Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cortisol and weight gain ties debated
Stress for Success
October 17, 2006

We Americans, always looking for the quick fix for whatever ails us, want so badly for products such as Cortislim to get rid of excess weight. My advice --- don't hold your breath, at least not yet.

Here’s the theory of the connection between weight gain and cortisol released into your system from stress.

Stress hormones, including adrenaline, which gives you instant energy, along with corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) and cortisol, provide the biochemical energy you need to fight or flee your stressors. High levels of adrenaline and CRH decrease appetite at first and for a short time. Cortisol helps replenish your body after the stress has passed, and lasts longer.

The problem, according to Sean Talbot, Ph.D., associate professor with the University of Utah’s Department of Nutrition and the author of the "Cortisol Connection”, is that, "too often today’s response to stress is to sit and stew in our frustration and anger, without expending any of the calories that we would if we were physically fighting our way out of stress or danger (as our ancestors did)."

Your neuroendocrine system doesn't know that you’re not physically fighting or fleeing, so it still responds to stress with the hormonal signal to replenish nutritional stores making you feel hungry. This can lead to weight gain and a tendency to store "visceral fat" around the midsection.

To complicate matters, the "fuel" your muscles need during the fight/flight response is sugar, a reason you crave carbohydrates when stressed, says endocrinologist Ricardo Perfetti, M.D., Ph.D., of Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "To move the sugar from our blood to our muscles requires insulin, the hormone that opens the gates to the cells and lets the sugar in," says Perfetti, who directs the outpatient diabetes program. And high levels of sugar and insulin set the stage for the body to store fat. "So people who are under stress, metabolically speaking, will gain weight for that very reason."

But according to Mayo Clinic dietitian, Jennifer Nelson, R. D., and physician Dr. Berge Kenneth, there is no reliable evidence that cortisol blockers such as CortiSlim, CortiStress, and Cortistat lead to weight loss. The manufacturers of these products tell you that stress creates high levels of cortisol in your system causing you to accumulate excess fat. Ms. Nelson says what they don't tell you is that this occurs only when your body produces large amounts of cortisol due to side effects of medication or an underlying medical condition like Cushing's syndrome. There's no evidence that the amount of cortisol produced by a healthy person under stress is enough to cause weight gain.

Others, like Dr. Caroline Cederquist, board certified family physician and bariatric physician (the medical specialty of weight management), the majority of whose patients have abdominal weight issues, believes our high stress lifestyles create cortisol-induced symptoms, including the abdominal weight gain. This can also lead to higher cholesterol and blood sugar levels and elevated blood pressure, all factors for heart disease.

The research on the role of cortisol in obesity is still speculative. Blaming your weight gain on stress neglects the fact that you may have developed a habit of eating in response to stress, which is a learned habit, encouraged by brain chemistry. Next week we’ll look at advice from the experts for how to deal with excess weight whether your urge to eat is driven by hormones or habits.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Limit cortisol in your body to protect your health
Stress for Success

We’ve known for over a decade that your run-of-the-mill acute stress is not what you need to worry about. You're incredibly resilient to life’s daily challenges. If you care about your health, however, you should be concerned with chronic stress.

Researchers define chronic stress as elevated stress for four to six months or longer. Common examples of people with chronic stress are those whose lives have been disrupted after a traumatic event like a hurricane, long-term caregivers, hot headed people, and those caught up in the runaway American lifestyle multitasking their way through each day getting entirely too little rest.

Chronic stress is a health concern due to the damage done to your body from the ongoing release of your fight/flight hormones, including cortisol. Remember that the fight/flight hormones were intended to protect our ancestors from physical harm giving them the energy to either physically fight or physically run away from wild animals or people. But our ancestors physically acted upon their fight/flight far more often than we do today in our incredibly sedentary lifestyle.

Today most of our stress is mental, not physical, requiring mental solutions not physical attacks or retreats. Today it's inappropriate to punch somebody out or run away from them so when your fight/flight response is triggered you have to slam on the brakes. Over time this energy takes its toll on you physically.

The trick, according to Duke University research, is to balance your stress with rest. Your rest habits strongly influence the negative consequences of your stress. Rest away from your stress could be time out to work on a hobby or literal rest like a nap. The more stressed you are, and the more you’re already paying a physical price for your stress, the more important to your health it is to schedule multiple stress breaks throughout every day. They can be seconds worth of deep breathing to a full eight hours of sleep.

