We live in a society that wears ‘tired’ and ‘busy’ like badges of honor. “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” has turned into keeping-up-with-everyone, literally and figuratively. We live under the assumption that if we aren’t doing it all, we aren’t doing enough. No wonder why we’re stressed! The term stress gets tossed around just as much as ‘busy’ and ‘tired’, but do we really know the weight of what we are saying, or better yet carrying?

Stress is simply a reaction. When our bodies react to a thing or event that disturbs our physical or mental balance our “flight-or-fight” response is triggered, which releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. The problem with stress and your body (especially your belly) is that on a chemical level it can cause weight gain and even worse an onslaught of digestive issues. When the cortisol hormone is released into your body it signals that it’s time to make more energy (in the form of glucose) to give you what you need to fight or flee the stressful situation.

When you don’t actually need this energy to fight someone or run for your life, the unused glucose is converted and stored as fat… in your belly.  It gets worse. You decide you need to lose the belly fat so what do you do? You start restricting foods and following long lists of diet rules or color code your food… Dieting causes more stress. Stress causes weight gain.

So that’s it then?

I can’t stop being stressed and I shouldn’t diet and my body is just going to react and do what it does so I’ll just be stressed and fat. Wrong. You are going to start treating the cause and not the symptoms. The first thing you need to do is retrain your brain. Learn new responses to old behaviors. It is not as hard as it sounds. Here are a few tips to help you on your stress-less journey…

1.    Don’t be blindsided by stress you knew was coming. Expect and plan for it. It’s like Christmas or a family reunion or a new baby on the way. Expect the stress, and plan for it. This might mean different things: getting organized, asking for help, or even just writing down the things people will say or do to stress you out and watch them lose their power.

2.    Don’t sweat the stuff that doesn’t belong to you. On a sheet of paper write down all of your stressors (nothing is too big or too small). On another sheet of paper create two columns one for “My Responsibility” and another for “Not In My Control” and organize your list of stressors accordingly. For the things that are in your control go back to step one and create your plan! For the “Not In My Control” column move on to step three.

3.    Stress busting activities. Keep a menu of stress busting things you like to do (because when you’re stressed you won’t be able to think of them) and refer to it when you need to. Take a walk, get some fresh air, listen to your favorite music, write down three things you are grateful for, read or watch something that makes you laugh out loud, call a friend, go out to lunch, take a long shower and get dolled up, shave your legs and lay down in some clean sheets (that one may not be for everyone). Whatever is on your list is up to you!

4.    Use it. One of my favorite TED Talks was given by Kelly McGonigal - How To Make Stress Your Friend She explains that by changing your mind about stress you can change your bodies response.  When you are stressed your heart starts pounding, you start breathing faster and heavier and you may be breaking out in sweat.  You think this means you aren’t coping very well with the pressure. What if you saw these things as signs your body is energizing itself, preparing you to take on the situation. Your heart pounding is preparing you for action. Your quick and heavy breathing is getting more oxygen to your brain. These things were actually tested in a study at Harvard University and you know what happened? The participants who learned to view the stress responses as helpful were LESS STRESSED. They were less stressed, less anxious, more confident and their physical stress response actually changed.

5.    Make stress socially acceptable. The hormone oxytocin (which is released when you hug someone) is also a stress hormone. Just like adrenaline makes your heart pound, oxytocin motivates you to seek support. Your biological response wants you to tell someone how you feel instead of bottling it up. This actually strengthens your heart (literally and figuratively) by helping heart cells regenerate and heal from stress-induced damage. It’s time to take off your tired and busy badges and get real. Start reaching out to other people whether it is seeking help for your own stress or reaching out to someone else under stress.

Sweat & Smiles,