You may be able to lower your cortisol levels with regular exercise, adequate sleep, a nutrient-dense diet, and some supplements, like fish oil.

Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. It helps your body deal with stressful situations, as your brain triggers its release through the sympathetic nervous system — the “fight or flight” system — in response to many different kinds of stress.

While the short-term release of cortisol can help you run quickly from danger, when cortisol levels are too high for too long, this can lead to health issues like weight gain and some chronic diseases.

These 11 ways may help naturally lower your cortisol levels.

What happens when cortisol is high?

Moderate to high cortisol levels may lead to health issues, such as:

  • Chronic disease: Long-term increased cortisol may increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and other chronic diseases.
  • Weight gain: Cortisol may increase appetite and signal the body to shift metabolism to store fat.
  • Lack of energy/difficulty sleeping: It can interfere with sleep hormones, impacting sleep quality and length.
  • Difficulty concentrating: High levels may cause “brain fog,” or trouble focusing and lack of mental clarity.
  • Impaired immune system: Increased cortisol can make it more difficult for the immune system to fight infections.
  • Cushing syndrome: In rare cases, very high cortisol levels can lead to Cushing syndrome, a rare but serious disease.
  • Lack of energy: High cortisol levels can increase feelings of fatigue.

Elevated cortisol levels can also result from underlying issues such as:

Health professionals can help determine the cause of high cortisol levels and recommend treatment. You can also try some lifestyle habits to help manage cortisol levels.

Here are some recommendations:

1. Get the right amount of sleep

Prioritizing sleep may help reduce cortisol levels. Chronic sleep issues such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, or shift work are associated with higher cortisol.

Insomnia refers to difficulty sleeping. It can result from many things, including stress and obstructive sleep apnea. This can increase circulating cortisol, which affects your daily hormone patterns, energy levels, and other facets of your health.

Those on rotating shifts may have poorer health outcomes, such as:

  • obesity
  • heart disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • worsened mental health

If you are a night shift or rotating shift worker, you do not have complete control over your sleep schedule, but there are some things you can do to optimize sleep:

  • Have a bedtime routine: Establishing a consistent bedtime routine (e.g., shower, read a book, etc.) can help your brain and body start winding down.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day: A regular sleep schedule is one of the most effective ways to improve sleep.
  • Exercise earlier in the day: Exercising regularly can improve sleep quality but should be done at least 2–3 hours before bedtime.
  • Limit caffeine intake: Avoid consuming caffeine-containing food and drinks around 6 hours before bed.
  • Avoid nicotine and alcohol: Both substances can affect sleep quality and duration.
  • Limit exposure to bright light at night: Around 45–60 minutes before sleep, reduce your exposure to bright and blue light. Instead of reaching for your phone in bed, try reading a book or listening to a podcast.
  • Go to bed in a quiet room: Limit interruptions using white noise, ear plugs, and silencing your phone.
  • Take naps: If shift work shortens your sleep, napping can reduce sleepiness and prevent a sleep deficit. Napping may worsen sleep quality in non-shift workers, especially if you take naps within 7 hours of bedtime.

Practicing good sleep hygiene can help to keep cortisol in a normal rhythm. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine 6 hours before bed, and staying off your cell phone right before bed are effective strategies.

2. Get regular exercise

Exercise can increase or decrease cortisol depending on the intensity.

Intense exercise increases cortisol shortly afterward but decreases it a few hours later. This short-term increase helps coordinate the growth of the body to meet the challenge. Additionally, the size of the cortisol response lessens with routine training.

Regular exercise can help reduce your risk of chronic disease, reduce stress, and improve overall health, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK). This can help lower cortisol over time.

Regular exercise may lead to greater resilience to acute stress and may lower adverse health effects associated with stress, such as high cortisol.

That said, overdoing it can have the opposite effect. Aim for around 150–200 minutes of mostly low- to moderate-intensity exercise each week, and allow yourself time to rest between workouts.


Exercising regularly can help you better manage stress and promote good health, which may help lower cortisol levels. Aim for around 150–200 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity exercise each week.

3. Learn to recognize stressful thinking

Adding a mindfulness-based practice to your daily routine may help you manage stress and reduce cortisol levels.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a strategy that involves becoming more self-aware of stress-provoking thoughts, accepting them without judgment or resistance, and allowing yourself to process them.

Training yourself to be aware of your thoughts, breathing, heart rate, and other signs of tension helps you recognize stress when it begins.

