Tuesday, January 11, 2011
There's no way around it: We're living in exceedingly stressful times. And stress doesn't just do a number on your mood; research shows it can also have a detrimental effect on your health. But there are ways to manage it.
Is all stress bad?
Some short-term stress is good. For example, exercise is a form of stress. Revving up your system actually helps brain cells grow. When stress is chronic, though, levels of the stress hormone cortisol stay up, and that can be harmful. If your brain cells are bathed in cortisol, your memory can be impaired.
Why does stress make some people gain weight?
Cortisol makes you crave fatty, sweet, salty, crunchy stuff. These foods work as natural tranquilizers-they kick off the same reward circuit in your brain. You eat them and relax a little, but then either you get stressed again or the effect wears off. So you have to eat more in order to regain that same sense of calm the food initially brought you. That's why they're called comfort foods.
What's the best way to reduce stress in your life?
Make a list of attainable goals for the week and work toward achieving one each day. If you're setting a goal, and it's a goal that you can meet, you're going to alter your perception of stress in general.
What specific goals will help?
Notice something good that happened to you today and tell someone about it. Also, exercise regularly; it can essentially stress-proof your brain. Keep a gratitude record where you write down one thing you're grateful for every night. And concentrate on being mindful for at least 10 minutes a day-if you're out walking and you try to listen to the crunch of gravel under your feet, you won't be hearing your 401(k) tank.