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In this modern age, we are constantly under stress. This comes not only from career deadlines, family pressures, and financial obligations, but from anything that disrupts our body’s natural state of balance. Here are some tips to counteract the stresses that we face. Reducing stress levels is a key piece to improving your health although I must stress that it is just one piece, you can check out our book SelfHacked Secrets for a guide to improving your health and performance. Click here to receive the first chapter for free.

If you are struggling with chronic health issues – the way I used to – you probably have piles of lab tests that can potentially tell you a lot about your health. Cortisol may be one of them. However, doctors never had enough time to explain it properly. They will only notice it if the lab flags your test results as outside of normal. But what if all your results are coming back normal, yet you know you are feeling nowhere near healthy? They may even tell you there is nothing wrong with you, and that it’s all in your head – I’ve been there.

Lab Test Analyzer is the tool I wish I had when I was dealing with all my health issues. Instead of normal, it will tell you the optimal values for cortisol and many other lab tests. And if you are outside the optimal range, it will give you actionable tips and recommendations that will help you get there.

The Two Major Stress Response Systems

There are two major systems in the body that mediate the “stress response.”  Both originate from the hypothalamus.

One is called the Hypothalamus-Pituitary and Adrenal (HPA) axis.

These three glands release the following hormones: CRH (Hypothalamus)->ACTH (Pituitary)->Cortisol (Adrenal).

The other stress pathway is the sympathomedullary system, where signals are sent to the adrenals to release adrenaline and norepinephrine.

The HPA axis deals with longer term stressors, while the sympathomedullary system deals with more acute stressors.

Probably the best single measure of your stress response is your blood levels of cortisol.


Lifestyle Strategies to Lower Your Stress Response

  1. Vagus Nerve Stimulation (R)
  2. Positive social encounters (R)
  3. Laughing/being happy (R)
  4. Spending time in nature (R) 
  5. Diaphragmatic breathing (R)
  6. Meditation (R, R2)
  7. Yoga (RR2)
  8. Being physically active – Lowers cortisol in longer term (R).
  9. Regular dancing (R)
  10. Massage therapy (R)
  11. Music therapy (R)
  12. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) (R)
  13. Napping after sleep loss (R)
  14. Glucose restriction/fasting (Be careful) (R)
  15. Chewing – Lowers CRH (R).

Foods to Lower Your Stress Response


  1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (R)
  2. Salmon and other fatty (High Omega 3) fish (R)
  3. Turmeric (R)
  4. Green tea/L-Theanine (R)
  5. Dark Chocolate (R) 

Monitoring Your Stress Response

Everyone is different and our bodies can be complex. If you want to decrease your cortisol levels, it’s best to analyze them with Lab Test Analyzer. This tool will compute, based on this and your other results, the best steps you can take that will bring you back to optimal.

Supplements to Lower Your Stress Response


Some of these are in animal studies.

  1. Curcumin (R)
  2. Fish Oil/DHA  (R, R2)
  3. Rhodiola/Salidroside (R)
  4. Magnesium (R, R2, R3R4)
  5. Zinc (R)
  6. Selenium (R)
  7. Probiotics  (R)
  8. Black Cumin Seed Oil (R)
  9. Lysine (R)
  10. Vitamin C (R)
  11. St John’s Wort (R)
  12. Oxytocin (R)
  13. Phosphatidylserine (R)
  14. Aromatherapy (orange essential oil) (R)
  15. Schisandra – Lowers cortisol (R).
  16. Holy Basil/Tulsi – (in rats) (R) 
  17. Tribulus – Lowers CRH and cortisol (R).
  18. Ginseng – Blocks ACTH (R). Especially for chronic stress (R).
  19. Cordyceps – Reduces stress markers (in rats) (R).
  20. Ginkgo – Especially for acute stress (R).
  21. Apigenin – (in cellular models) (R, R2)

GABA Promoting Supplements That Lower Your Stress Response


GABAergics inhibit the HPA axis. This includes GABAb (R, R2) or GABAa (RR2).

