The secretion of cortisol is mainly controlled by three inter-communicating regions of the body, the hypothalamus in the brain, the pituitary gland and the adrenal gland . This is called the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. When cortisol levels in the blood are low, a group of cells in a region of the brain called the hypothalamus releases corticotrophin-releasing hormone , which causes the pituitary gland to secrete another hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone , into the bloodstream. High levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone are detected in the adrenal glands and stimulate the secretion of cortisol, causing blood levels of cortisol to rise. As the cortisol levels rise, they start to block the release of corticotrophin-releasing hormone from the hypothalamus and adrenocorticotropic hormone from the pituitary. As a result the adrenocorticotropic hormone levels start to drop, which then leads to a drop in cortisol levels. This is called a negative feedback loop.
Because non-genomic pathways include any mechanism that is not a genomic effect, there are various non-genomic pathways. However, all of these pathways are mediated by some type of steroid hormone receptor found at the plasma membrane.  Ion channels, transporters, G-protein coupled receptors (GPCR), and membrane fluidity have all been shown to be affected by steroid hormones.  Of these, GPCR linked proteins are the most more information on these proteins and pathways, visit the steroid hormone receptor page.
Because steroids are lipophilic, they diffuse easily through the cell membranes, and therefore have a very large distribution volume. In their target tissues, steroids are concentrated by an uptake mechanism which relies on their binding to intracellular proteins (or " receptors ", see below). High concentration of steroids are also found in adipose tissue, although this is not a target for hormone action. In the human male, adipose tissue contains aromatase activity, and seems to be the main source of androgen-derived estrogens found in the circulation. But most of the peripheral metabolism occurs in the liver and to some extent in the kidneys, which are the major sites of hormone inactivation and elimination, or catabolism (see below).