Last week I mentioned three stress breaks that release or relax your fight/flight:
• Deep relaxation
• Physical exercise
• Deep breathing

Here are some additional stress breaks, all of which can reduce your stress, thereby reducing your fight/flight response, including cortisol.

• Tense/relax your muscles: tighten every muscle in your entire body head to toe for about 15 seconds then relax. Repeat two or three times. This physically channels your stress hormones. If you have trouble sleeping at night because you're physically hyper do this nightly before going to sleep. Unless you're drinking 22 cups of coffee daily it should help you sleep better. Or, to avoid the instinct of flying across the table and choking your least favorite person or running away from her, repetitively tense and relax your muscles (just the ones that are hidden from view, of course). This creates greater physical balance therefore mental balance allowing you to think more clearly about how to handle her.
• Yoga: for stress reduction in general, this is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Doing yoga exercises throughout your day relieves the stress you hold in specific parts of your body while channeling your fight/flight energy.
• Laughter: a great way to reduce stress is to find humor in taxing situations. This isn’t always possible or appropriate but usually it is. There’s another benefit to laughter. Humorous thinking is basically the same as creative thinking. So when you’re unable to resolve a stressor, find the humor in it and you'll be closer to finding a creative solution.
• Journal: dump out your deepest thoughts and feelings into a journal.
• Hobby: throw yourself into a hobby that you love.

Anything that reduces your stress in a healthy way reduces your fight/flight response, therefore your cortisol. Next week we’ll take a different look at cortisol; its connection (or not) to weight gain.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Stress breaks help the body
October 3, 2006

Did you know that how you rate your own health predicts your future regarding disease and longevity more accurately than the most thorough medical records of you? It makes sense since you live with yourself 24/7. Just as when you drive the same car for a long time and know when something’s off, you also know when you’re not sleeping well or when your digestion is off.

This finding is from fascinating research that recently appeared in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

The researchers found that people who consider themselves healthy were found to experience a wider fluctuation of the fight/flight response, including the hormone, cortisol. This means that they aren’t normally stressed so when the fight/flight kicks in, it's noticeable.

Those who feel unhealthy have a higher level of cortisol all of the time, a symptom of chronic stress. In other words, due to their higher level of on going stress they don't notice when the fight/flight kicks in because it's not significantly different from how they typically feel.

Cortisol and other stress-related hormones weaken your health over time when your body isn’t able to relax and recover often enough from your stress.

In both acute and chronic stress over 17 different hormones are released. Acute stress is generally a short-term response by the body to stress and lasts from a few minutes to a few weeks.

Chronic stress occurs when stress is ongoing keeping the body on high alert and is the main cause of stress-related health problems. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland release a chemical known as ACTH, which stimulates the adrenal gland, to produce and release cortisol.

In my most requested keynote, “Slow Down You Move Too Fast”, I identify three groups of people who are at greater risk of illness and disease from the havoc stress plays on your body:
• People with chronic stress
• Hotheads
• Those who are caught up in the runaway American

Monday, October 09, 2006

Local vacations on a budget can lower your stress, too
Stress for Success
September 26, 2006

For the past two weeks I’ve addressed how vital vacations -- whether multi-week or long weekends -- are to reducing your stress and burnout, increasing your productivity, and protecting your health. But not everyone can afford to take time away for financial or scheduling reasons.

Not to worry, there are ways you can and should create time for yourself at home on a minimal budget. To make these local vacations work:
• Develop a vacation mindset. Choose activities that you enjoy. The more different they are from your norm, the better. Pamper yourself.
• Tell people that you’re taking off a specific amount of time and will be unavailable. Carving out and sticking to that specific timeframe allows you to enjoy it more and be conscious that you deserve it.
• Disconnect electronically from everything! Don’t answer the phone or check emails. Spend the day(s) away from your normal pressures and from all that’s typical in your life.
• Eliminate responsibilities and interruptions by arranging for pet care and even child-care if this is a private get-away.

Here are some ideas for local and inexpensive vacations.

Become a local tourist. To discover what there is to do right here in your own backyard, go to the Internet and type in the keywords, “Fodor’s Guide (your home town area).” You’ll discover things to do that you had no idea even existed.
• In planning your itinerary, avoid everything you typically do. So, if you choose to eat out a few times, avoid your usual restaurants. Go to new places with new flavors. Develop an adventurous and exploratory attitude.
• To really get away if you can afford it, check into a nearby hotel that offers some luxury and tranquility; one with a swimming pool and other relaxing amenities. Staying in a hotel keeps you from being reminded of all the work you have at home. Let others do your laundry, cook and deliver your food, and clean up afterwards. It's more self-indulgent.

