I was talking with an amazing client who has a stressful job and she was saying how hard eating right and losing weight is when she gets stressed. Where’s the thing, what she is noticed and experiences applies to everyone. In this “brief” post I want you to sit back, relax, and CHILL : )
CORTISOL…Friend or Foe?
Chill-axing (Chill + relaxing = Chill-axing) is a super great way to keep your cortisol levels down…which is what you want. This hormone that you often hear about on TV, in magazines, and so on is primarily released when you are stressed. Now, I little cortisol is alright, no biggy. However, if the source of stress continues the amount of cortisol in our bodies rises. This is not bueno : (. When cortisol remains elevated…you will gain weight. I know, that sucks.
To make matters even worse, elevated cortisol levels makes you crave high calorie starchy foods like chips, donuts, candy bars, and the like. Plus, this evil….yes we are going to call it evil…hormone then does us a solid by storing these extra calories as fat! Mainly around our bellies.
In addition to this cortisol also misses with the hormones that regulate your appetite. This means when you get stressed and your cortisol levels are high you are more hungry and it is much harder to feel “Full.”
One last piece of bad news, cortisol also lowers testosterone levels and can lead to decreased muscle. This is really bad because muscle equals calorie burning machine. Less muscle means you will store more calories as fat. Less muscle means your metabolism gets slower and you will gain fat faster even while eating less.
Yes, I know, I am being super motivating right now…
Finally, some good news. Scientists in Harvard have learned that deep relaxation changes our bodies at the genetic level, which I find amazing. Basically, they took people who practiced yoga long term and discovered that their disease fighting genes (good) were active and strong when compared to people who didn’t partake in any relaxing techniques.1
In short, those who practiced yoga had ‘turned on’ genes that protect them from high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, pain and even infertility.
Crazy right? And there is more good news!
When non-relaxing participants started using relaxation techniques…it only took about 2 months on average for their bodies to begin to change as well. Think about that? In two short months they activated genes that will assist them combat cancer and inflammation. Plus, the more they practiced chill-axing, the more benefits they reapped.
You must relax! You need to start now. Remember in two months there will already be some awesome changes.
1. The Mindfulness APP
What it does: What it does: Eases you into regular meditation and sends you time- and location-based reminders to chill.
Description: In addition to a five-day guided introduction to meditation, the Mindfulness App provides a whole catalog of premium sessions guided by some of the world’s most popular and influential meditation teachers, and deploys periodic personalized push notifications based on time of day and location (at work, at the gym, etc.) to remind you to remain mindful.
2. Headspace APP
What it does: Teaches you how to meditate effectively.
Description: One of the better-known apps in the relaxation category, Headspace likens itself to a “gym for the mind,” offering up a wide variety of audio-guided meditations and mindfulness exercises. The initial course of 10 10-minute sessions is free, and will walk you through the basics of meditation. From there, if you pony up the $13-per-month subscription fee you’ll gain access to its full lineup, which includes specialized guided and unguided exercises designed to help you apply mindfulness techniques to everyday situations (at work, in your relationship, while cooking, etc.), and bite-sized “S.O.S.” exercises to resuscitate you whenever you feel like you’re melting down.
What it does: Tracks your mood and provides relaxation techniques
Description: By tracking your mood, activity level, and feelings throughout the day, Pacifica provides hyper-personalized strategies to combat anxiety in its most subtle and extreme manifestations, including guided meditations, deep-breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation. The overall approach is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy, in that it’s designed to help you better identify, understand, and change your thinking and behavior patterns.
What it does: Walks you through specific breathing patterns proven to combat stress
Description: Rather than give you the ins and outs of meditating, B2R takes a more granular approach by teaching you how to combat stress using something known as “diaphragmatic breathing.” Based on how you indicate you’re feeling, it culls together a specialized breathing exercise during which the screen indicates how long to inhale and exhale for a specific amount of time.
Set aside time in your daily schedule. Set an alarm and schedule a set time either once a day for the technique you chose. I highly suggest you do it first thing in the morning, before other tasks and responsibilities get in the way. I personally prefer first thing in the AM.
Don’t practice when you’re sleepy. Avoid practicing close to bedtime, after a heavy meal, or when you’ve been drinking (which you shouldn’t be doing any way if your goal is to lose fat : ).
Expect ups and downs. Don’t be discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Just get started again and slowly build up to your old momentum. That said, consistent action yields consistent results. What your goal?
Don’t think you have time for a daily practice? If you feel like your schedule is already too packed for anything else, remember that many relaxation techniques can be practiced while you’re doing other things. Deep breathing or body scan meditation (just don’t lay down, people will think you are weird : ) can be performed while commuting to work on a bus or train, or waiting for an appointment. Try deep breathing during your break at work or when you’re winding down for bed (about 30 minutes before lights out).