We all have a little (or maybe a whole lot of) stress in our lives. The way we deal with that stress is crucial to our well-being.
Put simply, high stress levels can lead to unwanted weight gain. Stress promotes the production of a hormone called cortisol, which increases your appetite for foods high in sugar, carbohydrates and fat. (Translation: weight gain!) Even worse is that the weight gain is typically centered around the stomach, and this type of fat is closely linked to heart disease and stroke. Research has consistently linked belly fat to high cortisol levels, especially in women.
So keep that nail-biting at bay. There are many quick and easy activities that reduce your stress level and keep cortisol levels in check. Believe me when I say that if you take time during your day to de-stress, you will not only feel better but you may even improve your memory and shrink your waistline. Here are eight stress-relievers I love, for daytime or bedtime, they each take just a few minutes to do!
Try the eight-count breath. Breathe in as you (silently) count to eight, hold your breath for a heartbeat or two, then slowly exhale as you count to eight. Repeat. This super simple exercise is incredibly powerful and can help you improve your memory and manage stress.
Stretch and practice proper posture. Both help to relieve pain, de-stress, relax your muscles and energize your body. In many ways, they are the basis for overall fitness. Try rolling your head from side to side, doing some toe touches and pulling your arms across your chest. And a few posture pointers: Stand straight, hold your shoulders back and keep your tummy in.
Brew some tea. There's nothing better than getting cozy with a calm cup of tea. Green tea has an amino acid called theanine, which sends your brain into a state of relaxed alertness that allows you to get a deeper sleep and respond to stress more calmly. Too hot? Make it iced.
Light a candle. Aromatherapy can help to decrease stress levels, and lavender has been shown to decrease cardiovascular conditions associated with mental stress. If you typically stress eat, hold your left nostril while smelling a candle's scent. This activates the side of the brain where emotions are processed and can help to reduce anxiety and appetite.
Turn off electronics before bedtime. Clearing your mind before hitting the hay may be the hardest of these tips. Adequate sleep (seven to eight hours) plays a key role in helping you bounce back from stress. Getting a good night's sleep starts with the proper environment. Shut off that cell phone and turn off your TV!
Invest in a noise machine. Can't turn down the noise in your brain? Maybe white noise is the answer. Sometimes the key to getting a good night's sleep is cancelling even the tiniest noisy distractions. Many noise machines also have the option of playing soothing sounds, such as ocean waves or rainfall. The repetition of these noises often helps many people drift into much needed shut-eye. Don't want to buy a noise machine? Earplugs can also do the trick!
Sport an eye mask. In addition to masking distracting sounds, many people benefit from wearing eye masks to bed. The littlest bits of light that get through your lids can often be what keeps you awake. In some studies, people have reported improved sleep after snoozing with an eye mask.
Create your own bedtime ritual. This can be your daily cue for your body to wind down and prepare for sleep. Rituals can include anything from folding the laundry to reading a chapter in your book to simply applying your favorite hand lotion.
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Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and president of Nutritious Life, a nutrition practice based in New York City, and Nutritious Life Meals, a gourmet, healthy, daily diet delivery program available across the country. She is a member of Women's Health Magazine's advisory board and has authored Slim Calm Sexy Diet, The O2 Diet, and The Snack Factor Diet. Her fourth book, The New You and Improved Diet, will be released in December. Her expertise is regularly featured on the Today show, Good Morning America, and Access Hollywood Live, among others, and she hosts "A Little Bit Better" on YouTube's Livestrong Woman channel. Read more of Keri's tips every day on Facebook!