If your belly is getting bigger, anxiety may be to blame. Research suggests that during times of high stress, the body deposits fat into the abdominal area. That harried and hurried state also increases levels of cortisol, a chemical that can spur emotional eating. Worse, rampant stress can wreak havoc on your sleep, which may cause weight gain. Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center found that people who got five hours of shut-eye a night were 60 percent more likely to be obese than those who slept seven hours. Those who snoozed for six hours were still 27 percent more likely to have weight problems. "You can't erase all the stress in your life, but you can feel calmer overall by learning how to produce a relaxation response whenever you get riled up," says therapist Elizabeth Scott, M.S., who provides stress management advice at About.com. Here, her tips:
> Breathe S-L-O-W-L-Y
It is physiologically impossible not to calm down when you do this, because it lowers your heart rate.
> Tense Up, Loosen Up
Tighten every part of your body, then relax each muscle group, starting with your head and working down to your feet. This stress-relief technique also helps focus your attention (so you stop racing from thought to thought).
> Tune In & Tune Out
A 2007 study from the University of Louisville School of Medicine showed that listening to soothing music can help lower stress levels.
> Grab A Pen & PAPER
Studies show that people better understand and learn from their emotions when they write about them. You can also phone a pal: "Your emotions and communication skills are ruled by different sides of the brain," explains Scott." When you talk, you get both hemispheres of your brain working together to process whatever's upsetting you."
> Stay In The Moment
Do anything you can to quiet that incessant inner voice. (How will I get everything done tomorrow? Did I pay all the bills this month? Will we be able to afford those car repairs? Immerse yourself in a relaxing activity, such as baking, gardening, or walking, and think of nothing but the sensations surrounding what you're doing at that moment. The more you focus, the less likely your mind will wander into its worry zone.