It is no secret that we all find ourselves stressed at some point in our lives. Stress is when you are in a state of mental or emotional tension that upsets the body’s balance. Learning how to manage stress can be a skill we need to cultivate.
Why is it that what causes stress for one individual may excite another individual? A little bit of stress can motivate you to take action. However, long-term chronic stress can have negative effects on your health and lead to changes in your body such as disease and weight gain.
Identifying the causes of stress and what you can do to manage stress is the key to a healthy balance. You may not be able to control all the stressors around you, but you can alter your reaction to them, so you can bounce back more quickly.
Cortisol and Stress
You’re having problems at work or at home. You’re stressed, and it’s beginning to show — unfortunately — in more ways than one. You look in the mirror and see a bulge around your mid-section that wasn’t there before. And you ask yourself – where are these extra pounds coming from?
Stress – yes, stress could be one reason why you’ve slowly found your clothes aren’t fitting like they used to. Stress can play a role in weight gain and you may not notice it at first. Initially, it could make you have less desire to eat but eventually, long-term “chronic” stress can make you hungry all the time thanks to our fight-or-flight response, also known as our survival mode. Once our body reaches a certain stress level, it does what it feels it needs to. In most cases, that means overeat.
Most people admit that when they’re under stress, healthy eating habits can be difficult to maintain. Whether eating to fill an emotional need or grabbing fast food simply because there’s no time to prepare something healthy, a stressed-out lifestyle is rarely a healthy one.
Weight gain when under stress may be at least partly due to the body’s system of hormonal checks and balances, which can promote weight gain when you’re stressed out, according to some researchers.
Cortisol and Weight Gain
The culprit – Cortisol, which is a critical hormone, secreted by the adrenal glands, and having many actions in the body, including the stimulation of fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy, and stimulating insulin release and maintenance of blood sugar levels. The result of these actions can be an increase in appetite and we usually go looking for sugary, fatty foods to satisfy our cravings.
Cortisol has been called the “stress hormone” because excess cortisol is secreted during times of physical or psychological stress, and the normal pattern of cortisol secretion (with levels highest in the early morning and lowest at night) can be altered. This disruption of cortisol secretion may not only promote weight gain, but it can also affect where you put on the weight. Some studies have shown that stress and elevated cortisol tend to cause fat deposition in the abdominal area. Belly fat or “toxic fat” is strongly correlated with the development of cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and strokes. The bottom line? More stress = more cortisol = higher appetite for junk food = more belly fat.
Causes of Stress
Studies show that just thinking about a stressful event in the future can cause you to eat more by increasing your levels of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone.” Concentrate as often as possible on keeping your focus on what you’re doing, rather than worrying about what has happened in the past or will happen in the future.
2. Forgetting to Eat
Amid an endless to-do list, we’ve all thought, “I’m too busy to eat!” But if you are stressed out, forgoing a meal can not only slow your metabolism down making weight loss harder but it can also set you up for bingeing later. And to make things worse, low blood-sugar levels can make work seem even more difficult and stressful.
3. Skimping on Sleep
Sleep is underrated, and we definitely need more Zzz’s to deal with stress and sleep can also help with weight loss by promoting a healthy metabolism, preventing our body from storing too much fat, and boosting our self-control.
4. Too Much Caffeine
Coffee can come in handy when you’re on the run all day, but relying on caffeine to power through can backfire in more ways than one. Research suggests that drinking more than five or six cups of coffee per day promotes weight gain and insulin problems. Plus, stress often causes us to crave those yummy but unhealthy coffee drinks that are filled with sugar and cream. Bet you could easily hit your recommended daily calorie intake on those beverages alone.
5. Over Committing
Having too many commitments and too few hours in a day to meet those obligations only adds more stress. Not having boundaries or afraid to say “no” only leads to overextending yourself. Being the first person to volunteer for projects and the last one to delegate is going to heighten the chaos. This can leave you feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and exhausted.
