Stress, Anxiety and Cortisol

Are you feeling stressed? Feelings of burnout, anxiety, stress and depression can be scientifically monitored by the amount of various hormones present in the brain. Understanding how these stress hormones (in this case ‘cortisol’) contribute to these feelings can be the first step in empowering clients to better manage their stress levels and wellbeing.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is one of the body’s main stress hormones. It helps to fuel the brain’s alarm system; the amygdala (often referred to as the ‘flight’ or ‘fight’ centre). Therefore, when we are met with a stressful situation, the influx of this hormone can support in activating our survival responses; we run away or fight off the danger.

Cortisol has a number of other positive benefits to the body, including increasing blood sugar, regulating blood pressure and controlling the sleep / wake cycle.

It is therefore an extremely useful hormone for our bodies and our survival.

When the stressful situation has subsided, however, the body should calm down and the flow of this hormone (and other stress related hormones, such as noradrenaline) should become more regulated.

So what happens when we are always stressed?

If we are in a constant state of stress, when in demanding jobs, sleep deprived, debt or intense domestic situations, the body can react with a number of detrimental conditions. These can include anxiety and depression, digestive issues, heart disease, weight gain or memory and concentration issues.

In these situations, when in a constant state of high alert, the cortisol levels can be much higher and can alter or shut down functions that get in the way. This can include the immune system, the digestive system or even our reproductive system.

A lot of people see stress as only an emotional issue and yet the physical ramifications of long term stress can be just as detrimental.

How does Hypnotherapy help?

Hypnotherapy helps to solve this issue on many levels. At its most basic the client is in a state of deep relaxation for a sustained amount of time allowing the body to manage this bombardment of stress chemicals.

Hypnotherapy also fires up the imagination. For certain parts of the brain, visualising situations in a positive way (either through metaphor or directly) is equal to experiencing it in real time. This helps to produce feel good chemicals (such as serotonin) and reduce stress hormones (cortisol).

Without the high levels of cortisol, the amygdala (our brain’s alarm system) is suppressed which allows other parts of our brains to form new neural connections, solving problems in abstract ways and therefore, reducing stress longer term.

The more time we spend doing this, the better our brain becomes at managing positive neural connections and stress hormone levels (hence why every client I see is given access to a hypnotherapy track which helps to manage these systems daily).

How you can reduce cortisol levels at home?

Don’t dwell on the problem

As mentioned, visualising situations in either positive or negative ways can be as real for the brain as experiencing it first-hand. Therefore, if you have had a row with a friend and you go home and ‘stew’ on it, your brain is reliving that disagreement over and over again with the same amount of stress hormones attached. As a therapy, Solution focused hypnotherapy understands this and therefore only looks at the solutions rather than problems. It is important, however, that you also maintain your own positive thinking, interaction and action at home. Rather than dwell on a fight, solve it or, if that is not possible, engage in some other alternative activity that is positive and feel good.


As well as producing feel good hormones in abundance, such as serotonin, exercise can improve our rapid response to stress. As exercise exerts some stress on our bodies, the adrenal glands will release a tiny amount of cortisol during times of exercise. Think of it like a vaccine – if we are exposed to tiny amounts, our bodies will build up a better immunity to it. Those who exercise regularly are more likely to recover from stress more rapidly


Studies have shown that eating food with a high glycemic index at breakfast (high in sugar or carbohydrate) can increase cortisol levels. Breakfast is a perfect time to eat fruit and low sugar cereals rather than bread and potatoes and this will help minimise the cortisol throughout the day.

Mood is infectious

If you are surrounding yourself with other stressed-out individuals then you are likely to experience higher levels of stress yourself. Companies know this as often the negative mood of a team leader can have detrimental effects on the culture of the whole company as the bad vibe spreads. It is difficult to remain stressed when you surround yourself with calm and happy people.

If you would like to know more about how hypnotherapy can help to manage stress, I offer a free initial consultation.

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