Menopause and Cortisol: 5 Coping Techniques

Last updated 03.22.2024 | by Sabrina Johnson | 11 Minutes Read

This article has been reviewed and fact checked by Dr. Karen Pike, a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. Read more at our medical disclaimer page.

For those transitioning into menopause or already in menopause, the term cortisol isn’t unknown. A woman in her 50s once mentioned to me that, from what she read, she understood that cortisols were mostly related to stress. She was right in her understanding, but not completely.

Cortisol is primarily known as a stress hormone. However, that isn’t the only function of cortisol; it impacts our bodies in other ways, too, from impacting digestion to resulting in a spike in blood sugar levels. My sister would have panic attacks and go through depressive episodes in her late 40s. Through bloodwork, it was diagnosed that her cortisol levels were a little elevated. Medications and lifestyle changes helped to bring the levels down.

Are you of menopausal age? Then, you may want to know more about cortisol and its impact on your body, mainly during menopause. In this article, I will cover it all. I will discuss cortisol’s functions, the consequences of elevated cortisol levels, and how to manage them. Read on to know more.

What Is Cortisol and How Does it Function?

For those unaware of cortisol, here is a simple explanation: Cortisol is a significant steroid hormone released by the adrenal glands. One of its most essential functions is regulating the stress response. Beyond that, it has other important roles as well:

  • It regulates metabolism and controls your body’s use of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins to make energy.
  • Cortisol helps to limit inflammation, thus functioning as an immunity booster.
  • It regulates your blood pressure and helps to keep it stable.
  • Cortisol counterbalances insulin’s effect. While cortisol decreases blood sugar levels, insulin elevates them by releasing stored glucose.
  • It significantly manages your sleep-wake cycle. Your cortisol levels generally dip before bedtime and peak when you wake up. So, it is clear that cortisols play a crucial role in helping you sleep at night and wake up in the morning.

So, now you know that cortisol not only regulates your stress responses but also supports the functioning of your body in other ways.

What Happens to the Cortisol Levels In Menopause?

We all may have high cortisol levels at some point. For example, under intense stress or moments of anxiety, your cortisol levels could go high. Then, there are times of the day when cortisol levels go through a spike and fall, as mentioned.

A study of 33 people showed that cortisol was lowest at midnight and started rising at 2:00 – 3:00 a.m. By 8:30 a.m., it would be at its peak. Again, it would start showing a downward trend and eventually decline.

When estrogen levels decline steadily in menopause, cortisol levels are impacted and tend to rise. An increased cortisol level triggers a stress response. Here, we must also mention progesterone, whose levels are also affected during perimenopause and menopause. Progesterone is a feel-good hormone that calms the brain. It promotes better sleep and lessens anxiety and irritability. Low progesterone in your system also shoots cortisol levels.

What is the Impact of High Cortisol Levels?

While high cortisol levels trigger a stress response, research has shown that cortisol levels increase about nine times during stressful moments compared to relaxed periods. If the stress levels rise momentarily, the cortisol levels will rise for the time being and come down once the crisis period ends and you calm down.

Let’s take a hypothetical situation. You’ve gone for a walk and are suddenly chased by a Rotweiller. You run for your life. Amidst all these, your stress levels rise, and so does the cortisol. Once the crisis is managed, your anxiety levels go down, and the cortisol goes back to normal.

However, if you have chronic stress and are anxious most of the time, your cortisol levels will remain elevated, and that could adversely affect your health. It could even result in symptoms like:

A spike in cortisol levels makes you more susceptible to inflammation, eventually weakening your immune system. If the cortisol levels are high for an extended period, it could even increase your blood pressure. Conversely, low cortisol levels drop blood pressure levels below normal.

High cortisol levels also lead to a steep rise in blood sugar levels, making you prone to Type 2 diabetes.

As mentioned, cortisol is functional in regulating your sleep-wake cycle. So, a constant rise in its levels could trigger insomnia in the long run. It could cause you to remain awake at night and sleep for a less period.

Tips to Cope with High Cortisol Levels

Now comes the main question: What should you do when the cortisol levels are high? A lady in an online conversation once asked how she would get to know if her cortisol levels were on the rise. I mentioned a few symptoms in the above section, but let me recapitulate. Here are some red flags to watch out for that indicate your cortisol levels have gone increasingly high:

  • Facial and abdominal weight gain
  • Fatty deposits in the shoulder blades
  • Purplish abdominal stretch marks
  • Weakened muscles in your thighs and upper arms
  • Increased blood pressure and blood sugar
  • Increased hair growth, primarily in females
  • Weak bones and increased susceptibility to fractures
  • Reduced sex drive: a study showed that women with high cortisol levels showed a reduced response to sexual stimuli

So, you cannot underestimate the power of cortisol’s and deem their functions merely stress hormones. It influences your body in several ways. Here are a few tips to help you control your cortisol levels, mainly when the hormonal fluctuations elevate them. Here’s what you could do:

Pay Attention to Your Sleep

While high cortisol levels impact sleep, lessened sleep also causes cortisol levels to rise. It’s a two-way cycle. A study in 2021 revealed that if one is partially sleep-deprived, that could cause cortisol levels to rise. If you sleep for around 5.5 hours, which many of us may be doing throughout the week, that too can spike cortisol levels. So, recurrent sleep deprivation will increasingly take a toll on cortisol levels. So, your foremost priority is to watch out for your sleep.

