice, and prioritizing expenses can provide a sense of control and reduce anxiety around finances.
  1. Personal Relationships: Issues in relationships with family, friends, or partners can be significant sources of stress. Communication is key; addressing problems directly, setting boundaries, and possibly seeking counselling can help improve these relationships.
  1. Health Concerns: Worrying about personal or family health issues can be a constant source of stress. Engaging in preventive health behaviours, seeking professional medical advice, and focusing on what can be controlled rather than the unknown can mitigate these worries.
  1. Lack of Sleep: Poor sleep can exacerbate stress, creating a vicious cycle. Establishing a regular sleep schedule, creating a restful environment, and avoiding stimulants before bedtime can improve sleep quality.
  1. Overcommitting: Saying yes to too many obligations can lead to stress. Learning to say no and prioritizing activities that are truly important can help manage this stressor.
  1. Cluttered Environment: A disorganized home or workspace can contribute to stress by making it difficult to relax or find things when needed. Regular decluttering and organizing can create a more peaceful environment.
a woman that is stressed
Awareness is the first step towards managing your response to stress.

Step 2: Prioritize Quality Sleep

Diving deeper into the intricate dance between sleep and stress, we find ourselves entangled in a web where the push and pull of modern life often leads to sleepless nights, which in turn, fuel the fires of our daily stress. This complex interplay mirrors the delicate balance of an ecosystem, where every component influences and is influenced by the other. In our fast-paced, always-connected world, the glow of screens and the never-ending to-do list can hijack our natural rhythms, leading our stress response to run rampant and sabotage our sacred slumber.

The pursuit of quality sleep becomes not just a quest for rest, but a critical strategy in mastering the art of stress management. By committing to 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, we offer our bodies a fighting chance to reset and recharge, allowing the cortisol tides to ebb and our minds to find peace amidst the chaos. Establishing a sanctuary of calm through good sleep hygiene—like setting a consistent bedtime, cultivating a pre-sleep ritual that might include reading or meditation, and transforming our bedrooms into technology-free zones—can act as a balm for the frazzled soul. These practices, seemingly simple, are powerful tools in our arsenal against the modern-day beasts of stress and sleeplessness.

As we nurture our sleep with the reverence it deserves, we not only disarm the stress that lurks in the shadows of our minds but also unlock a wellspring of vitality and well-being, ready to face the world with renewed vigor and clarity. In this way, prioritizing sleep becomes a proven way to ensure you are ready for the relentless pace of modern life, a testament to our inherent need for balance in a world that often forgets the value of rest.

a woman sleeping
Sleep and stress have a bidirectional relationship; stress can disrupt sleep, and insufficient sleep can increase stress levels, creating a vicious cycle.

Step 3: Get Moving

Engaging in physical activity is an incredibly effective way to combat stress, leveraging the body's natural mechanisms to foster well-being. When we exercise, our bodies metabolize the excess stress hormones, effectively clearing our system of the triggers that keep us in a state of tension. Simultaneously, this movement sparks the release of endorphins, often referred to as the body's feel-good chemicals. These natural mood enhancers work wonders in uplifting our spirits and improving our overall outlook on life. The beauty of physical activity as a stress management tool lies in its versatility and adaptability; whether it's a serene hike in nature, a spirited dance class, or a challenging swim, the key to sustained benefit is finding joy in the activities you choose. This ensures that exercise feels less like a duty and more like a cherished part of your day.

The advent of virtual and mixed reality technologies has introduced a novel and exciting dimension to exercise. To increse your consistency and enjoyment; so you look forward to working out rather than it feel like a chore choose workouts you find fun and you are comfortable with. One way to make working out more enjoyable is through virtual reality and mixed reality workouts on FitXR and Supernatural. Immersive workout sessions seamlessly blend into your daily routine, offering a unique way to divert your attention from stress-inducing thoughts towards an engaging, energetic state of being. These immersive workout apps on the Meta Quest deliver a diverse range of exercises, from boxing to dancing and HIIT, catering to different interests and fitness levels. 

The convenience and variety of immersive workouts offer make it an exceptional tool for not only improving physical health but also for enhancing mental well-being through the mindfulness that comes with focused, immersive exercise. Engaging in such dynamic activities can significantly aid in stress management, positioning FitXR and Supernatural as a go-to resource for anyone aiming to boost their mental and physical health from their Quest headsets.

When we exercise, our bodies metabolize the excess stress hormones clearing our system of the triggers that keep us in a state of tension.

Step 4: Eat for Balance and Take Supplements 

Diet plays a significant role in how our bodies respond to stress. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and flaxseeds, have been shown to reduce anxiety and inflammation. Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits and bell peppers, can lower cortisol levels. Magnesium, present in leafy greens, nuts, and seeds, helps relax the nervous system. Incorporating these nutrients into your diet can support a healthier stress response.

