In today's hectic world, heightened stress--and the physical and mental detriment it brings--is so common, some wellness experts call it epidemic. Remember the "fight or flight" response? Even after there is no longer any real threat to survival (you have outrun that bear, for example), the body may continue to have that very same response. Encounter enough threats--whether real or perceived--and the body actually becomes programmed to respond to lesser triggers.

When cortisol, the body's stress hormone, builds beyond a useful level, extreme fatigue, feeling low and depleted, memory loss, uncomfortable PMS and menopause, lower sex drive, cravings for sugary foods, muscle weakness, faster aging, unwanted fat storage, especially around the abdominal area, and other symptoms may result. Wow...that's quite a list of undesirable effects from a hormone that is intended to be helpful.

Fortunately, you don't have to accept defeat--or cortisol overload. Here are some things to consider as you set out to decrease the harm stress inflicts on your body.

Real vs. perceived dangers

Why does your body produce the stress hormone cortisol? To increase your odds of surviving a physical threat by giving you a temporary burst of strength and endurance. It can be, in a true emergency, a lifesaving reaction.

But cortisol is useless in situations of imagined danger. Those perceived threats that comprise a large part of our modern stress are, in fact, physically harmless. For example, someone at work may annoy you, make unreasonable demands, spread gossip, fail to pull his weight, or otherwise make working life difficult--but does that person pose a threat to your survival? Not likely. And the fight-or-flight response would be equally wasted.

Your Cortisol-Busting Strategy: Think about those situations that cause anxiety. Look at each one honestly, and decide whether each is worth the stress that taxes your physical and emotional health. Then take action: Authentically address the problem. Are you putting unrealistic, perfectionist standards on yourself or others, not allowing room for forgiveness or compassion? Do you owe an apology? Can you make a different plan? Other than hat are your options?

Taking charge to find solutions is a far more healthful and effective strategy than compromising your wellness with continued stress.

Balancing, natural supplements

It's true, you can't reason away every stress trigger. We face real dangers from time to time. They are depleting as the effects of cortisol linger after the threat has passed. But nature provides plenty of choices for reducing the excess.

Your Cortisol-Busting Strategy: These herbs and supplements are known for their ability to decrease cortisol.
- ashwanganda and rhodeolia rosea
- L-theanine
- vitamin B5
- vitamin B6
- deglycerized licorice (also known as licorice extract)
- holy basil
- valerian
- passion flower

Eating and breathing stress-free

Do you have allergies or intolerances to foods or inhalants? Eating foods that don't agree with your constitution or suffering needlessly from allergies might be enough to trigger a stress reaction in your body.

Your Cortisol-Busting Strategy: Start by finding out what affects you negatively. Skin patch or scratch testing, kinesiology, and food exclusion trials are some of the methods that can identify irritants. Then you can make a plan--on your own or with the continued help of your medical professional--that helps you prevent your triggers from being a source of stress on your immune system.

Reorganize, simplify--and reduce stress

Ever feel nervous, on edge because your life seems too complicated? What about your environment--is it too complicated, too? At home or at work, too much stuff can equal too much stress. I know I spend too much time (and annoying stress) looking for things that should be someplace where they aren't.

Your Cortisol-Busting Strategy: Reduce stress in your surroundings by reorganizing, simplifying, and reducing clutter so you can find what you need easily and quickly. Make a habit of organizing your calendar, too. Prioritize your day so you will be sure to accomplish the most important tasks first. The less unfinished business you have hanging over your head throughout the day, the less stress you'll be likely to endure. (Whew.)

Although these steps are simple on the surface, implementing them may seem to be an upward battle. But just imagine what an impact reduced stress will have on your quality of life: breathing easier, letting go of anxiety, and improving your overall wellness. Aren't those wonderful benefits worth the extra effort?

Author's Bio: 

Roberta Roberts Mittman, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., M.S., is a nutritional and lifestyle consultant, holistic mindset mentor, and nationally board-certified acupuncturist. Using natural, drug-free techniques, Roberta opens the door to complete mind-body health. Roberta believes in empowering individuals to be their own best healers. Ready to take that step? Call 212-686-0939, or visit online at