… (and the Surprising Effect Stress Has on Your Body) 

I’m sure you’ve heard the term “fight or flight response” before. It’s shorthand for what happens in your body when it needs to deal with stressors. Three hormones-epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline), norepinephrine and cortisol work together to help your body deal with stressors and get you back into “pre-danger” mode.

The problem is fight or flight response happens to all stressors because your body doesn’t know the difference between the short-term survival stressors like getting chased by a bear, and the deadlines you’re bombarded with at work, trying to juggle all of the responsibilities you have, the traffic that drives you crazy and just about everything else in our modern society. That means we’re all dealing with the affects of stress all the time.

The Surprising Effect Too Much Stress Has On Your Body

Here’s a big fat bummer, and why we all need to reduce the stress in our lives. When stress is always present, your body can’t get rid of the excess cortisol that builds up in your blood. It hangs around-sort of like the houseguest that won’t leave–turning your young fat cells into mature fat cells that stay with you forever. That excess cortisol can also increase your cravings for high-fat, high-carb foods because they cause chemical releases in the brain that make you feel good and counteract the stress side effects. No wonder something fried or smothered in cheese sounds irresistible when you’re stressed out!

8 Ways to Stress Less

These simple strategies can help you stress way less… and provide some other fantastic benefits:

1. Exercise. Of course, this is number one on my list! But for a very good reason. Exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries. And that’s not all. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence, lower symptoms associated with depression and anxiety, improve your sleep and pump up your mood. Plus, regular exercise has an added benefit by reducing the amount of cortisol your body makes. So make sure you schedule time in your busy week to get moving. It doesn’t have to be for big chunks of time, either. Ten or 20 minutes could do it. Go for a walk, do yoga or have a random dance party in your living room. Try one of the workouts from the blog. Or, if you live locally, consider working with me to design a custom exercise program just for you.

2. Sleep. Sleep is one of most important natural stress reducer of them all. Too little sleep can leave you cranky, irritable and on edge. Too much leaves you feeling sluggish and depressed. Finding the right balance-about seven to eight hours a night-allows you to feel well-rested and ready for the day. And it can help your hormones, like ghrelin and leptin (responsible for regulating your appetite), regulate themselves. Practicing healthy habits can help you make the most of the time you do spend in bed. For example, keeping your bedroom dark and cool (around 68 degrees), powering down electronic devices, and writing down your mental to do list

3. Eat healthy and clean. It’s actually been proven that junk food can make you depressed (not to mention fat), so it might be time to clean up your diet a bit. Healthy foods like whole grains and protein can improve your mood and give you long-lasting energy to tackle everything that comes your way during the day. Foods that are especially effective for stress-busting include blueberries, salmon and almonds, according to scientists. This type of clean eating is the core of a new program I’m working on right now–called Flat & Happy–that will launch next month. Stay tuned for more details. You might also want to put down that extra cup of coffee. While studies have shown that some coffee during the day can offer health benefits, too much caffeine will make you jittery and anxious, and eventually lead to a crash. Too much caffeine can also cause your body to release more cortisol.

4. Breathe. In times of stress, we tend to take quick, shallow breaths. Try to focus on your breath and take longer, deeper breaths. Not only will it help you calm down, but it will help increase your energy level. And breathing deep increases pleasure-inducing neurochemicals in the brain to elevate moods and combat physical pain.So, take a deep, cleansing breath right now.

5. Worry … but only for 10 minutes. Set a timer and give yourself a limited time to worry. Think of all of the positive outcomes of a situation. Once the timer goes off, let it go and visualize the positive.

6. Put things into perspective. Sometimes the things we stress over the most won’t matter in five years. Think about the big picture to help you turn mountains back into molehills.

7. Choose your reaction. Have you ever heard the expression that you can’t control every situation, but you can control how you react to it? Or the expression, “Don’t sweat the small stuff?” They’re absolutely true. You can make a choice not to be consumed by stress and to just let some of the small stuff go.

8. Have fun. Participating in your favorite leisure activity or sports can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. This is a perfect reason to add more fun to your life.

How are you currently dealing with stress? Which one (or more) of these will you try to stress less?

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