Deficiencies in certain nutrients can significantly impact cortisol levels and the body's ability to manage stress effectively. When the body lacks these essential nutrients, it might struggle to regulate the stress response adequately, leading to elevated cortisol levels and increased stress and anxiety. Supplementing these nutrients can help mitigate these effects by supporting the body's natural stress response mechanisms. Here's how deficiencies in the mentioned nutrients can impact stress and cortisol, and how supplementing may offer benefits:

  1. Magnesium: Magnesium plays a vital role in regulating the body's stress-response system. Low levels of magnesium are linked with increased stress and anxiety. Supplementing with magnesium may help reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.
  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found in fish oil and certain plant oils, omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties and are known to reduce anxiety levels and stress.
  1. B Vitamins: B-complex vitamins play a role in mood regulation and stress management. They're essential for energy production and the proper functioning of the nervous system.
  1. Probiotics: The gut-brain axis suggests a strong link between gut health and mood. Probiotics can improve gut health, which in turn, may help reduce stress and anxiety levels.
Deficiencies in certain nutrients can significantly impact cortisol levels and the body's ability to manage stress effectively.

Step 5: Mindfulness

Mindfulness practices can profoundly impact stress management and cortisol levels by engaging the body's relaxation response, counteracting the stress response system. Different types of mindfulness practices cater to various preferences and situations, offering flexibility in how individuals can integrate mindfulness into their lives. Here’s how engaging in these practices can help manage cortisol and stress:

  1. Meditation: Regular meditation practice helps lower cortisol levels by promoting relaxation and reducing the body's stress response. It encourages a state of calm and focused attention, allowing for a reduction in stress-inducing thoughts and emotions. Meditation can include focused attention on the breath, a mantra, or a specific object, helping to cultivate a state of present-moment awareness and reducing overall stress levels.
  1. Mindful Breathing: Focusing on the breath is a fundamental aspect of mindfulness that can be practised anywhere, anytime. It helps to slow down the racing mind, reduce anxiety, and lower cortisol levels by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body's 'rest and digest' response. Mindful breathing can serve as a quick and effective way to manage acute stress.
  1. Body Scan Meditation: This involves paying attention to different parts of the body in sequence, and noticing any sensations, tension, or discomfort. This practice can help identify areas of stress accumulation in the body and encourage relaxation. By fostering a deeper connection with the physical self, body scan meditation can lower stress and cortisol levels, enhancing physical and mental well-being.
  1. Yoga: Combining physical postures, breath control, and meditation, yoga is a holistic mindfulness practice. It can significantly reduce cortisol levels and stress by improving relaxation and reducing physical tension. Yoga encourages a mindful awareness of the body and breath, supporting stress reduction on both physiological and psychological levels.
  1. Walking Mindfully: Taking a walk without any devices or distractions allows for a deep connection with the present moment. By focusing on the sensations of walking, the environment, and the rhythm of your breath, you can cultivate mindfulness and reduce cortisol levels. This practice combines the benefits of gentle physical activity with mindfulness, offering a double impact on stress reduction.

Whether you're a beginner or more advanced in your practice, Novobeing provides short, accessible sessions that can easily be integrated into your daily routine, making it simpler to shift your focus from stress-inducing thoughts to a state of present awareness and calm. The convenience and variety offered by the Novobeing app on the Meta Quest support significant improvements in stress management, making it a valuable tool for anyone looking to enhance their mental well-being through mindfulness.

Mindfulness practices can profoundly impact stress management and cortisol levels by engaging the body's relaxation response.

Step 6: Connect Socially

At the heart of human experience lies our intrinsic need for connection and community. We are, by nature, social beings, intricately wired to seek and nurture relationships with others. These connections form the bedrock of our emotional well-being, offering solace, joy, and a sense of belonging that is fundamental to our mental health. The power of social support cannot be overstated; it serves as a protective barrier, cushioning the blows of life's inevitable stresses. Whether it's the comforting presence of family, the laughter shared with friends, or the silent companionship of a pet, each interaction weaves into the fabric of our social safety net, reinforcing our resilience against the pressures of the outside world.

The science of psychology underscores the importance of these bonds, revealing how social support can significantly lower levels of stress and anxiety. In moments of challenge, simply knowing we are not alone can dramatically shift our perspective, lightening our emotional load. Engaging regularly in meaningful social activities not only diverts our attention from stressors but also promotes the release of stress-reducing hormones like oxytocin, known for its role in fostering trust and empathy. Moreover, the act of sharing our worries or joys allows us to process our emotions more healthily, often leading to insights and solutions that were not apparent in solitude.

