Today’s fast-paced world is packed with stressors. A near miss at a busy intersection. A snarling dog on our morning run. Running late to a meeting. Having an argument with a friend.
It can often seem like we’re in a constant state of fight-or-flight — the same feeling our ancient ancestors used to safely navigate the acute stress of physical danger is still with us today.
When we feel stress, our body releases the hormone cortisol to keep us alert and release glucose from our liver to create a source of fast energy.
This association with stress gives cortisol a bad reputation. The truth is we need cortisol. Cortisol helps our bodies do all kinds of things, such as regulate our metabolism, control our sleep-wake cycle and respond appropriately in stressful situations. We just need the right level of cortisol.1
Here are five strategies for maintaining balance2,3:
- Get adequate sleep. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep every night — enough to wake feeling rested and refreshed.
- Exercise regularly. Regular exercise helps lower stress and improve sleep, which can keep cortisol levels in check. Even better if you can exercise outdoors; spending time in nature is another natural stress reducer.
- Practice deep breathing or meditation. Studies show that deep breathing can counteract the fight-or-flight response, helping lower stress and help regulate cortisol levels.
- Find ways to manage stress more effectively. Keep a journal to help you identify the sources of stress in your life and develop strategies for better managing them.
- Take more breaks. Even short pauses during your workday can help lower stress and keep your cortisol levels balanced.