You’ve probably heard the expression, “Holding on to anger is like drinking a cup of poison and expecting the other person to die.” By that same token, Holding on to stress is like eating a bacon-cheeseburger with a side of donuts and waiting on cardiovascular disease.
Fight or Flight
In our distant evolutionary past, we had to run from a lot of things. Tigers, for instance. When you were chased by a tiger, your body would dump the stress hormone cortisol, as well as other hormones, into your system. These hormones provide instant energy. You would run faster and longer, hopefully avoiding getting eaten. It was a pretty efficient system.
These days, you’re not so likely to be chased by a tiger. You’re more likely to experience “fight or flight” stress when getting stuck in rush hour traffic, struggling to make a deadline or worrying about your kid’s Algebra grades. The body still responds as it’s been programmed. It dumps extra cortisol into your system. The thing is, you don’t respond to this sudden boost of energy with physical activity. Instead, you worry, you stew, you go round and round in your head. This strictly mental response to excess cortisol causes extra fat to be stored in your belly. We refer to this as “toxic fat,” as this kind of fat is strongly correlated with cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes.
Take Conscious Action
Next time you find yourself grinding the stress gears, ask yourself a simple question: Is there any concrete action I can take to help resolve this situation? This could be making a phone call, sending an email or simply making a note in your planner. Then firmly decide to redirect your mental energy elsewhere, maybe focusing on your breathing, noticing the subtle sensations of your breath passing in and out of your nose, your chest rising and following. If you can, get some exercise. Go to the gym, go for a walk, jump up and down for 10 minutes. Now you’re consciously noticing and directing this extra “stress hormone” energy, rather than letting it cost you another inch around your waist.
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