Most of us know that our diets — what we eat, when we eat, how much we eat — can affect our weight and our health, but how many consider the effect that stress can have on our bodies?
Ever wonder why you always reach for that carton of ice cream when your stressed out, or why you crave a French fry… or two… or three… hundred? Well, it might be due to stress.
Stress releases cortisol, which is a hormone created by the adrenal glands that puts your body into a “fight-or-flight” mode, temporarily altering regular bodily functions. While this hormone is crucial to survival, it can also be detrimental to your waistline.
Cortisol has been shown to increase appetite and lead to overeating, cravings for junk food, and the accumulation of belly fat. An Ohio State study shows that stress may also result in burning fewer calories as well.
This begs the question: How can one reduce stress or, at the very least, cortisol buildup?
Here are a few tips:
1. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
When you sleep, how you sleep and how long you sleep all have a profound effect on cortisol levels.
Having a regular sleep schedule is best, as is sleeping at night rather than during the day. However, if you work a graveyard shift or are a member of a vampire clan living in Washington state, then just make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible and try to get 6-8 hours of shut eye.
2. Avoid Stressful Thoughts
Granted, this is a tough one. If your prone to worry, being told to “avoid stressful thoughts” isn’t super helpful — or even moderately helpful — but there are some practical things you can do, like slowing down your breathing or getting a massage. Both have been shown to significantly decrease cortisol levels.
3. Do Fun Things
Again, this might prove challenging for some, but look at it this way: dwelling on a stressful situation won’t make it go away (unless, perhaps, you’re stressed that you’re not dwelling enough).
Seriously, though, take some time to have fun, even if it’s just watching a funny movie. A 2009 study showed that laughter helped decrease cortisol and hobbies that promote feelings of well-being can also be beneficial.
4. Stay in Touch with Friends and Family
Friends and family can be very helpful when it comes to easing depression.
According to Healthline, “A study of conflict styles in 88 couples found nonjudgmental mindfulness or empathy led to a more rapid return of cortisol to normal levels following an argument” and “another study showed that having an affectionate interaction with a romantic partner before a stressful activity benefited heart rate and blood pressure more than support from a friend .”
5. Get a Pet
Not only do pets benefit us, we help them too. A 2000 study confirmed that “six neurochemicals associated with a decrease in blood pressure were measured in humans and dogs before and after positive interaction. Results indicated that in both species the neurochemicals involved with attention-seeking or attentionis egens behavior have increased.
“This information can be used as a rationale for animal-assisted therapy,” the study concluded.
6. Eat Healthy
Eating good, wholesome, natural foods is crucial to lowering your cortisol levels. As you may already know, sugar is a well-known cortisol trigger and should be restricted or avoided.
On the other hand, foods such as dark chocolate, black and green tea, probiotics and prebiotics like yogurt (preferably low in sugar) and a variety of fruits are great for keeping cortisol levels in check.
Keep these six things in mind the next time your feeling under the gun. Your waistline will thank you!