I consider myself an optimistic, level-headed person. (Okay, maybe there’s some debate on the latter. Still.) But sometimes my body decides to show me who’s boss. Such is the case with anxiety.
It’s no secret I struggled with anxiety for most of my life, starting in my late teens. I’ve talked about it in past posts, how my panic attacks became so bad I could barely leave the house.
(This was only two years ago, by the way.)
I also battled a horrible fear of flying. My heart would pound every time I even thought about flying, heard a plane overhead or saw a JetBlue ad.
It all made me want to climb under the bed or find a nice padded cell to live out my days.
I can joke about this now, but unless you’ve ever had a panic attack, let me tell you, it’s no walk in the park.
Unless you’re in the park at midnight, running from a demented clown chasing you down with a kitchen knife.
Then yes, it’s a walk in the park.
I tried every natural product, read any Overcome Anxiety Now! book I could find, and experimented with different types of therapy.
A friend even convinced me to try a hypnotic past-life regression session.
Let me say upfront that I am open to anything that works even if it sounds seriously weird, as long as it doesn’t seem harmful in some way.
But after paying $150 to be “put under” (in quotes because I didn’t feel any different, and I’m not convinced it worked at all) and be told I was an Indian princess who fell down a hill, and this was the root of all my flying fears and phobias.
I say: POPPYCOCK! (actually, that’s not exactly what I say, but I’m trying to keep it clean).
Not everything was a total failure, though. Some things worked better than others, but in the end I found a medication that’s been the biggest godsend for me since the invention of volumizing hair mousse.
Maybe even more so.
It literally enabled me to act like a normal functioning human being instead of fearing a panic attack, which often was enough to send me spiraling into one.
My point is this: Stress like this over time can prevent you from losing weight if you do nothing about it.
I’ve seen it again and again in my clients. The women with the most stressful jobs or lifestyles typically had the hardest time losing weight.
Several issues are at work here.
For one, stress releases chemicals in your body, namely adrenaline and cortisol. Back in the Jurassic era, this enabled us to run from velociraptors and flee into the nearest cave.
In today’s world, that emergency may instead be a traffic jam that makes you late for your granddaughter’s birthday party.
Either way, your body works hard to store up fat “just in case” you need to make a run for it. And it does so mainly around – you guessed it – your belly. (I don’t know why, but I can only guess that back in the day a round midsection was considered an attractive trait in a mate.)
In addition, cortisol triggers a desire for comfort foods. Comfort food consists of all the things that create fertile ground for belly fat to flourish: sugary, sweet, salty, carbs, high-fat, [insert your favorite junk food here].
No one in the history of womankind has ever sought emotional comfort by reaching for steamed kale.
So what can you do? Plenty.
Of course exercise is the greatest de-stressor, but aside from that you need to practice mindfulness.
WAIT! Before you hit delete, please hear me out for a second here.
First, studies show it works. Research out of San Francisco found that women who practiced mindfulness were better able to control cravings by enabling them to be more in tune with their body sensations, e.g. hunger.
I am not talking about joining an ashram, reciting a mantra and “oohm-ing” for hours on end (although if that works for you, go for it).
Simpler options can help just as much.
The idea is to focus on the moment.
Not what happened this morning or what’s going to happen later today, but right now. This second. Now this one.
Because when you learn to do this you will find yourself calmer, less stressed and better able to handle situations that would usually throw you into a tailspin.
I, too, resisted this forever until this past March. So many successful people swore that taking time to sit quietly for a few minutes or more each day improved their overall life that I finally decided to try it. It wasn’t easy to get started, but once I did it for a couple of weeks I felt calmer. Little things that used to annoy me didn’t bother me nearly as much.
A side benefit: My blood pressure dropped. I’m on medication for it but it went down even more once I began meditating.
Here are a few easy techniques to get your started, beginning with the simplest ones you can do right now…
This not only works when you’re alone but even when you’re having a conversation with someone, especially if it’s a discussion that’s making you stressed…
Take a deep breath by slowly inhaling for a count of four. Pause for a second and then exhale for a count of eight. Try it one more time.
You should feel instantly calmer. You can use a different count, but each exhalation needs to be twice as long as your inhalation.
I love this one because you can do it anywhere… Ideally, you want to do this outdoors on a flat path, but I’ve done it many places. Simply bring your attention to your body as you walk. Focus on the feeling of each foot fall as you walk, the soles of your feet touching the ground, the feel of your clothes brushing up against your skin as you walk, the air as it rushes past your skin, etc.
When other thoughts pop into your mind bring yourself back to your body.
Same as #2 but instead of focusing on walking, bring your attention to whatever you’re doing.
Try it right now: Take a couple of breaths and listen to the sounds around you. What do you hear? How does your body feel? Does anything hurt? If so, breathe into that space and try and relax the area.
Bottom line: Be in the moment more and you’ll relax more. When you relax more you’ll reduce the need for all those fat-building stress hormones to run rampant.
Of course there’s always traditional meditation as well, which is what I do nearly every morning. I like the guided meditations of OMGMeditate.com. (She offers a 7-day meditation challenge and totally free programs as well as paid series.)
What do YOU do to relax and de-stress? Will you incorporate any of these techniques into your daily activities? Let me know in the comments below…
Other posts you may like:
By the way… have you tried my 7-Day Ageless Body Challenge yet? If not, check it out here (it’s FREE!):
Got questions? Post ’em below or send me at note at Linda@LindaMelone.com.
Your Ageless Body Coach,
Linda Melone is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified trainer and award-winning health and fitness writer. She specializes in helping women over 50 get in shape and lose weight.