by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director
If you are like many people, you feel increased stress around April 15. Tensions can run high from the pressure of getting the forms filed on time or coming up with the funds to pay your (hopefully not too big) tax bill. Now is the best time to find a healthy way to manage stress. You owe it to yourself to keep your stress under control as much as possible. When your body is subjected to ongoing stress, unhealthy changes occur at the chemical level, and these changes can lead to food cravings and weight gain.
How does your body react to stress? When you experience stress, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. In small amounts, cortisol does not present a problem. But when the stress is chronic, such as during the weeks surrounding tax season, the concentration of cortisol in your body stays elevated with undesirable results. For example, you will crave foods that will give you quick energy, such as candy bars and potato chips. And the presence of cortisol will cause many of these extra calories to be stored as abdominal fat. It is hard to eat in moderation while stressed, because cortisol interferes with the chemicals in your body that control appetite.
Good news… While you can never get away from all stress, there is a lot you can do to manage your tax time stress!
- Exercise. You can reduce cortisol levels in your body by exercising just thirty minutes each day. To make the most of your workout time, try intervals. Alternating between lower and higher intensity periods of exertion allows you to achieve an overall more challenging workout than exercising at a consistent pace. • Eat Well. During times of stress, fuel your body smartly. Be intentional about eating nourishing foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein and nuts. If you eat these foods, you will keep your blood sugar level steady, and you will be less likely to give in to the cravings that cortisol causes. • Don’t skimp on sleep. By getting at least eight hours of sleep each night you can reduce your cortisol level by more than half of that of people who get less than six hours. You really can sleep away your stress! • Identify your stress. Generalized anxiety can be paralyzing. Take the time to sort out exactly what is causing you to feel stressed. Rather than saying, “My taxes are causing me so much stress,” figure out the specifics. Perhaps you are stressed because you can’t find a form that you need or you are trying to do your taxes alone without the skills that you need to pull it off. Once you pinpoint exactly where the stress is coming from, you can take steps to take care of the problem. • Make time to relax. Taking time to unwind is not a luxury; it is a necessity if you are going to master your stress. Find something that makes you laugh and smile, get a massage or just breathe deeply. Your mind has a profound impact on your body; take advantage of this by finding time to relax every day.