“I can tell if a person is stressed out or not just by looking at their belly size,” claims the sage Dr. Oz.
Two of the various causes of belly fat are lack of sleep or too much sleep, and stress. Stress is often the cause of crazy sleep patterns, so it makes sense to focus solely on managing stress, because if we are able to do so, we will also manage our sleep habits.
Why is belly fat so deadly?
Because it is a different kind of fat. This is “sick fat,” says Harold Bays, MD, medical director of the Louisville Metabolic and Atherosclerosis Research Center.
It not only causes what looks like a beer belly, but it insidiously wraps around our internal organs and causes atheroslerosis. This increases our risk of heart attack as well as our general state of disease. As a hospital chaplain, I also know it frustrates doctors and diagnosis because the accumulation of fat complicates everything internally. I hate to share this, but at one hospital, I heard a doctor say, “I don’t know if I removed all of the cancer — I got tired of digging through all the fat.” Yikes!
What causes belly fat as opposed to regular fat?
Cortisol is the culprit. And cortisol is released when we become chronically stressed.
Rather than giving a biology lesson, or shocking you with horror stories, let’s get right to the point: Stress is manageable. There is good stress and bad stress. The good stress gets us out of bed and thriving to accomplish our work and deadlines. But there is a decreasing return. Picture an upside down U. As you go up one side, the stress is positive and invigorating, but prolonged, unmanaged stress, as you round the peak and head down, is called chronic stress and is toxic to our health, creating among other things, belly fat, anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, and a host of other dis-ease symptoms.
What to do?
I have a three part program for a quick stress reduction program.
- First, identify.
- Second, analyze.
- Third, reduce or eliminate.
Let me show you how it works.
Identify: The best way to identify what is stressing you is to listen to your body’s signals. Do a body scan starting at the top of your head and working down. Headache? Clenched teeth? Stiff neck? Tight shoulders? Check to see if you have any of these physical symptoms and if so, ask yourself the root cause of this tension. Are you upset with someone? Too many demands and not enough time? Demanding co-workers or bosses?
Identify the stressor and write it on a piece of paper. Or make a whole list of them if you have many. Once they are on the paper, use your breath to release the tension in your body. Your body no longer has to carry that stress because it is on the sheet of paper and we will soon deal with it.
How is your heart area? Tight? Sad? It is no surprise that when this area is in dis-ease, it is called a heart ache. Did you get your feelings hurt? Lose a good friend? Do you need to grieve something? Identify it and write it on the sheet of paper. Then breathe into this area releasing tension, knowing that we will deal with the sheet of paper soon.
How about your stomach/intestinal area? Often here we find fear or nervousness. Identify what causes you fear? Afraid you may lose your job? Or a relationship? Or don’t have enough money to meet expenses? Write your fear stressors, if any, on the sheet of paper and release your body from carrying them.
Analyze: Now it’s time to work with our sheet of paper. Look at the list – is it manageable or scary? Sometimes once we see our list, we realize it’s not as bad as we thought. It may just be a To-Do list that needs doing. Or it may be scary.
I find that the Serenity Prayer is the best tool to analyze “what next?” Take each item one at a time. Do you have any control over it? If no, the let it go. If you cannot change it, don’t carry it — let it go.
If it is something you can change, start making a plan how to change it. Sometimes it may be changing how we react to the stressor. If someone is always pushing our buttons, we have several choices: stop being around that person; change our reaction to button pushing; or let the person know how we feel when they make those statements.
We have two choices for each item: let it go or make changes.
One other analytical tool is the question: is it past, present or future? My bet is that most worries, fears, hurts are past or present. If they are: let them go. You cannot change the past, and the future didn’t happen yet. The present is vibrant with actual living – no need to carry anything in the present, just live it.
Reduce or eliminate: practice letting go or making changes. Stop carrying excess toxic psychological weight, which, as we now know, causes excess toxic physical weight. Sometimes carrying anger or worry is merely a habit. Identify it, analyze what you need to do: let it go or change; and then do it.