By focusing on awareness of your mental and physical state, you can become an objective observer of your stressful thoughts without judging.

Recognizing stressful thoughts allows you to formulate a conscious and deliberate reaction to them. For example, a study involving 52 older adults with type 2 diabetes in a mindfulness-based program showed that mindfulness training improved anxiety, stress, depression, and cortisol levels after the intervention.

Another study suggests that regularly practicing mindfulness may lower cortisol levels in people with generalized anxiety disorder.


Practicing mindfulness can help you identify stressful thoughts and better manage them. Mindfulness-based practices such as meditation may help you reduce stress and lead to lower cortisol levels.

4. Breathe

Deep breathing is a technique for stress reduction that can be used anywhere. Like mindfulness-based practice, controlled breathing helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, known as the “rest and digest” system, which helps lower cortisol levels.

Incorporating belly or diaphragmatic breathing can help decrease stress and cortisol levels, according to a 2019 review of research.

This practice is popular in mindfulness-based practices such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, and qi gong, which place a strong emphasis on breathing and mind-body connection.

These practices can help to lower cortisol and stress.


Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation and lower cortisol levels. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, and qi gong can help.

5. Have fun and laugh

Laughing promotes the release of endorphins and suppresses stress hormones such as cortisol. It’s also linked with better mood, reduced stress and perceived pain, lower blood pressure, and a stronger immune system.

Both authentic and forced laughter can lead to lower levels of stress.

For example, laughing yoga — a form of yoga that promotes deliberate bouts of laughter — may help:

  • lower cortisol levels
  • reduce stress
  • improve mood
  • increase perceived energy levels

Developing hobbies can also promote feelings of well-being, which may translate to lower cortisol. This can include:


Tending to your own happiness can help keep cortisol down. If you’re feeling stressed, try listening to music or making yourself laugh.

6. Maintain healthy relationships

Supportive relationships can translate to lower cortisol levels, according to a 2017 review of research.

Within couples, conflict results in a short-term elevation in cortisol, followed by a return to normal levels.

A 2016 study of conflict styles in 88 couples found nonjudgmental mindfulness led to a more rapid return of cortisol to normal levels following an argument. Therefore, practicing compassion and empathy toward your partner — and receiving it back — may better manage your cortisol levels.

Support from loved ones can also help reduce cortisol in the face of stress.

For example, one older study showed that having an affectionate interaction (verbally or physically) with a romantic partner or platonic friend before a stressful activity resulted in lower stress-induced markers such as heart rate and blood pressure.


Relationships with friends and family can lead to happiness and to stress. Spend time with those you love and learn to forgive and manage conflict for better emotional and physical health.

7. Take care of a pet

Relationships with animal companions can also reduce cortisol.

In one older study, interaction with a therapy dog reduced distress and cortisol during a minor medical procedure in children. A review of research that looked at more recent studies did not find noticeable differences in cortisol levels in participants’ saliva but noted other evidence of reduced stress and anxiety.

Due to the well-known stress-reducing benefits of pets, many long-term care homes and university/college campuses have introduced pet therapy as a natural cortisol- and stress-reducing activity.


Several studies show that interacting with an animal companion reduces stress and lowers cortisol levels. Even if you do not own a pet, interacting with another person’s pet can reap similar benefits.

8. Be your best self

Feelings of shame, guilt, or inadequacy can lead to negative thinking and dysregulated cortisol levels.

This can include feeling stigmatized based on personal factors, such as weight, sexual orientation, and race, among others. While you cannot directly control the stigma surrounding these individual factors, you may be able to take steps to help manage your feelings in response to stigma.

For some causes of guilt, fixing the source will mean making a change in your life. For other causes, learning to forgive and accept yourself and others can help you move on and improve your sense of well-being.

Developing a habit of forgiving others is also critical in relationships. It can have numerous health benefits for both your physical and psychological health.


Resolving guilt improves life satisfaction and cortisol levels. This may involve changing habits, forgiving others, or learning to forgive yourself.

9. Tend to your spirituality

Developing your faith can also help improve cortisol levels if you consider yourself spiritual.

Older research suggests that adults who expressed spiritual faith experienced lower cortisol levels in the face of life stressors such as illness.

Prayer may also help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

If you do not consider yourself spiritual, these benefits may also be available through meditation, developing a social support group, and performing acts of kindness.


