Ah, it’s so good to have a little trip away from time to time… You change the surroundings, get out of the routine that seems so boring and never-ending, forget the stress of the busy schedules and finally wind down and relax…
And this brings me to the next rule of the Smart Weight Loss series, and probably the last. Unless, with time I find something else useful to add to the plan.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Rule no. V:
5. Stress Less
And when talking about stress, I want to quickly go back to the previous rule. There we have looked at how hormones, specifically Leptin, Ghrelin and Melatonin affect our system and make it difficult for the body to function properly at any level. In rule 5 we will continue looking at how the hormones affect the system and your chances to get to a healthy weight, but this time the hormones we are going to discuss are the stress hormones. Specifically, Cortisol.
Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by adrenal glands in response to stress. It is a very important hormone, indeed, and it has a lot of function in the body. Its functions include regulating and influencing:
- Blood glucose levels
- Metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates to maintain blood glucose
- Immune response and anti-inflammatory actions
- Blood pressure
- Heart and blood vessel tone and contraction
- Central Nervous System activation
When we are having a stressful time, the adrenal glands produce cortisol as a coping mechanism, but as the stress passes the cortisol levels must decline. And that is where our life styles went wrong.
In the modern world, our lives and schedules are so intense, so fast-paced that in many situations the levels of cortisol do not decrease as they should. As a result, there is excess cortisol circulating in the body that causes an array of symptoms from hunger to other inflammatory reactions and diseases. If the levels are constantly high, adrenal glands become exhausted and cannot produce enough cortisol as the result, which also leads to serious health complications. Among the complications caused by high cortisol levels are: impaired cognitive function, impaired thyroid function, blood sugar imbalances (high blood sugar, for example), sleep disruption, high blood pressure and low immune function.
But what’s of the most interest to us here is that high cortisol is capable of making your body store abdominal fat, which, in its turn, increases your risks of getting stroke, heart disease and high LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol. Elevated cortisol may also trigger excess hunger and binge-eating, as this study suggests. This is no good news to us, and we have to act to change the situation.
It is extremely easy to get caught up in the everyday stress of modern lives. We go to bed late and rise early, we lack sleep, we rush to work, we multitask, we hardly have time to eat real food and resort to choosing not the best options, but the easiest ones. In the evening, exhausted, we seek some rest in front of TVs and other devices, or go for a drink on Friday night, not realising that all of these things actually contribute to even more stress. So I call you to stop for a moment and consider the things you could do to really let your body relax.
How can we de-stress?
There are quite a few proven ways.
Find a quiet time and sit still for even as little as 5 minutes. If you can, sit in a cross-legged position; if sitting on a chair is more comfortable for you, then sit on the chair with both feet on the floor and your back straight. Put the palms of your hands on top of your knees and close your eyes. Breathe slowly, in and out. Concentrate on your breathing. If this makes it easier, count ‘one’ as you inhale and ‘two’ as you exhale. Don’t preoccupy yourself with trying to keep your mind clear; rather acknowledge a thought as it comes up and dismiss it, returning to your breathing.
Meditation helps to manage stress and anxiety and can make you calmer and happier in the long run.
- Deep Breathing
Even if you don’t (or think you don’t) have time to meditate, just remind yourself to breathe deeply. Throughout the day, no matter what you do, stop for a moment and just breathe. Deep breathing will slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure, which are both increased when you’re stressed. It works exceptionally well when you’re anxious, too.
- Go for a Walk
Walking and fresh air are a great concoction to help you calm down and breathe. Any form of exercise that is not strenuous also releases endorphins – a special chemical that makes you feel good. It is a good practice, really, to walk daily to de-stress and also incorporate some physical activity into your routine. You can also do what is called ‘a walking meditation’ – just concentrate on your breathing as you go.
- Do Yoga
In reality, it can be any light or moderate exercise, but yoga, especially before bed is extremely good for unwinding and relaxing. It takes your mind away from problems because it requires your full attention and concentration. You can also sync all of your moves with your breathing, and as you pay attention to your breathing and movement, it becomes a moving meditation.
Other good exercise for this is Tai Chi. But any form of non-strenuous exercise that takes away your mind is good.
- Read a Book
I don’t know if this one requires an explanation. Reading is good for your mind, it takes you away from problems or anxieties, it helps you relax and carries you away to the land of stories and imagination. If you want to take it to another level, read an inspirational book on meditation, mindfulness and such, and really try being present while you’re reading it.
- Listen to the Music
This one can be highly relaxing. Just play some of your favourite tunes, but pay close attention to how they make you feel. Some days slow and melancholic music can be the best idea, but sometimes it can make you feel worse, so you need something uplifting. Listen to what your mind and your body are telling you and you will find the right way to help yourself.
- Kiss your Sweetheart
This is an unconventional one, but who wouldn’t love it? Research suggests that kissing releases different chemicals into our brains, like endorphins – the happiness hormone, and is able to relieve stress and lower cortisol levels. So kiss away!
Incorporate some of these or all of these steps if you like and see how it works for you. I, personally, can vouch for every single one. But I found yoga and meditation being the best in the long run. Really, give them a try before you judge.