Other things to relax you:
• Get massages. There’s much research reporting their stress reduction benefits.
• Read a book that you’ve been longing to find time to read.
• Stay in your pajamas all day long; an obvious reminder throughout the day that today is for you to do whatever you want. If you want to "waste" the entire day watching movie after movie, then do it! Do what ever would refresh you.
If you’re in need of rest vs. activity, consider an at-home spa (typically more for women but doesn’t need to be):
• Block out a generous amount of time with no interruptions. Privacy is very important.
• Play soothing music and light scented candles (lavender scents relax you more). There's nothing quite like music you love and candle light to put you in a peaceful frame of mind. They create an ambiance that’s totally different from the typical rat race existence.
• Pamper yourself with a lavender scented bath and soak until your body is relaxed. Use a pumice stone on your feet. Deep clean your face with a masque. And while you're at it deep condition your hair. After, use your favorite scented skin cream and take care of your nails to complete the picture.
Use these ideas throughout the year. Designate at least one day every month to do whatever you find the most restorative. Be nobody’s employee, parent or spouse. As long as it's a defined amount of time, you’re unavailable to others’ demands, disconnected electronically, and you do it with a sense of enjoyment, it’ll lower your stress.
So toss out your guilt for taking care of yourself and enjoy a break from your norm.
Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Time off work increases creativity, productivity
Stress for Success
September 19, 2006

"Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgment. Go some distance away because a lack of harmony or proportion is more readily seen."

This is even truer for today's hyper-lifestyle than it was 500 years ago when spoken by Leonardo da Vinci. He understood that getting away from work enhances your productivity and improves your perspective.

He’d probably be horrified with the fatigued, vacation-deficit American; and even more so with the workaholics who participate in a sick competition to see who can take off the least time!

The consequences of the average American working 47.1 hours a week with 26% having no vacation at all include burnout, exhaustion, stress, illness, conflicts, lower productivity and job satisfaction and increased job-hopping.

The more exhausted and burned-out you are, the more you need a variety of breaks.

If you’re an employer who discourages vacation time think again. According to Joanne Chan, over-tired employees’ MRI scans of their fatigued brains look nearly identical to those of sleeping brains! (Vogue, 2003)

I know of what I speak. In the late ‘90s I was burning-out professionally while at the same time taking care of my failing parents. The year-and-a-half of care-giving led to a point that even a month-long vacation wouldn’t have been enough. Additionally, my husband had been burned-out for a few years with his business.

So what cured us? We took off an entire year and traveled the U. S. and western Canada in a huge motor home. Even though our biggest task of any given day was to determine what to explore, it still took me a few months to notice my energy returning. It was an expensive choice but worth it because it restored our mental and physical health.

This isn’t a viable choice for many but if you fail to create time off you’ll pay the emotional, mental and physical consequences some day.

Convince yourself that vacations are simply very good for you. They:
• Promote creativity since changing what you focus on increases your creative juices; the more different your vacation from your normal life, the better.
• Shield you from burnout
• Keep you healthier by lowering your stress and recharging your batteries.
• Strengthen relationships by spending quality time with loved ones and hopefully having fun together.

To take advantage of a vacation’s benefits:
• Leave behind your work, laptop, cell phone, work worries and co-worker conflicts.
• Disconnect electronically completely! (Take a deep breath. Your gadgets will be there when you return.)
• Leave behind any guilt, too. Remind yourself that you’ll be more efficient and effective after a healthy rest away from the normal.
• Leave behind your work/productivity mentality. Some vacations are as structured as a military campaign. Your family may not find your military precision as relaxing as you do. Compromise.
• Have fun planning your vacation. Get into your child mode.
• Do things you love to do. So everybody has fun, plan your get away with your family.
• Wander around wherever you go. Open your mind to adventure and exploring new places.

Go ahead. Request the vacation days you’re due. Be armed with the researched benefits of time off: increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, sick days, employee turnover, medical claims and health insurance premiums. Bring out the big guns if your boss isn’t convinced. Tell him an exhausted employee is like a sleeping employee. Is that what he really wants?

Next week, we’ll look at some ideas of how you can have a great vacation without leaving home and spending lots of money.
Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.