6. Complaining and Blaming
Complaining or blaming others will make stress worse. If you are like most people, including myself, I am sure you have experienced firsthand how constant complaining and blaming can cause a downward spiral into a tizzy. Bad relationships induce negative, hostile reactions and immediate changes in stress-sensitive hormones.
How to Relieve Stress
Most of the stress in our lives is unnecessary, and it can be relieved and even eliminated by taking some simple steps. It can’t be accomplished overnight but it’s a worthwhile goal.
Here are some ways you can get a handle on your stress to not only help with weight loss but many other health issues:
1. Identify Your Stressors
This is the most important step of all, as identifying the things that stress you out in your life is the first step towards eliminating them. Take 10 minutes to think about what stresses you out during the day. What weekly occurrences stress you out? What people, activities, things cause stress in your life? Make a Top 10 list, and see which of them can be eliminated.
2. Eliminate Unnecessary Commitments
We all have many commitments in our lives, starting with work but also including commitments related to kids, spouses, things to do at home, other family, civic, side work, religious, hobbies, online activities and more. Consider each of them, the amount of stress they provide, and the value you get out of them.
We all do some level of procrastination but allowing stuff to pile up will just create MORE stress. Find ways to take care of stuff now not LATER.
Everyone has times of being disorganized to some extent. Even if you’ve organized something and created a great system to keep it that way, over time, that organization can shift and in comes the stress because of it. Make an effort to take regular time-outs to organize your life, starting with your desk and home and moving on to other areas.
5. Don’t Be Late
Being late usually stresses us out. We have to rush to get ready, rush to get there and stress out the whole time about looking bad and being late. Learn the habit of being early, and this stress disappears and it feels good! Make a conscious effort to start getting ready earlier, and to leave earlier. This also makes driving less stressful.
6. Stop Trying to Control Everything
As much as we’d like to think we are Masters of the Universe, we aren’t and most of the time acting like we are is a sure way to get stressed. Trying to control situations and people cannot work, and only serves to increase our anxiety when it doesn’t work. Learn to let go, and accept the way that other people do things, and accept what happens in different situations. The only thing you can control is yourself — work on that before you consider trying to control the world.
7. Watch Out for Energy Zappers
Certain things in our life just cause us to be more exhausted than others, with less value. Identify them, and cut them out. You’ll have much more energy and happiness and much less stress.
8. Slow Down
Instead of rushing through life, learn to take things slow. Enjoy your food, enjoy the people around you, enjoy nature. Consider adding practices such as meditation, yoga or tai-chi to your daily routine. These step alone can save tons of stress.
This is common advice for stress relief, and that’s because it works. Exercising helps relieve the stress buildup, it gives you some quiet time to contemplate and relax, and just as importantly, it makes you fitter. A fitter you is better equipped to handle stress. Another important factor: being unhealthy can be a major stressor (especially if you end up in the hospital), and exercise can help prevent that.
10. Healthy Eating
This goes together with exercise as a stress prevention method, eating healthier foods that boost your immune system, enhance your ability to lose weight, uplift your mood and give you energy all contribute to less stress in your life.
11. Cut Yourself Some Slack
Forget about perfectionism as it can drive you crazy and add more stress in your life. Do the best you can and move on. Don’t attack yourself with criticism. You may be expecting too much of yourself and unnecessarily undermining your accomplishments. When you find yourself doing this, gently guide your mind to think of all your positive attributes and goodness you bring to the world and those around you.
Developing an attitude of gratitude is a way of thinking positive, eliminating negative thinking from your life, and thereby reducing stress. Learn to be grateful for what you have, for the people in your life, and see everything as a gift. With this kind of outlook on life, stress will go down and happiness will go up – a winning formula.
I hope you have gained some insight of in-the-moment mindful tips of how to manage stress — plus new reasons to finding that balance. Why not take a step or two that could change things for the better?
Do you know someone who is struggling with stress? We can all think of at least one person like this. Share these tips to manage stress with anyone who needs guidance and joy!
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