In today's fast-paced world, where isolation can sometimes overshadow connection, making a conscious effort to maintain and cultivate these relationships is more important than ever. Whether through a quick message, a shared meal, or a walk in the park, each effort to connect is a step toward a more supported and stress-resilient life. The beauty of social support lies in its reciprocity; in providing comfort and assistance to others, we too receive the emotional nourishment that fortifies us against the vicissitudes of life. Thus, nurturing our social connections is not just an act of kindness towards others but a foundational practice for our own mental health and well-being.

Friends bonding together
Strong social support can act as a buffer against stress.

Step 7: Limit Stimulants

Caffeine and sugar can exacerbate stress responses, leading to spikes in cortisol levels. While a moderate amount of caffeine is generally safe for most people, excessive intake—especially later in the day—can disrupt sleep patterns and heighten stress. Similarly, high sugar consumption can lead to energy crashes and increased irritability. Moderating these substances can help stabilize mood and stress levels.

Health experts commonly recommend limiting consumption to about 400 milligrams of caffeine per day for most adults, which equates to roughly four cups of coffee. However, sensitivity to caffeine varies among individuals, and even a moderate amount may affect some people's sleep quality. Keeping your intake to around 200 milligrams per day, equivalent to about two 8-ounce cups of coffee, may help minimize potential sleep disturbances and reduce the risk of caffeine-related anxiety or jitteriness.

Caffeine has a half-life of about 5 to 6 hours, meaning it takes this amount of time for your body to eliminate half of the caffeine consumed. By consuming less caffeine and limiting intake earlier in the day, you can further ensure that caffeine's stimulant effects have diminished by bedtime, supporting a more restful night's sleep.

Adopting a lower caffeine threshold can also contribute to overall health by decreasing the likelihood of experiencing negative side effects associated with higher caffeine consumption, such as increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and digestive issues. As always, individual responses to caffeine vary, so adjusting intake based on personal sensitivity and health goals is key to finding the right balance for optimal sleep and health.

By adhering to these guidelines, you can enjoy the benefits of caffeine while minimizing its potential to disrupt sleep and exacerbate stress responses, fostering a more balanced and stress-managed lifestyle.

Caffeine and sugar can exacerbate stress responses, leading to spikes in cortisol levels.

Step 8: Seek Professional Help

In the journey of life, there are moments when the weight of stress can exceed our capacity to manage it alone. Despite our most valiant efforts to maintain balance, the intensity of overwhelming stress signals a crucial juncture at which seeking professional assistance becomes not just beneficial, but necessary. Mental health professionals are equipped with the expertise to offer nuanced support and personalized strategies tailored to each individual's unique circumstances. This support may manifest through various therapeutic modalities, from cognitive-behavioral therapy aimed at reshaping thought patterns to stress management programs designed to equip individuals with effective coping mechanisms. In certain instances, the intervention may also include medication to help manage the physiological aspects of stress, ensuring a holistic approach to mental wellness.

The decision to reach out for professional help is an act of profound bravery and self-awareness. It acknowledges the strength in vulnerability and the wisdom in recognizing when the load is too heavy to bear alone. This step is a pivotal move towards reclaiming agency over one's mental health and embarking on a path toward healing and resilience. The therapeutic journey is a collaborative one, where the guidance of a mental health professional serves as a beacon, illuminating the way towards a more manageable and fulfilling life.

In a society that often glorifies self-reliance, it's vital to remember that seeking help is a testament to one's commitment to personal growth and well-being. It is a step that should be met with encouragement and respect, for it paves the way to a healthier, more balanced state of being. Let this be a reminder that you are not alone in your struggles and that support is available to help navigate the complexities of stress. Taking control of your mental health through professional help is a courageous step forward, one that leads to greater peace, understanding, and resilience in the face of life's challenges.

A smiling woman engaging in therapy
Mental health professionals are equipped with the expertise to offer nuanced support and personalized strategies tailored to each individual's unique circumstances.


Managing cortisol levels and, by extension, stress, is not only crucial for our mental health but our overall well-being. From understanding the pivotal role cortisol plays in our stress response to identifying personal stressors and adopting a range of natural strategies, we've charted a comprehensive path toward achieving a more balanced and healthy life.

The key takeaway is that managing stress and cortisol levels is not a one-size-fits-all approach but a personalized journey of self-discovery and adaptation. By incorporating these natural strategies into daily life, one can navigate the challenges that come with elevated stress, leading to a more balanced, healthier life. Remember, small changes can make a big difference in reducing stress and enhancing your quality of life, so start small and keep improving. 

Remember, to use innovative digital tools like Novobeing, Opal or FitXR to get more support on your stress management journey.  The journey towards healthy living is all about creating a lifestyle that supports your physical, mental, and emotional health in a holistic manner. The journey to reducing stress and managing cortisol naturally is a testament to the power of proactive self-care and the positive impact it can have on our quality of life.

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