Stress is one of those things that can really hinder your weight loss goals. I'm sure you've heard by now that stress increases cortisol levels, which can make it difficult to lose weight. Stress can also wreak havoc on emotional eaters. Think about it: when you're stressed out, are you more likely to reach for some carrot sticks or a bowl of ice cream?
Since we'd all agree that stress is bad for the body I won't spend much time trying to convince you that it is. Instead, I'm going to provide you with some methods for stress reduction. These are different than your typical advice of "go for a walk" or "get plenty of sleep." While those things are effective, I'm here to provide you with some suggestions that are a bit out of the box.
When I met my boyfriend 3 years ago he tried to tell me that through meditation I could cure anything that was ailing me. He tried to tell me that I was allowing myself to get sick. Of course that sounded silly to me - until I tried it. I used to be sick all the time and suffered from chronic headaches, but since I started meditating, my headaches are gone and I can count on one hand the number of times I've been ill. If I do get sick, I can usually get over it pretty quickly by meditating.
Here's what you do: get comfortable. Lie on your bed, lie on a yoga mat - whatever makes you comfortable. Take off your shoes if possible. I find it helpful to put on some relaxing music (and use headphones) to help me get into the right state of mind. There are some good meditation stations on Pandora.
Starting at your toes, clench and un-clench each muscle, allowing it to relax before moving on to the next one. Breathe deeply, in through your nose, and focus on letting your breath fill all parts of your body, from the top of your head through the tip of your toes. Sometimes I find it helpful to visualize a soft energy circling each muscle I'm trying relax, letting it swirl around and engulf you. Pay close attention to those areas of your body where you carry your stress - your face, jaw, shoulders, eyes, forehead - clench it up and just let go. If a thought enters your mind (which it will if you're stressed out), give that thought some brief attention, honor it, tell it you will get back to it in a minute, and visualize yourself placing that thought on a shelf. Repeat this until your mind is completely clear, then just spend some time breathing naturally - being aware of your breath but not manipulating it - and just enjoy being deep inside your body. I often see my energy in colors. Identify the positive colors, and if you see some negative colors, manipulate those colors in your mind until you're completely full of the positive and the negative is gone.
Mandala Coloring Pages
Often times I'll end up falling asleep while meditating. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, I also want to meditate while I'm awake so I can develop something creative or solve a problem. Mandala coloring pages are a great alternative to mediation. I was turned on to these by a brilliant woman just a short time ago - and I'm here to tell you, they work.
Here's what you do: gather all of your materials - coloring pages, coloring pencils and a sharpener. Sit in a quiet room and turn off all other distractions. No phones, no computers, no people. I often color at work on my lunch break, so I'll put a note on my door saying I'm at lunch and "Please do not disturb." I turn off the volume on my desk phone and cell phone, set my IM to "busy" and lock my computer.
Start coloring. Don't worry about doing it perfectly. Remember, it's the act of coloring that's important, not creating a beautiful work of art. Let your mind go where it wants and just keep coloring. If you start feeling uptight or stressed out, you may want to shelve that thought for a few minutes and move on. But, if a thought starts coming in and you find yourself brainstorming - go with it. Some of my best ideas have come while coloring.
You can purchase coloring books at bookstores or on Amazon, but if you just want to try it (or you're a cheapskate like me), you can print some pages for free from a few websites. I like http://printmandala.com/. These pages aren't as detailed or intricate as the ones you can purchase, but they get the job done and the cost to print them is minimal. The woman who told me about these said to make sure you color for at least 7 minutes at a time because that's how long it takes for your brain to enter the altered state that will relax you and help you to be more creative. There are times I can literally feel the shift in my brain. It's almost magical.
Be In the Moment
This is a technique I learned in a stress management class in college and it can literally be done anywhere. It doesn't require closing your eyes so you can even do it while sitting in a meeting or doing other things that require your attention, and it only takes a few minutes to bring the blood pressure down.
Here's what you do: Be aware - of everything. Start at your feet. Notice how your feet feel inside your shoes. Notice how your socks feel against your toes. Notice how your feet feel touching the ground. Then move on and up. How do your pants feel against your legs? Or, if you're wearing shorts or a skirt, can you feel how the air feels on your legs? How does the chair feel that you're sitting in? Can you feel the air on your neck and face? The great thing about Being In the Moment is that your attention is not diverted from what you're doing. In fact, your attention may become more focused.
I've even done this while driving (though you should determine for yourself if this is safe for you or if it will take your mind off the road). Driving, especially in traffic, really stresses me out. If I simply focus on how the gas pedal feels under my foot, how the car seat feels, and how the steering wheel feels in my hands, it can prevent an episode of Road Rage.
This one is so simple and doesn't require any effort at all. If you do it in the middle of a meeting you may get some odd looks, but that's about it. I find this technique helpful when I'm sitting in a training that seems particularly inapplicable and I know I have more important things to do in my office.
Here's what you do: press your index fingers on both hands to your thumbs on the same hand. Release, and press your middle fingers to your thumbs. Release, then press your ring fingers to your thumbs. Release and, you guessed it, press your pinkie fingers to your thumbs. Release and start again - but in reverse: pinkie fingers, ring fingers, middle fingers, index fingers. Go through this series over and over until you're feeling more calm. Resist the urge to rush. You can do this as many times as you need until you start feeling calmer.
What techniques do you have for stress management? Comment below, I'd love to hear from you!