Are you a hard-core Type A? If so, you’re hampering your immune system, increasing your risk of heart disease and cancer, cultivating wrinkles—and probably getting chubby. More and more research is pointing out the connection between stress and weight gain, and all the studies show that constant fretting can make you tubby before your time.
It’s all part of your primal survival system. Our bodies are hardwired to react to serious physical danger, like giant animals with big, scary teeth, by either launching into combat or running like a mad person–the fight-or-flight response. Either scenario requires a sudden, intense burst of energy. Here’s what happens: let’s say you’re cruising through the jungle about 500,000 years ago. You spot a giant animal with big, scary teeth. In response, your heart rate, blood pressure and respiration skyrocket, preparing you to fight back or run away, and your body releases adrenaline and cortisol–hormones that put your system on hyper-alert–mobilize stored carbohydrates and raise blood sugar for quick energy.
Let’s say you choose the “flee” response, and run like a mad person away from the giant animal. You escape. The running like mad burns off excess sugar in your blood; the adrenaline dissipates, and the cortisol lingers, prompting you to eat to replace the carbohydrate and fat you burned while fleeing or fighting.
Half a million years ago, that was all well and fine. But here’s the problem: your brain can’t tell the difference between real and perceived danger—say, harsh words with your boss or spouse, a looming deadline, or a near traffic accident. Under those stressful conditions, your body still goes on hyper-alert, and the cortisol that floods your body still urges you to eat more–and makes you hold on to fat. Meanwhile, you haven’t moved from your seat. Over time, those kinds of chronic, low-grade stressors, and the body’s continuous response, take their toll.
You can’t avoid stress completely, but you can keep it from wrecking your life and your waistline. Try these simple ways to chill out and slim down.