Thank goodness for Zoom calls, am I right?
At least once a week, videoconferencing with clients forces me to sweep the counters of empty Tostitos bags, and swap my pajama top for a clean t-shirt.
Sometimes through the brain fog, I vaguely remember that life wasn’t always like this.
2020, the Weirdest Year Ever
Have you experienced any strange physical effects such as lethargy, anxiety or excess weight during this pandemic year?
If so, you’re not alone. According to The New York Times, the stress and life changes brought about by COVID-19 are manifesting in stubborn weight gain, headaches, digestive troubles, skin issues and more.
Perhaps that explains why these are my most-used emojis of 2020:
Have you experienced any of these 2020 maladies?
- Weight gain (especially around the middle part of the body)
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Skin breakouts or rashes (also, Lizard Hands from repeated washing)
- Trouble sleeping
- Dark circles under eyes
- Brain fog and difficulty focusing
- Upset stomach
- Sensitivity to loud noises
- Lethargy (i.e., wanting to lie on the couch, eat Tostitos and scroll through one’s mobile device)
Cortisol Function May Be the Culprit
Since most of us have never navigated a pandemic before, we’re all doing our best to cope with the ever-changing numbers, information, guidance and mask protocols.
In addition to COVID, we’re dealing with riots, wildfires, hurricanes, the election, voting concerns, woes at the post office, and Kendall and Kylie’s “explosive” fight. No wonder we’re stressed!
Under normal conditions, our bodies respond to a stressful situations by producing extra adrenalin and cortisol. A rush of stress hormones temporarily alters our immune system responses and digestive systems. Once the perceived threat passes, our hormone levels are supposed to return to normal.
However, when chronic stress and anxiety constantly simmers in the background, our bodies may respond by continuing to produce cortisol.
Elevated cortisol levels are associated with increased blood pressure, higher blood sugar levels, fatigue, weight gain, a suppressed immune system, digestive problems, heart disease and more.
Fortunately, there are a number of completely natural ways to get your body and mind back in sync.
How to Lower Cortisol Levels
If major stress-related issues are interfering with your life, it may be time to call your doctor. Many offer telemedicine sessions that you can do from home.
These are some proven DIY remedies I’ve found in my research that will lower cortisol levels.
Many of these techniques are easy, some are downright pleasant, and others are more challenging. Let me just tell you up front that one of the tips is “Reduce Sugar.” At least bacon’s not on the list.
I’ll arrange the tips in order of ease.
1. Drink Water
Being dehydrated can cause cortisol levels to rise. Interestingly, dehydration can also cause dark circles under the eyes. Maybe it’s all in my head, but since I’ve made a concerted effort to drink more water I feel like the dark circles have lessened a bit. (This yellow concealer* helps, too.) Drinking water can also make us feel fuller so we’re less likely to overeat.
Note: Drinking coffee and/or wine does not reduce dehydration, which is a cruel trick of nature if you ask me.
2. Interact With a Pet
Spending just 10 minutes a day petting your dog or cat can lower your cortisol levels. Don’t you love this tip? Snuggle time!
We all know that animals are good companions to help us through challenging times. Just ask my friend Laura. She was with me in the recovery room after my colonoscopy, when I whistled and called a nonexistent “comfort dog.” I swear I saw a Golden Retriever!
3. Listen to Music
Several studies suggest that the sound of music helps reduce anxiety by as much as 65% and suppress a stress-related increase in cortisol.
The most relaxing song in the world is purportedly “Weightless” by Marconi Union. The music was developed specifically to reduce blood pressure and anxiety. It is relaxing to listen to, in a weird sort of way. Otherwise, your favorite tunes will do just fine.
Several studies have shown that cortisol levels drop in response to laughter. Isn’t this great news? Perhaps now would be just the right time to watch The Best TV News Bloopers of All Time or Tim Conway and Harvey Korman in “The Dentist.”
From a purely scientific standpoint, the act of prayer is associated with reduced anxiety and depression. Personally, talking to the Big Guy always helps me cope and feel better. The author Anne Lamott writes, “Most good, honest prayers remind me that I am not in charge, that I cannot fix anything, and that I open myself to being helped.” Amen.
6. Spend Time Outside
A recent study showed that spending just 20 minutes in the Great Outdoors can reduce stress hormones like cortisol.
Being outside is good for mental health, too. Whether you’re walking, gardening, or simply sitting in the sunshine and soaking up some Vitamin D, venture outside and enjoy the health benefits.
7. Drink Black or Green Tea
Researchers have found that drinking tea reduces cortisol levels. Sipping just 1/2 cup of green tea a day may also reduce your risk of developing depression or dementia.
Tea is rich in antioxidants, and whether you drink it hot or cold, tea is an inexpensive beverage that just might help you feel better.
Meditation can be useful to interrupt the constant thoughts of worry or the latest news, and help us create a place of calm in our minds. Recent studies indicate that meditation can reduce cortisol levels in blood.
Some people like using an app such as Headspace, or you can simply sit quietly and focus on your breathing. When thoughts come, gently return your mind back to meditating without judgment.
The more you practice turning your thoughts off, the more that muscle will be strengthened and the more naturally you’ll be able to get in that zen state.
9. Practice Mindfulness
Some studies have shown that practicing mindfulness reduces stress. Being mindful is one of those concepts that sounds so simple it’s easy to ignore.
Simply put, mindfulness is living in the present, ceasing to worry about the future, and being aware of the world around us. Sometimes it helps me to stop and take a few deep breaths first, to get centered and practice being more mindful.
10. Pursue Better Sleep
A good night’s sleep makes all the difference, doesn’t it? If you’re tossing and turning, you may want to try putting away devices an hour or more before bedtime. Many people sleep better in a very dark room, so you might dim or turn around clocks with bright numbers and use blackout curtains or even a sleep mask.
Keep the air in your bedroom clean, eliminate noise and find your ideal sleeping temperature. Here are 7 natural ways to get a deeper sleep from the Happy Simple Living archives.
11. Consume Omega 3s
In one study, subjects who took fish oil supplements experienced reduced cortisol levels and a lowering of their perceived stress. The cortisol-lowering Omega 3 acids are also present in fatty fish like mackerel, salmon and herring, and in flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts. (Note: I checked numerous sources, but queso dip is not included on this list.)
12. Get Moderate Exercise
Lower intensity exercise helps lower cortisol levels. Some good forms of mellow exercise include yoga, walking, swimming, Tai-chi and stretching.
13. Reduce Sugar
I personally hate this suggestion, even though I’ve noticed that I feel much better when I save sugary treats for occasional splurges.
High cortisol levels are associated with low-quality foods, including refined sugars. Instead, enjoy fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains, and nuts to feel and look better.
How About You?
Have you experienced any weird physical symptoms or stress during 2020? How have you been coping?
I hope you’re staying sane and doing well, and I’d love to hear how you’re faring in the Comments section of this post.
And now, my friends, I’m off to sip some tea and watch Steve Martin’s magic act, The Great Flydini.
P.S. You might also enjoy these 10 Free Ways to Nurture Your Health.
P.P.S. If you’re on Pinterest, here’s a handy pin to save these tips:
*As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases to help offset my Tostitos habit and the expenses of running this website. Your prices are exactly the same whether your purchase is through an affiliate link or a non-affiliate link. Thank you for your support.
Grateful thanks to Lucia Praba Murti for use of the slippers image, and to S. Hermann and F. Richter from Pixabay for use of the outdoors photo.