Gaining weight? Can’t sleep? Feeling overwhelmed?

by | Feb 18, 2013 | Health & News | 3 comments

Any of these sound familiar?  These are all results of something called “STRESS”!  We all have it – and yet, we can’t seem to control its effects.   The next upcoming series of blogs will focus on stress- what it is, why it is literally killing you and how to deal with stress to achieve ultimate life balance.

Stressed Businesswoman


Are you ready to change your life?

We first need to understand the concept of “Stress”.  There is some good news and some bad news regarding stress.  The bad news is that there isn’t one little magic pill that I can prescribe to you that will eradicate stress and its effects on your life.  The good news, though, is that, equipped with the proper knowledge and tools, you can alleviate the stress in your life- start losing those extra 10-15 pounds, start sleeping better and feeling more confident about yourself and your life.   Do you want to start feeling better and looking better?  Then, let’s learn about stress!

 stress response system

What is stress?  

Stress is the body’s reaction to a change that requires a physical, mental or emotional response or adjustment.   Things that elicit a stress response are called “stressors”.  Stressors have definitely changed over time.  Over 10,000 years ago, the stressors that confronted us were fierce animals, harsh environmental factors, and search for daily food supply.  Today, everyday stressors include work pressures, family obligations and a never ending “to-do” list.

Overall, stress, in small and infrequent amounts, can be beneficial to us.  It can help us recognize painful stimuli – like placing your hand on an open fire or alert us of an approaching saber-toothed tiger.

The “Fight- or – Flight” Reaction

The “flight or fight” reaction is an evolutionary and physiologic response for survival.  It literally causes us to flee a harmful situation or fight against it.  The brain, specifically the hypothalamus, is programmed to release CRH which signals the pituitary gland to release ACTH.  ACTH then signals the adrenal gland to release cortisol.  In the picture above, you can see that the brain (hypothalamus and pituitary gland) release CRH and ACTH into the blood stream, respectively.  The adrenal gland, located above both kidneys, then releases the hormone, cortisol, as well as a cascade of other hormones to help us in this crisis situation.  Norepinephrine and epinephrine are released which leads to an increase in heart rate, dilated pupils, and more shallow and rapid breathing.  Vitally rich oxygenated blood is shunted from the digestive system to more functional muscle groups, such as your legs and arms.  Reflexes are sped up and perception of pain decreases.  Valuable glucose for energy is also released for the body to utilize to combat this crisis.  Within this evolutionary response, these physiological reactions allow us to deal more effectively with the stressful situation at hand, allowing us to fight against or flee from the daunting saber-toothed tiger.

The problem arises when this same reflexive reaction, which should be a response to acute stress, becomes a chronic process, releasing toxic amounts of cortisol into our bodies.  Today’s stressors range from traffic jams, an unreasonably demanding boss, a strained interpersonal relationship, a family crisis or ailing parent.   These chronic stimuli cause our bodies to be flooded with cortisol.  Excess cortisol secretion and chronically elevated cortisol levels can lead to countless disease states including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, memory/concentration problems, decrease in your sex drive and a suppressed immune system.

Here is a list of elevated cortisol levels and chronic health conditions ( 1).

Metabolic Effect (cortisol – induced)                                                     Chronic Health condition

Increase appetite, accelerate muscle breakdown, enhanced fat storage Obesity
Elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels Heart Disease
Elevated Blood Pressure ( Hypertension) Heart Disease
Alterations in Brain Neurotransmitters (Dopamine,  Serotonin and others) Depression/ AnxietyMemory/ Concentration Problems
Physical Atrophy ( Shrinkage) of brain cells Alzheimer’s Disease
Insulin Resistance and elevated blood sugar levels Diabetes
Reduced levels of sex hormones ( testosterone and estrogen) Decreased sex drive/ Low libido
Suppression of Immune-cell number and activity Frequent colds/flu/viral infections

Want an easy tip to combat your daily stress?  Try this 3-minute Breath Exercise

Breathe.  Yes, it may sound simple, but it is not always easy to remember to do.  I encourage you to practice this exercise (2) – it will literally save your life!


3 minute Breath Awareness:

Step #1:  Becoming Aware

Sit or stand in an erect and dignified posture.  If possible, close your eyes.  Bring awareness to your inner experience of what is happening right now.  What thoughts are you having?  What feelings are you having? Turn toward the feeling sensation without becoming the feeling.  What body sensations are you having now?  Notice any body sensations such as tightening of muscles or bracing.

Step # 2: Gathering

Notice the physical sensations of the breath while breathing.  Notice the belly expanding and opening with each breath.  Hear your breath as you breathe in deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth.  Anchor yourself to the present moment by being aware of the breath as it goes into and out of the body.

Step # 3: Expanding

Open your awareness to the breath in the body.  Notice your posture and facial expressions, as well as the breath in your abdomen.  If you notice discomfort, tension or resistance, focus again on the breath going in and out of your body.  Breathing into the body sensations on the in breath, and breathing out from these body sensations on the out breath.

I do this 3 minute Breath Awareness exercise many times throughout my day – while driving (but not closing my eyes!), in the office between patients and waiting in line at the bank or grocery store.  It definitely helps release my stress and makes the entire day much more pleasurable – for me and others!!  I have included the link so you can download to your computer, iPod or another device.

My next blog will focus on stress, cortisol, and weight gain:  “Why can’t I lose that darn belly fat?!”

Stay tuned…

belly fat

Dr. Diana


Please share your comments re. how stress affects your life and how you deal with it – your tips may be incredibly helpful to other readers!


  1. Talbott, Shawn Ph.D., The Cortisol Connection: Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health. (2007), Hunter House Inc. Publishers
  2. Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World. The Three Minute Breathing Space Meditation (article) .  You can download or stream the meditations from HERE.