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Relaxation Techniques Explained

Importance of Stress Reduction for Weight Control

Prior to discussing ways to reduce stress, lets take a quick look at the effects of stress on weight and weight control. It's a well-established fact that ongoing high stress levels cause weight gain - especially the accumulation of stubborn abdominal fat. This phenomenon is mediated by the hormone cortisol, which is secreted by our adrenal glands in response to stressful situations. Cortisol stimulates appetite, and promotes the formation and deposition of fat (particularly around the mid-section and in the face and neck areas).

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Stress reduction is an important adjunct in a weight loss program, allowing the organism to respond to proper nutrition and exercise. Controlling stress levels is of utmost importance, and can make the difference between success and failure of one's weight loss efforts.

This being said, it's important to understand that in the absence of a proper diet and exercise, stress reduction by itself is unlikely to yield any significant results.

Below are several stress reduction techniques for your consideration. Keep in mind you may need to apply more than one relaxation method for adequate stress control. Relieving stress usually takes a combination approach, which needs to be continued over time. As you get more proficient at applying these relaxation techniques, they will hopefully become a part of your daily routine and eventually integrate seamlessly in your schedule.

Ways to Reduce Stress
Physical Exercise:

  • Physical exercise, if tolerated, is a great way of eliminating stress from your system. Martial arts such as karate, involving not only body movement but also mind discipline, are particularly effective for relieving stress and also learning to deal with stress in the long run.

  • If strenuous exercise is precluded, consider yoga relaxation routines, or simply a stretch routine, performed to low-volume, soothing music. 10-20 minutes of such activity can have excellent results in relieving stress. To get an idea of available yoga and stretch routines, follow the links below:
    Yoga Postures
    Stretch Routine

  • A walk or a hike through nature, or even a walk through the city while trying to clear your mind, are simple and time-honored ways of combating stress.

Ways to Reduce Stress

Certain meditation techniques such as Zen meditation may be quite effective for stress relief. Zen meditation is a method of self-inquiry, self-realization and self-alignment with the world around. To find out more, follow this link:
Zen Meditation

Other effective stress reduction techniques are:
  • Breathing Awareness
  • PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation)
  • Guided Imagery
  • Self-Hypnosis

We will proceed to discuss each one of these below, covering the basics of how they should be practiced. Please note that these techniques overlap each other in certain areas, and may be practiced in combination with each other.

Ways to Reduce Stress
Breathing Awareness:

This is a technique where you consciously control your breathing, making it deep and slow, for a total of 10-20 breaths. Concomitantly, you want to focus on the way your abdomen expands and contracts as the air travels in and out. It helps putting one hand on the solar plexus, just above the navel, so as to feel the abdomen slowly lifting and falling with each breath. As you do so, imagine how your diaphragm (the dome-shaped muscle separating the chest from the abdominal cavity) travels up and down with each breath.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a more elaborate relaxation technique, where you imagine the muscles of your body relaxing progressively, in a certain order (usually starting with the leg muscles and proceeding up to the neck and head). As the various muscle groups relax, you become calmer and calmer, finally achieving a deep meditative state. It helps breathing slowly and deeply though this exercise, as detailed above under "Breathing Awareness".

Guided Imagery:

The concept of guided imagery involves visualizing or imagining certain relaxing images (with the help of a videotape or DVD, or simply using your own imagination). These images quiet the mind and create a calm, peaceful state.

Self Hypnosis

This is a somewhat more complicated technique, which combines various elements of the other above-mentioned techniques: The state of self hypnosis is a state of profound relaxation, which is achieved through a combination of progressive muscle relaxation, breathing awareness and guided imagery. Upon achieving this state the subject is on the border of sleep, where one's critical mind shuts down allowing increased suggestibility to occur. In this state, the subject will give himself a series of positive suggestions meant to improve his response to daily stressors. For example, the subject will tell himself: "I am always calm and in control of my environment. I derive satisfaction from tending to my daily duties on time and in an orderly manner. My colleagues appreciate my performance at work. Etc, etc..." Since the subject's critical faculties are shut down, these suggestions filter freely into the subconscious mind and remain planted there. Later, when the subject finds himself in the respective real life situations, these subconscious suggestions kick in and assert themselves, creating a calm relaxed state of mind.
Self hypnosis is an effective tool if properly applied, not only for stress reduction, but also for many other issues, including weight loss and weight control. Two potential reasons for failure of this approach are errors in technique and lack of compliance.

Ways to Reduce Stress

  • As far as nutrition is concerned, it appears that a diet low in saturated fat and trans fat, and rich in fresh fruit and vegetables (especially leafy greens and "orange vegetables " such as squash and carrots) is helpful in achieving a balanced mood and reducing stress reactions.

  • Also, omega-3 fatty acids (polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish oil, nuts, flaxseed, etc) appear to be extremely helpful in stabilizing mood and providing protection against depression and anxiety.

  • Another nutritional item that comes highly recommended for stress relief is green tea. It provides a large amount of valuable antioxidants, most notably polyphenols and catechins, which have a calming and overall rejuvenating effect on the body.

  • Limiting one's consumption of caffeine and alcohol to a reasonable amount is believed to also play a role in stress control.

Ways to Reduce Stress
Behavioral Techniques:

  • As far as behavioral modification is concerned, it appears that assertiveness training can be extremely helpful in controlling stress long-term. This involves mastering communication skills that permit you to express yourself and voice your true opinions and beliefs, in a way that is socially acceptable.

  • Something else that may help reduce daily stress is confronting your problems promptly and head-on - thus bringing them to the forefront of your mind to be dealt with, rather than letting them linger in your subconscious to build tension.

Ways to Reduce Stress

A factor of huge importance in controlling stress is SLEEP. Nothing can substitute a good night's sleep, and chronic sleep deprivation is bound to result in increased stress levels with negative effects over time. The goal is to get at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night - in a quiet, dark environment at a comfortable temperature. For further details regarding proper sleep hygiene, see our chapter Sleep for Success.

Ways to Reduce Stress
Supplements and Medications:

  • Finally, if one is dealing with high stress levels that interfere with daily life, there is the option of stress relieving medications, mainly anti-anxiety agents such as benzodiazepines. Before going any further, I want to emphasize the fact these medications should not be taken lightly. They are only indicated for relieving otherwise uncontrollable stress and anxiety.

  • As far as the heavily advertised weight loss pill Cortislim, studies conducted on animals suggest it does have anti-anxiety effects, probably due to the Magnolia bark in its composition. As such, it seems plausible that Cortislim may have similar effects in humans and may result in stress reduction and decreased Cortisol secretion. However, the idea that pounds will melt away simply by taking this pill (as advertised by the Cortislim campaign), is entirely unrealistic. Cortislim (as well as any other medication of this type) should be used as an adjunct to a proper diet and exercise program.

Ways to Reduce Stress
Other Relaxation Techniques:

  • Another way of reducing daily stress is journaling, i.e., keeping a daily log of stressful events - which are thus analyzed and put into perspective.

  • Listening to music, especially classical music, is an excellent way of relieving stress, and achieving a peaceful yet energized state of mind.

  • By the same token, any activity that is perceived as fun, pleasurable, or challenging will have the same positive effect. For example, redecorating your living quarters to create a calm, soothing feel, or finding a new hobby to focus your attention on can do wonders for reducing stress.

  • Simple pleasures such as aromatherapy or a deep massage can be equally effective.



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