For those with spiritual inclinations, developing faith and participating in prayer can help manage cortisol. Whether you’re spiritual or not, performing acts of kindness can also improve your cortisol levels.

10. Eat a nutritious diet

While all foods can be enjoyed in moderation, being mindful of the foods you eat may relieve symptoms of stress and help you better manage your cortisol levels.

Regular high added sugar intake may result in elevated cortisol levels. Interestingly, a diet high in sugar may also suppress cortisol release during stressful events, making it more difficult for your body to handle stressful situations.

One study found that a diet high in added sugar, refined grains, and saturated fat led to significantly higher cortisol levels than a diet high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and polyunsaturated fats.

Research has shown a strong relationship between a healthy gut microbiome — all the microbes living in your gut — and improved mental health. Therefore, consuming foods to support a healthy gut may help reduce stress and anxiety and improve overall health.

Other foods that help manage cortisol include:

  • Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate contains many flavonoids, which may buffer stress reactivity in the adrenal glands, resulting in lower cortisol release.
  • Whole grains: Unlike refined grains, whole grains are rich in plant-based polyphenols and fiber, which may support stress levels and gut health.
  • Whole fruits and vegetables: Whole fruits and vegetables contain many antioxidants and polyphenolic compounds that fight cell-damaging free radicals and may help reduce cortisol levels.
  • Legumes and lentils: High in fiber, they support a healthy gut while managing blood sugar levels.
  • Green tea: Green tea contains catechins, other polyphenols, and a calming compound known as L-theanine, which has been linked to reduced stress and increased mental alertness.
  • Probiotics and prebiotics: Probiotics are friendly, symbiotic bacteria in foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Prebiotics, such as soluble fiber, provide food for these bacteria. Both probiotics and prebiotics are linked to better gut and mental health.
  • Healthy fats: A diet high in unsaturated fat and low in saturated fat is associated with better overall health and mental well-being. In particular, omega-3 fatty acids are best linked with brain health and reduced stress. Good sources include fatty fish, nuts, and seeds.
  • Water: Dehydration can temporarily increase cortisol levels, making drinking water throughout the day even more important.

For better gut and mental health, opt for a nutrient-dense diet full of whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and foods high in prebiotics and probiotics.

11. Take certain supplements

In addition to a nutrient-dense diet, certain supplements may also support lower cortisol levels.

Fish oil

Fish oil is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to reduce cortisol.

A longitudinal cohort study involving 2,724 participants showed that having high omega-3 levels in the blood was associated with lower levels of inflammation and cortisol.

Though you can get omega-3s from fish, you can also opt for a fish oil supplement. You can speak with a healthcare professional first to ensure it’s right for you.


Ashwagandha is an adaptogen herb widely used in traditional medicine to treat anxiety and help people adapt to stress.

A randomized controlled trial in 60 adults showed reduced cortisol levels after taking 250 or 600 mg of ashwagandha extract for 8 weeks, while the control group showed no significant changes.

Other research suggests ashwagandha extract may be effective in reducing cortisol levels and reducing symptoms of anxiety. That said, larger studies are still needed.

If you want to try ashwagandha, be sure it’s from a company with third-party verification. Speaking with a healthcare professional before taking any new supplements is best.


Fish oil and ashwagandha extract may help reduce anxiety and cortisol levels in the body, though more research is still needed.

If you have high levels of stress, it may be a good idea to talk with a mental health professional, such as an in-person or online therapist.

They may be able to help you better manage your response to the stressors in your life, which can help reduce their impact.

How can I lower my cortisol levels quickly?

You may be able to reduce your cortisol levels quickly by practicing mindfulness, deep breathing, or forced laughter.

What foods reduce cortisol?

A balanced and nutritious diet that includes whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, and healthy fats may help reduce cortisol levels.

What is a natural cortisol blocker?

Natural cortisol blockers include fish oil and ashwagandha, which may help reduce cortisol levels.

What supplement reduces cortisol?

Evidence-backed supplements that help reduce cortisol include ashwagandha and fish oil.

The bottom line

Cortisol is a hormone that is released during times of stress. While important for reacting to physiological and psychological stressors, chronically high cortisol can lead to poor health.

Along with speaking with a healthcare professional, healthier lifestyle habits can help naturally reduce cortisol levels.

If you’re looking for a natural way to reduce your cortisol levels and overall stress, try the simple lifestyle tips above.