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Besides the intense frustration that comes with it, stress can have a pretty negative impact on your body and mind. We have some suggestions for keeping the inner peace.
Q: I’ve heard that stress contributes to weight gain. If so, how and why does this happen? How can I avoid this trap?
A: Too much stress can sabotage your shape in a couple of ways. First, many of us instinctively turn to food to soothe our anxiety, and we don’t crave baby carrots. Instead, we want sugary, fatty foods, which trigger the release of feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine in the brain. You’ll feel more relaxed—but at the cost of a few hundred extra calories, which add up.
Stress also packs on the pounds by causing your adrenal glands to crank out the hormone cortisol, which in turn increases your blood sugar. After all, if you’re running from a hippo or fighting off famine, you need all the extra energy you can get. But since most of our stress is not caused by a literal physical threat, all that extra sugar gets stored as belly fat.
Avoiding the trap is as simple as finding ways to manage your stress. A few things to try: Go to a quiet room and close your eyes while taking deep breaths. Listen to a meditation app such as buddhify, $2.99 for Android and iPhone. Get lost in a book or meet your best friend for coffee. And be sure to break a sweat. Whether you om through yoga or powerlift to Metallica, exercising will break the stress cycle, at least until tomorrow!
Q: Doing more with less is the credo at my business, but I often feel anger over the length of my to-do list. How can I avoid blowing my stack?
A: You’re smart to try to take control over powerful negative emotions such as anger. Left unchecked, negative emotions can increase your risk for heart disease and interfere with your body’s ability to heal (not to mention put your job and relationships on the line). Luckily, with a little practice, you can learn how to stay calm when it counts the most. Try these strategies:
Take a timeout: The second you feel that pressure in your head building, stop what you’re doing, sit down and take 10 deep breaths. If you need more time, take a quick walk outside and focus on your breathing.
Track your anger patterns: Log the times your anger starts to rise and what triggered it. Later, look at what you wrote and plan stress reducers. Maybe you can change frustrating policies and procedures, or improve co-worker relationships.
Reframe your outlook: Take a look at your expectations for yourself. Ask yourself (and maybe a trusted friend) if they’re realistic. Try to avoid blaming yourself for things beyond your control. There’s nothing wrong with high standards as long as the journey to reach them isn’t ruining your life.
Q: My relationship with my spouse is suffering because I bring job stress home. He’s chattering away about his workday, and I want quiet. How can I shake off my sullenness?
A: After eight or 10 (or more) hours at the office, it can be hard to switch off the work stress the second you walk in the door. It sounds like you need a little transition time. Over the weekend, tell your husband how much you’re struggling and that you’d like to try a new after-work routine. Maybe postpone any work talk until after dinner, or ask him for 15 minutes of alone time when you get home, to change into comfortable clothes, take a shower or just lie on the bed and be still. After that, it’s time to focus on reconnecting with your partner and family. Sharing your emotions with someone who loves you is one of the most important things for your health.
Not only does talking about your feelings and worries help you see them in a new light, it also deepens your bond with your spouse—another stress-buster! If you’re still struggling after trying a few of these techniques, you may want to consider seeing a therapist, who can help you get a better handle on what’s driving your stress.
Q: Are there any vitamins or minerals that ward off stress?
A: Yes! Your best bet is to stock up on polyphenol-rich foods, which are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants. Start with these five suggestions:
Avocados: This fruit is loaded with B vitamins, which help keep your nerves and brain cells functioning normally. And when your brain has the nutrients it needs, the better it maintains clarity and calm. So whip up some guacamole!
Berries—any berries: They’re not only delicious, but the chemicals that give these fruits their deep hues mop up free radicals, the cell-damaging molecules that may cause aging.
Nuts: Almost all nuts are good sources of vitamins B and E, plus anxiety-soothing selenium and zinc. Some nuts have more of these nutrients than others, so mix them up. Because they’re high in calories, stick to about 1 ounce (a small handful).
Oranges: People who take 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C before giving a speech have lower levels of cortisol and blood pressure than those who don’t take it, according to some research. Lean back, take a deep breath and concentrate on peeling a big, juicy orange. The mindfulness break will steady your brain cells and you’ll get plenty of C.
Salmon and other fatty fish: The omega-3 fatty acid in salmon, particularly a type called DHA, is a proven anti-inflammatory. What’s more, numerous studies have shown it can boost your mood, too.
Want another stress shield? Take a multi-vitamin along with a DHA fish oil supplement (800 to 1,000 milligrams). Keep it simple and you won’t add to your stress; you’ll beat it!