Feeling stressed can trigger more than migraine headaches or a meltdown. You could become obese! Learn how to chill out and keep your body fat in check
Why You Should Drive Yourself to Distraction
Unless you join a monastery, you can't avoid stress or stop your body's automatic reaction to it. But don't start pumping out cortisol just yet. There's still plenty you can do. Try these easy tension- relieving strategies:
Give in The Montclair puzzle studies indicated that women tend to eat more unhealthy foods only when they are both battling stress and restricting calories in order to lose weight. That clearly indicates, Zellner says, that women should stop depriving themselves. "Instead of viewing certain foods as 'off limits,' they should view them as things they can have occasionally," she says. Try budgeting one or two small treats into your day instead of avoiding them entirely--that way, you won't risk going overboard when your willpower finally snaps.
Sleep Yes, this might sound like the last thing you're capable of when you're strung out, but here's a bit of news that will encourage you to get some z's: "A person who gets less than six hours of sleep can have up to 50 percent more cortisol in the evening than someone who gets eight hours," Talbott says. Sleep deprivation also increases the amount of ghrelin (the hormone that triggers appetite) and decreases leptin (an appetite suppressor). You may not even need as much snooze time as you think: A study in the journal Sleep showed that seven or eight hours a night is sufficient and that anything less or more could lead to weight gain.
Wait Unless you're a member of a bomb squad or Naomi Campbell's entourage, you probably don't live in a state of constant unrelenting stress. If you only face isolated outbreaks of tension, like traffic jams and dentist appointments, chances are good that you can beat cortisol's damaging effects. Like all hormones, it doesn't linger in your blood stream forever, so if you can avoid giving in to the urge to stuff yourself silly for the two to three hours it takes cortisol to leave your system, you'll be home free. "Distraction can be a really great strategy," says psychotherapist Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., author of The Food and Feelings Workbook. "Flipping through a magazine or doing a hobby you enjoy, like knitting, can succeed even where yoga might fail for someone who isn't a fan.
Get therapy Don't wait for vacation to book your next massage--studies have linked the occasional back rub to lower cortisol. In one such study, a 15-minute chair massage decreased hospital workers' cortisol levels by 24 percent. In addition to reporting less job stress, anxiety, and depression after their rubdowns, the workers solved math problems faster and more accurately. Hit the spa at lunch after a crazy morning, and you'll be not only more relaxed but also more productive. Can't break away? Keep a handheld gadget, like the HoMedics Quad Extreme rechargeable handheld massager, plugged in at your desk and knead as needed.
Move It's not just yoga--at least 30 minutes a day of any kind of physical activity can help you conquer the negative effects of cortisol. "Being active is a great way to reduce cortisol levels," Talbott says. "In our studies, we see cortisol falling by 15 to 20 percent from the start to the end of a six- to 12-week diet, exercise, and stress-reduction program. He also suggests changing your approach to working out: Instead of "steady state" cardio (a consistent pace that elevates your heart rate to the 60-to-75 percent of maximum range but doesn't overly challenge), try interval training, which pushes you to your max in several short bursts. "Interval training can change hormone balances for the better faster than steady-state exercise," Talbott says. That includes boosting your testosterone, which helps build muscle and restore metabolism. Try it for your next cardio session: Warm up for five minutes, then work your way up by doing a one-minute sprint followed by one minute at an easy pace, then two and two, three and three, and so on.