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Simple and Effective Stress Soothers

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Researchers can measure a person's cortisol levels through a simple saliva test. In research settings, they ask a group of people to relax on a sofa while watching television for an hour. The researchers measured before and after cortisol rates. The verdict: watching television didn't lower cortisol levels. Later in their research they conducted a similar experiment but substituted an hour of yoga for watching television. You guessed it. The group's cortisol levels were significantly reduced.

In the following list, you won't find watching television as a stress soother. What you will find are activities that lower your cortisol levels. (For more on how cortisol affects your weight, see How Stress Can Make You Fat.) You're certain to find one or two that work for you during stressful times. They'll lift your moods and make you forget you ever considered a cookie fling just to make yourself feel better.

Get in Water

Water works. Take a bath, take a shower, get in the hot tub, or go swimming. Warm water envelops the largest organ of the body, the skin. It warms up every pore and relaxes the muscles.

When I (Lucy) was losing my weight more than 20 years ago, I took baths long before I intellectually understood them. The most difficult overeating time of day for me was late afternoon. I found water to be the perfect relaxant. When I could get my hyperactive 3-year-old son to take a nap, I would hustle to the bathroom and enjoy a bubble bath. These were not necessarily long, luxurious baths; my son was likely to need me at any moment. Sometimes I took three-minute baths; sometimes they lasted for five minutes. But they worked.

I imagined that all the stress in me was going into the water and down the drain. By the time I put on fresh clothes, the urge to eat had subsided, and I looked forward to the rest of the day. Today, my grown-up son comments on how many baths I took when he was a baby. You bet, I say; they made me thin.

Get Warm

We are not bears. We don't need to add on a layer of fat to carry us through the winter, but some of us are inclined to add winter weight. When physically chilled or cold, we're prone to eat more starches. You don't need to add pounds in winter to get more warmth. Wear clothes that are warmer and, when you feel chilled, put on your flannel PJs, get under the down comforter, and sip on a cup of warm herbal or decaffeinated tea. Getting warm can also soothe bad feelings.

Get in the Sunshine

Lean Lingo

A light box is a clever device that mimics natural full-spectrum sunlight. A small one stands about 16 inches wide and less than 2 feet high. It can sit on a desk or hang on a wall. Sitting in front of the box for even a half-hour a day can perk you up on wintry or cloudy days.

Sunshine is the perfect mood lifter. Research indicates that 20 minutes of sunlight a day will naturally elevate your mood. Twenty minutes of sunshine daily also helps your hormones work correctly. People who live in the northernmost states or in areas of the country with lots of rainy days are often deficient in sunlight. The ensuing depression is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It can be remedied by exposure to plenty of natural sunlight or by using artificial full-spectrum bright light, as provided by a light box.

It's best to get real sunshine. You can do this even if you work indoors. Eat lunch on the patio, take a walk during break time, or play outdoors with the children when you get home from work.

For your 20 minutes of sun therapy a day, wear sunscreen but don't wear your sunglasses. Your eyes need the light to boost hormonal activity and elevate your moods. Of course, never look directly at the sun; instead, simply sit, walk, garden, or relax.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Healthy Weight Loss © 2005 by Lucy Beale and Sandy G. Couvillon. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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