By Lucy Danziger, the Editor-in-Chief of SELF magazine
Dec 09, 2010
Think fast: When was the last time you found yourself eating something unhealthy in the midst of a tense moment? (For me, that’s basically a daily occurrence!) Now ask yourself: Were you actually hungry at the time, or did you go for that candy bar (or bag of chips, or fries) because you just wanted it, or thought it might make you feel better? (Personally, I find ice cream soothing after a long day.) Turns out we’re hard-wired to crave fatty, sugary foods when we’re stressed or anxious, according to Susan Albers, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in food issues. And while giving in to those snack attacks might make us feel better temporarily, the pleasure fades quickly and anxiety returns with a vengeance—often with a hint of guilt over all those empty calories we just consumed. With our biology seemingly out to get us, breaking the stress-snack-stress cycle might feel impossible—but it’s not! Fending off an emotionally driven craving can be as simple as asking yourself, “Am I hungry?” according to Michelle May, M.D., author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. Contemplate the question quietly for 10 seconds, says May, and if you discover that you’re not truly hungry, there are strategies proven to lower your cortisol (and your cravings) without calories. If stress tends to drive you to cookie jar, next time, give these simple tricks a try instead:
Walk toward the (right) light. Sunshine raises your levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked with happy feelings. And studies show most fluorescent lights increase cortisol and irritability. Stressing at work? Throw on your coat and head outside for a midafternoon walk, or if it’s too cold out there, curl up next to a window with a good book.
Breathe slowly for 60 seconds. “Your diaphragm connects to many of the important organ systems throughout your body,” says Sasha Loring, a therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine. “Actively moving it is like giving these organs a relaxing massage from the inside.”
Get crafty. The repetitive nature of knitting, crochet or needle point triggers a relaxation response in the body, research from Harvard Medical School has shown. Bonus benefit: Whatever you craft could become the perfect, personal Christmas gift!
Snuggle. A 20-second hug has been shown to decrease levels of stress hormones in research at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Hugs are free, so solicit them whenever you can—remember, you’re returning the stress-busting benefits!
Catch a few winks. People who take naps three times a week are less likely to die of heart disease, a sign that shut-eye helps relieve stress, according to a study from Harvard University. So go ahead and catch some zzz’s when you can!
Play with your pet. Don’t have one? Adopt, or borrow a pal’s! Pets are proven to help ease stress, plus daily walks with a pup are a great way to get more exercise—another proven stress reducer. Log on to PetFinder.com if you’re ready to bring home a new furry friend; if not, find a local shelter that might need volunteers.
Pop some peppermint. Keep gum or herbal sticks in your purse or pocket. “The action of chewing can be calming,” says Albers. “Plus, mint and cinnamon are both relaxing scents.” Not to mention, if your mouth’s already occupied, you might be less tempted to try to keep it busy with high-calorie treats.
Write a bucket list. Don’t dwell on what’s making you unhappy; instead, imagine all of the fun things you’d love to do in your lifetime and jot them down. Always dreamed of riding an elephant in Thailand? Start saving for and planning your special someday trip!
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Source: Yahoo Health