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Stress is a culprit in almost every health problem. Chronically heightened levels of the stress hormone cortisol are the number one cause of chronic disease and accelerate premature aging. For fitness enthusiasts and athletes, high cortisol levels harm their athletic performance due to inadequate recovery and tissue regeneration.

Each time we experience stress, adrenals are stimulated, cortisol levels are heightened, and we feel a short-term burst of energy, which is followed by fatigue. Often, we try to stimulate the adrenals with a cup of coffee or refined sugar. We get another burst of energy, yet again followed by even deeper fatigue. The vicious cycle repeats and the signs of adrenal exhaustion show stronger. It begins with increased appetite, which turns into cravings later. You have trouble sleeping, followed by irritability, mental fog, and eventual lack of motivation. You gain fat, lose muscle, and start showing signs of premature aging followed by the first signs of disease.

Self-stimulating your adrenals with coffee, energy drinks, or drugs to increase your energy to handle stress is not a good way to handle your stress. Instead it should be your goal to actively lower your stress levels.

Try these few simple ways to reduce your stress levels first:

Deep breathing

An easy technique that you can practice anywhere and anytime during the day is deep breathing, similar to one that is performed in yoga: deep, slow, diaphragmatic. Deep breathing triggers signals to your nervous system to lower blood pressure, slow heart rate, and decrease cortisol. When you find yourself stressed out, take 10 deep breaths, and feel how your entire body and mind relaxes.

Physical exercise

Regular physical activity simulates the “fight and flight” response without hurting anybody and burns up the excess of cortisol. Any form of exercises that you enjoy will work from walking, strength training, tennis, yoga, dancing… physical movement for 20–30 minutes will decrease the cortisol levels substantially.

Sleep

The stress hormone cortisol is positively affected by sleep. It follows the circadian rhythm: cortisol levels are high during the day and low while you sleep. If you have problems with your sleep, your cortisol levels rise. Sleep in a quiet, cool, dark environment with no distractions. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Do not use any electronics in your bed and do not watch stressful or action filled TV programs before sleep. Read a relaxing book or listen to peaceful music, take a hot bath, or enjoy pleasant moments with your loved ones.

Meditation

You will feel benefits of meditation immediately. The instant results show as relieved stress and feeling relaxed; the long-term benefits are improved focus, improved patience, stronger willpower, lowered stress levels, feeling more present and aware in your daily activities, more focused or in the zone during your sport training, improved happiness and self-control, improved memory and academic achievement. Research suggests that improved metabolism, heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure are among the many benefits of meditation.

There are many ways to meditate. A few simple techniques are focusing on your breath, or on a mantra. Another way is focusing on being grateful for things in your life. Or you can count your steps when you run in the nature or observe and focus on the birds or flowers when you sit in the park. Just remember that even a few minutes a day will bring great results.

Laughter

Laughing, having fun, and enjoying life reduces cortisol levels. Watch funny movies, enjoy funny friends, play with happy pets, or find other ways to bring joy and laughter into your life.

Social connection

Human interactions and bonds with family, friends, or romantic partners, increase Oxycontin hormone and thus reduce cortisol levels, according to recent studies. Try to spend as much time as you can with your loved ones, preferably face-to-face, but even phone calls or Facebook interaction will help, if you feel a genuine connection.

Music

According to your mood, listening to music that you enjoy at the moment is known to reduce your cortisol levels. Listening to great music improves your mood and reduces your stress. It can also inspire and motivate you to do great things in your life and such bring more happiness.