  • Maintain a proper sleep schedule.
  • Avoid napping during the latter part of the day, mainly in the late afternoons or evenings.
  • Avoid electronic gadgets before bedtime, as they could disrupt your sleep. I would consciously keep my laptop and mobile out of my bedroom, which helped immensely.
  • Sometimes, noises from outside sources or within your room can interfere with a peaceful night’s sleep. So, try eliminating such unwanted noises. A white noise eliminator or fan may help.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks or beverages at least an hour before bedtime to avoid bathroom breaks during sleep.
  • Ensure your sheets, mattresses, and pillows are comfortable, and your bedroom has the proper lighting so you can fall asleep soon. I always prefer cotton fabrics for my sheets and pillowcases because they are breathable and soft. They give a feel-good vibe and help you sleep comfortably.

Exercise Regularly

When you are on the move and follow a proper exercise regime, it also lowers your cortisol levels. So, what exercise should you consider? I will share my exercise regime, which has kept me fit not only when transitioning into menopause but even after that. A brisk walk of at least 20-30 minutes daily was mandatory.

I would also devote some time of the day to running or light jogging. Weekends were all about swimming. I had read a study that mentioned the effectiveness of swimming in lessening cortisol levels over walking. Keeping the facts aside, a splash in water relieves stress quickly and refreshes you. Dancing is another way of staying fit. I joined zumba classes, which helped me stay physically and mentally fit. It was a great way to let go of my woes and worries, and I also had some like-minded ladies for company.

Practice Calming and Relaxation Techniques to Keep Your Stress Under Control

We’ve already discussed how cortisol triggers the stress response and how prolonged stress causes cortisol levels to shoot. In menopause, with so much happening physically and emotionally, remaining calm and composed gets challenging. That’s when you need to make a conscious effort to keep your anxiety levels under control.

I won’t deny that during the transition period, I, too, had trouble controlling my anxiety levels. Resorting to breathing techniques helped me a great deal. A friend suggested the deep breathing technique, which requires breathing through your abdomen and exhaling slowly. Try this three to four times a day. It helps a lot.

This is not the only one. There are many others, like visualized breathing and boxed breathing. You could seek help from a therapist to improve your breathing. Try yoga to relieve stress and promote your overall health.

Above all, I suggest doing anything that gives you pleasure and rejuvenates your mind, minus the unhealthy habits. This may include reading your favorite book, walking in the garden, playing golf or tennis at the club, and the list continues. Many women also mention how keeping a pet helps them to destress and feel better. Studies have also proved this statement. Findings have suggested how petting a dog can lower cortisol levels. You could choose any breed. If you ask me about the preferred canines that would boost your mood, I suggest a Beagle and a Labrador Retriever.

Take Care of Your Diet

Eating healthy is another parameter to keep your cortisol levels under control. You would have to lay more stress on anti-inflammatory foods that would help to boost your immune system. Some foods that fight inflammation include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Leafy greens like collard, spinach, and kale
  • Nuts like walnut and almond
  • Fatty fish like tuna, salmon, sardine, and mackerel
  • Fruits such as orange, blueberry, strawberry, and cherry

Other foods that effectively help to lower cortisol levels include avocado, bananas, dark chocolate, etc.

Do Away with Unhealthy Habits

I mentioned having a healthy diet in the above section. At the same time, you must avoid processed foods and those high in sugar. High cortisol levels increase blood sugar. So, when you constantly have sweetened foods, the sugar levels in your blood keep rising, which could also increase cortisol levels.

In menopause, limiting your caffeine intake is essential as it could aggravate hot flashes and other symptoms. Caffeine also raises your cortisol levels, so you must restrict your coffee cups to stay awake and feel fresh. You must also limit your alcohol intake to a drink a day. Increased consumption spikes cortisol levels and also makes other menopausal symptoms worse.


Does hormone therapy help to increase cortisol levels?

Hormone therapy has helped many women manage several menopausal symptoms like mood swings, night sweats, hot flashes, etc. Studies have shown its effectiveness in reducing the cortisol levels. However, choosing the right therapy that will give you maximum benefits and fewer side effects is essential. That’s why seeking a doctor’s advice is required before opting for HRT.

Can increased cortisol cause Cushing syndrome?

Cushing syndrome is a rare pituitary gland disorder that occurs when the body produces increased cortisol over a long period. The symptoms include increased weight gain in the face and trunk, frail skin susceptible to bruises, slow healing of wounds, acne, and fatty hump between shoulders.

People with Cushing’s Syndrome can experience increased fatigue, bone loss, darkening of skin, sleeplessness, headaches, and high blood pressure. However, high cortisol levels don’t always manifest in Cushing syndrome. For that to happen, the levels must be exceptionally high over time. Instead, individuals with Cushing syndrome will have high cortisol levels.

When should you consult a doctor regarding high cortisol levels?

If you experience weight gain, increased blood pressure, fatigue, irritability, concentration issues, and overall discomfort, contact your healthcare provider immediately.


In the hustle and bustle of daily life, stress is quite common. In emergencies where you panic in the heat of the moment and calm down once the crisis subsides, a rise and fall in cortisol levels is quite common. However, when transitioning into menopause, the hormonal imbalances already take a toll on your cortisol levels and overall health. That’s when you must be careful about your lifestyle and do your best to be in high spirits.


  • Sabrina Johnson

    Meet Sabrina Johnson, a compassionate author and a seasoned expert in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a driving force behind Simply Menopause, where her extensive medical knowledge and empathetic nature come together to empower women in their menopausal journey. Sabrina offers culturally sensitive guidance and support through her approachable writing, making her a trusted friend on the path to menopause wellness.

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