GABA Promoting Supplements include:

  1. Butyrate (R)
  2. Ketogenic diets (R) – In ketosis, less glutamate is metabolized and more is made into GABA (R). Contradictory (R).
  3. Honokiol (from Magnolia) (R)
  4. Theanine (R)
  5. Hops (R)
  6. Chinese Skullcap (R)
  7. Kava (R)
  8. Valerian (R)
  9. Taurine (high dosage) (R)
  10. Ashwagandha (weak) (R)
  11. Bacopa (weak) (R)

Hormones That Lower Your Stress Response


  1. Progesterone (R)
  2. GHRH (in men, but not women) (R)

Devices to Lower Your Stress Response

  1. PEMF  – depends on device used (R)
  2. tDCS (Transcranial direct current stimulation) (R)
  3. TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) – CRH production and release (R, R2)
  4. Electroacupuncture – Decreased CRH in a rat model of IBS (R).

Irregular Cortisol Levels?

If you have not yet tested your cortisol levels, I recommend that you ask your doctor to do it. If you already have your blood test results and you’re not sure what to make of them, you need to check out Lab Test Analyzer. It does all the heavy lifting for you. No need to do thousands of hours of research on what to make of your various blood tests.

People don’t realize that their blood test results contain a gold mine of information that’s waiting to be unearthed. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time or the inclination to sift through dozens of research papers.

It’s super-simple, so that even if you don’t have any background in science, you will understand what your results mean and what you can do to get them in the optimal range.

Lab Test Analyzer gives you up-to-date scientific information about your lab results. In addition, you will get both lifestyle tips and natural solutions to help you optimize your health. You can also rely on our science-based Optimal Ranges to prevent potential health issues and maximize your overall well-being.

All of the content is backed by science and researched by a team of PhDs, professors, and scientists.

We’re all unique, so we deserve solutions that treat us that way.

Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick

At SelfHacked, it’s our goal to offer our readers all the tools possible to get optimally healthy. When I was struggling with chronic health issues I felt stuck because I didn’t have any tools to help me get better. I had to spend literally thousands of hours trying to read through studies on pubmed to figure out how the body worked and how to fix it.

That’s why I decided to create tools that will help others cut down the guesswork:

  • Lab Test Analyzer – a software tool that will analyze your labs and tell you what the optimal values are for each marker — as well as provide you with actionable tips and personalized health and lifestyle recommendations to help you get there.
  • SelfDecode – a software tool that will help you analyze your genetic data from companies such as 23andme and ancestry. You will learn how your health is being impacted by your genes, and how to use this knowledge to your advantage.
  • SelfHacked Secrets – an ebook where we examine and explain the biggest overlooked environmental factors that cause disease. This ebook is a great place to start your journey if you want to learn the essential steps to optimizing your health.
  • SelfHacked Elimination Diet course – a video course that will help you figure out which diet works best for you
  • Selfhacked Inflammation course – a video course on inflammation and how to bring it down
  • Biohacking insomnia – an ebook on how to get great sleep
  • Lectin Avoidance Cookbook – an e-cookbook for people with food sensitivities
  • BrainGauge – a device that detects subtle brain changes and allows you to test what’s working for you
  • SelfHacked VIP – an area where you can ask me (Joe) questions about health topics

FDA Compliance

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.


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  • Susan S

    There is a connection with GABA converting to glutamate in some individuals if GABA shunt impaired, or something like that. Go to and look up GABA/glutamate. Sometimes I do well with GABA and sometimes not. I’ve also read that you need to have “leaky brain” for GABA to work (“Why My Brain Isn’t Working).

  • Messerschmitt

    This totally describes what I have suffered from my whole life (47 years). Thank you for the post!

