Andrea Metcalf by Andrea Metcalf

Stressed outYou get into the office and you realize your presentation is due today, not tomorrow.

You get to the gym and realize you forgot your running shoes at home. 

Your mother calls and says it was your dad’s birthday yesterday.

How many times have you felt stress when things go wrong?  What causes you to “stress out,” and how does stress affect your body and your health? Could it be keeping you from reaching your weight-loss goals?

New research from Carnegie Mellon University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that feeling stressed is linked with a decreased inflammatory response regulation. Stress, as it turns out, lowers the body’s immune system response and makes it more susceptible to catching a cold. When people are stressed, cells that help to keep the body healthy produce levels of inflammation that promote disease.  

How can stress make you fat? Inflammation is linked to metabolic syndrome, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These types of conditions and diseases affect hormonal responses that can cause changes in metabolism and, hence, changes in weight.

Chronic stress has also been linked to poor memory, as reported in research presented by the State University of New York at Buffalo in the journal of Neuron. In mice, even a short period of stress could lead to brain cell communication problems. These specific communication regions of the brain were linked with memory and learning. 

So what’s the best way to deal with stress? Here are a few of my favorite ways to de-stress and better handle even the smallest inconveniences that most days can bring.

1.Go for a walk. Exercise helps reduce the amount of cortisol levels present in the body, while also lowering blood pressure. A simple 10-minute walk can help reframe your mindset and serve as a literal breath of fresh air during your day.

2.Take a breather.  Simply focusing on your breathing can help reduce stress and give you a greater sense of focus. Try counting your breaths for a minute, focusing on the inhalation and exhalation as you fill your rib cage and expand the breath. Try to slowly empty the breath and make each focused breath a little longer. Inhale as you count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and exhale as you count 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

3. Hit something. Boxing can serve as both a great workout and an emotional release. Sometimes there is nothing better than just releasing your tension into a punching bag, though activities like shadow boxing and other high-intensity workouts can also help reduce stress-related hormones. Keep in mind that high-intensity workouts can have lasting results—even hours after the workout, your body will continue to reap the benefits.

4. Visualize vacation. When you're on vacation everything seems so wonderful. The next time you're feeling stressed, take a visual vacation. Visualize yourself either on a calm beach gazing into the ocean with the soft breeze and sunshine on your face, or pull up some wonderful nature scenes on your computer and picture yourself in the wilderness. Allow yourself to really feel like you are there, taking slow breaths as your mind relaxes.

Say goodbye to stress for good with these stress-relieving tips from psychologist and ACE Senior Fitness Consultant for Behavior Sciences, Dr. Michael Mantell.