We often think that the effects of stress are more mental than physical. It's true that stress affects us mentally but the effects of stress also affect us physically. If you want an indication as to whether a person is successfully dealing with stress, just look at their belly. A person's belly is one of the best indicators of how they are dealing with chronic stress.

From the time of our caveman ancestors, our bodies have been well designed to deal with periods of acute stress--and then relaxation. This helped our ancestors survive the dangers of their day. The effects of stress can actually be healthy for us. They rev up our engines and work out the kinks in the complex reactions in our bodies. In the end, our body systems should reach a peaceful, balanced coexistence to be ready to spring into action again in an emergency. But if our bodies are not allowed to rest after stressful events, the balance gets thrown off and problems develop.

The effects of chronic stress forces an excess of steroids and other stress hormones (one of them being cortisol) into our bodies from the adrenal glands. Our system has to cope with these stress steroids. It does so in several ways. One way is that the omentum -- a fold of fatty tissue that surrounds your intestines -- sucks up the excess circulating steroids to clear the system. This causes the omentum to inappropriately store fat whenever we eat and sets off chemical reactions that leave us hungry.

A healthy omentum looks like wide, webbed panty hose. But as it grows, the fat globules fill and engorge the gaps in the webbing. When this happens, the excess omentum starts releasing inflammatory chemicals into the body. When this happens, you're basically being poisoned by the fat in your belly creating a chronic condition called metabolic syndrome. This condition includes high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and high lousy (LDL) cholesterol. This occurs because the fat stored in your omentum is the first source of fuel that your internal organs use, especially your liver. The effects of stress cause the added hormones to throw off your metabolism by making your omentum resistant to insulin. This means that sugar is floating around in your bloodstream instead of being used normally by your cells.

So how do we deal with the effects of stress on our belly? The obvious answer is lose weight. The omentum, and the fat around your solid organs, are the first things to shrink when you lose weight. When you reduce this fat, you reduce the amount of inflammatory chemicals that are being pumped into your system, which in turn leads to reduced production of stress-inducing proteins.

People who are under a lot of stress may find it difficult to reduce belly fat by dieting alone. These people may need to incorporate stress-reducing techniques, such as relaxation and lifestyle changes, into their weight loss regimen.

So, how are you managing the effects of stress in your life? Just take a quick look down toward your belly.

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