Cortisol is a hormone that's recruited to regulate blood pressure and the immune system when the body is experiencing physical or emotional stress. Constant stress can cause our bodies to overproduce the hormone, and instead of helping to balance our bodies, cortisol can cause sleep problems, leave us vulnerable to infection, induce blood sugar abnormalities, and lead to abdominal weight gain.
In its February issue, Prevention magazine describes solutions for managing cortisol, and these options are all doable with little effort (so you don't become even more stressed about having time to manage your stress hormone!).
- Sip some black tea: "When volunteers were given a stressful task, the cortisol levels of those who were regular black-tea drinkers fell by 47 percent within an hour of completing the assignment, while others who drank fake tea experienced only a 27 percent drop."
- Hang out with a funny friend: "Simply anticipating laughter is enough to reduce cortisol levels by nearly half." Prevention notes that a funny DVD could do the trick, too.
- Make a great iPod mix: "Music can have a calming effect on the brain, especially while you're facing a major stressor." Prevention suggests playing background music when hosting a stressful dinner for your in-laws and listening to something soothing at bedtime.
To see two more ways to manage cortisol,
- Say "om": "Subjects who practiced Buddhist meditation significantly decreased both cortisol and blood pressure in a 6-week Thai study."
- Hit the sack early — or take a nap: According to Shawn Talbott, author of The Cortisol Connection, the difference between getting six hours and eight hours of sleep is 50 percent more cortisol in the bloodstream. Prevention offers a reassuring tidbit: "When you fall short of the mark, take a nap the next day [to cut cortisol levels]."