Hacking Cortisol: Your Body’s Chief Stress Hormone

Amy Cuddy woke up in a head injury rehabilitation ward.

The details of the accident were still fuzzy, but she quickly learned that she had been withdrawn from college.

And that her IQ had decreased by two standard deviations...

She was 19. And over the next several years, she battled to catch up with her studies while healing from her injury.

The car accident had left its mark. Both physically and emotionally.
It took her 4 years longer than her peers, but Amy eventually graduated and landed a job at Princeton.

Amy's head injury had nudged her life in a slightly different direction.

Once thought of as a "gifted" student, she found herself doubting her own abilities... and her worthiness to even work at a prestigious institution like Princeton University.

But Amy kept forging ahead. Slowly, she regained her confidence and her emotional wounds healed.

Through this horrible experience, Amy learned a valuable lesson: we have the ability to shape our minds with our behavior.

And not just in a philosophical sense... Amy's experiences led her to conduct some of the most fascinating research in Social Psychology in the last decade.

There are several valuable lessons in Amy's story... But I want to focus on one particular part of it:

How Amy Learned to Instantly Lower Cortisol,The Body's Chief Stress Hormone, by 25%

Amy's research was originally published in the journal Psychological Science in 2010.
The experiment sought to answer the following question:
Can our body language have an impact on hormone levels related to power and risk tolerance?

Here's how the study was conducted:
The researchers started by taking measurements of testosterone and cortisol levels from saliva samples of each participant. Participants were then asked to sit in "high power" or "low power" poses for two minutes.

As you can see from the image below, "high power" poses involve expansive body language that takes up space. And "low power" poses involve drawing in the limbs tightly to the body, in a guarded position.

High Power and Low Power Poses

High Power Poses - Total R&R Series SaltWrap

At the end of the two minute period, researchers measured the participants' hormone levels again.
And were shocked by the results.

High power poses decreased cortisol levels by a whopping 25%.
And the low power poses actually increased the stress hormone cortisol.

Here's a graph from the published article depicting the results:
(You can clearly see that high power poses [on the left] lower cortisol, while low power poses [on the right] increase it.)

Graph - High Power Poses and Stress

This was a landmark study.
One of the first to demonstrate that we can be active participants in our endocrine systems.

Similar results were found in the animal kingdom as well.
In Cuddy's 2012 TED Talk, she explains how gorillas experience a similar decline in cortisol when a new member of the troop becomes the leader (or "Alpha").

It seems we mammals are hard-wired to actively control our stress-response system... So how can you put this into practice?

Cuddy suggests using the Wonder Woman Pose to instantly lower stress hormones.

Simply stand stall with your chest out and hands on your hips (this works just as well for men and women) for two minutes.

It can look a little strange in public, so you might want to try this in the privacy of your home (or in a public restroom where people won't stare).

Wonder Woman Pose - Stress - SaltWrap Biolabs

Sounds a little crazy right?
I admit, it does. But, the science is solid.

The next time you feel your performance start to suffer... you're fatigued, muscles are tense, not sleeping well... Give it a shot.
You might be surprised at how quickly you FEEL a shift in your internal environment.

Here are some other proven tactics for managing cortisol level:

Tactics for Keeping Cortisol in Check

1) Take a siesta.
If you aren't able to get a full 8 hours of sleep, try to squeeze in a 20 minute "Power Nap". This is the optimal time period to reduce cortisol levels without waking up groggy.

2) Laugh
Studies show laughter can reduce cortisol by up to 39%. Listen to some comedy tapes, or hang out with a funny friend.

3) Get a massage
Massage therapy has shown the ability to reduce cortisol levels by a third after only 1 week.

4) Chew gum
According to researchers from Northumbria University in the United Kingdom, gum chewers had 12% lower cortisol levels than non-gum-chewers in one study.

5) Take Ashwagandha extract
Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic Herb, traditionally used in Hindu culture to balance out hormones and reduce stress. A study published in the Journal of American Nutraceutical Association showed that people who take Ashwagandha had lower “stress and anxiety scores, feeling less fatigue… headache and muscle pain..."

Opt for the organic root powder—the most researched form of this powerful herb.

But Ashwagandha isn't the only herb we found to lower stress levels and improve performance.

We put together an "All-Star Team" of 8 natural ingredients.
All focused on neutralizing muscle tension, improving sleep, and boosting natural energy levels.

If you haven't checked out Mag R&R yet, click here to learn more.

(This article was re-posted from the series Total R&R: An Uncommon Guide to Muscle Relaxation.)

Photo Credit: Harvard Business School 
Citations: http://www.people.hbs.edu/acuddy/in%20press,%20carney,%20cuddy,%20&%20yap,%20psych%20science.pdf