  • Chola

    I’m not an expert (yet) but the general idea should be this: GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter (“int”), and let’s say noradrenalin (NA) is an excitatory neurotransmitter (“ent”). Brain cells have receptors for more neurotransmitters, some have more for one, some for other neurotransmitter, but let’s simplify that by saying “GABA neuron or NA neuron”. We will now use 2 different models to explain different outcomes with the same supplement (in this case GABA). Imagine described pathways as a string of multiple neurons.
    Pathway 1: ↑GABA(int) -> ↓GABA(int) -> ↑NA(ent) – Here more activated inhibitory neuron inhibited another inhibitory neuron which reduced the inhibition of excitatory neuron and the end signal now is amplified compared to baseline – resulting in anxiety, anger, agitation;
    Pathway 2: ↑GABA(int) -> ↓NA(ent) – Here more activated inhibitory neuron inhibited excitatory neuron and the signal now is reduced compared to baseline – resulting with anxiolytic calming effects.
    It seems like most people are wired like pathway 2, while you’re like pathway one.

    Keep in mind this is oversimplified just for your understanding, there are more neurotransmitters involved and all people have both pathways, but this is just for illustration

  • Marie

    Most GABA promoting supplements I’ve tried made me feel more stressed. Any idea why this happens ?

  • John J Söder

    According to the source for that Butyrate increases GABA, it seems to be plant-cells, Not human cells.

    1. Joseph M. Cohen
  • Oskar

    While you are at writing those panacea posts about curcumin, resveratrol etc you could write one about CBD oil as well. I suspect that as a FAAH inhibitor it might be especially relevant for anyone with screwed up stress hormones, anxiety issues etc as it appears that the stress response and amygdala signalling is controlled in large part via endocannabinoid system in PFC and amygdala. Take a look at the following article for example:

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      I have a post on FAAH

  • Dylan

    Oh and to add to that, my post meal fatigue seems to be caused by high cortisol as well. Since cortisol triples when you eat, I have to eat way smaller meals earlier in the day as to avoid huge spikes, and slightly larger meals later in the day. When taking PS, I can sort of blunt the spikes, and almost have got rid of what I thought were food sensitivities but may have just been high cortisol. Maybe your theory about CRH being the culprit is correct all along. But what makes it go so high and stay so high?

  • dylan

    Nice post, bro. Lately I’ve been using very high dose phosphatidyl serine, and it has been inhibiting my over responsive HPA-axis. I’ve noticed that when my cortisol goes too high that I go hypothyroid. When I take PS, it lowers it and the hypothyroid symptoms go away, but I haven’t perfected it yet.

    According to Dr. Bryan Walsh, people with HPA-axis dysnfunction (high cortisol) should take 2 grams of PS a day. I’m close to 3 grams on some days, but nothing else works like it.

    What I’ve noticed over the last two years with hpa-axis dysfunction is that I have basically tried everything and spent allot of money to learn that doctors have no clue about what it is or how to treat it.

    It seems to me that it’s similar to PTSD, and your body overproduces cortisol in response to stress, leading to the phenomena of post exercise fatigue, and hypothyroid symptoms.

    I would surmise that extremely high levels of cortisol would cause condition much like insulin resistance when insulin is too high, it would be cortisol resistance, and since the levels of cortisol would be resisted, it would make thyroid hormone inaccessible, even though blood levels of t3 look normal.

    What causes your system to stay out of order for so long is hard to know. Could it be auto immune or pathogen driven? Could it just be genetics, and it’s sort of like buggy genetic code that allows for an infinite loop to occur.

    1. Carl Betz

      Dylan, have you found that PS is working long term? I’m taking 100mg before bed, and thats it. Also, any new info about this? I have high A.M. Cortisol (28.1) that I cant get down, seems like the CRH switch is stuck in the ON position. Bryan Walsh is definitely a leader in this space.

  • thomlandia

    Question: Are the probiotics you mainly link – Swanson 65 and Garden of Life – are they at least histamine neutral?

  • Daniela R.

    I LOVE this new kind of articles – extremely simplified and compressed amount of information.

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      Thanks, I’m trying to make articles more user-friendly, but still not dumb the content down

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