According to the APA’s 2010 Stress in America study, only 40% of Americans rate their health as very good or excellent, 27% were happy about their level of exercise, and 40% reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress.
I have to assume you experience negative consequences of stress, at least sometimes, and I encourage you to ask 3 questions pertaining to your health and weight.
When I overeat or make poor eating choices:
- Why am I eating?
- What are my triggers (times, places, people)?
- What can I do to better manage stress?
I find myself headed to the pantry for a treat after I put the boys down for a nap.
Why am I eating? I’m tired and looking for a sugar boost, stressed from having to care for two little ones all morning, and feeling entitled to something sweet.
What are my triggers? The early afternoon time. Whenever I’m tired or feel stressed and have reached the end of my patience. Another big trigger is gathering for family celebrations.
What can I do to better manage stress?
Stress is a fact of life. We can’t necessarily “decrease stress”. We can control our attitude about stress and our approach to dealing with it. And we have to…considering the vast number of stress related diseases and conditions.
There is a physical and hormonal effect on our body when under chronic stress.
Stress can negatively impact your ability to relax, eat right, sleep well, and engage in healthy activities like exercise.
Conversely, cultivating healthy responses and practicing healthy habits can mitigate the negative effects of stress.
5 Relaxation Tools
- Breathe. A fight or flight stress response triggers rapid, shallow breathing. Simply slowing and deepening your breath sends a different signal to your body systems.
- Tune into your body. After you breathe, relax your shoulders down and back, release your jaw, lengthen your spine, and uncurl your fingers and toes. Where are you tensing and holding stress, and you didn’t even realize it?
- Pray. Make sure you’re giving every situation to God, asking for His guidance.
- Focus your mind on something positive: a memory, image, or scripture.
- Create simple rituals. Something simple to do in the moment of stress like stand up, stretch, walk around. Also think through simple daily rituals that will regularly provide the opportunity to relax and refresh like cooking, art, music, reading, or sports.
Question #1: Why am I eating? If you’re truly hungry, choose the most nutritious fuel.
If it’s stress, take a breath, drink a glass of water, and walk around. Eating is often an acceptable drug to numb, escape, or ignore stressful life situations. We have to break the chain of stress between stress and food.
Avoid sugar, alcohol, and caffeine to decrease a negative stress response.
Vitamins and minerals that may assist your body in dealing with stress include: iron, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, magnesium, and protein.
Foods to consume regularly
- Nuts and Seeds
- Fruits (especially berries and oranges or high Vitamin C fruits)
- Dairy products like milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt
- Fish with omega 3 fatty acids like salmon
- Vegetables, especially broccoli, spinach, and asparagus
Quality sleep is non-negotiable. (I wrote about why I’m a sleep fanatic last week.)
Like good eating habits, healthy sleep habits can alleviate a negative stress response.
But it can be hard to sleep well when you’re stressed. Make a concerted effort to
- Talk with someone about your stressors
- Before bed, make a list of to-dos or write in a journal about what’s bothering you
- Use the relaxation tools listed above – breathe deeply, relax, focus your mind
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep due to anxiety, or generally feel like stress and anxiety is beyond your control, you need to talk to a health care professional.
When you’re stressed, fatigued and busy it’s tempting to bump exercise, but it’s one of your greatest assets for stress relief.
At a minimum, go for a walk and get some sunshine and fresh air – incredible medicine. A review of studies has shown that regular exercise can improve mood in people with mild to moderate depression and assist in treatment for severe depression.
I’m sure you’ve heard nothing new in this post…but do you still find yourself stressed? I do, and could do a better job of applying what I know. I hope you will take some active steps too.
Weekly Challenge: Create simple routines for moments of stress, daily relaxation, and to replace current habits in your trigger situations.
What are your thoughts on stress? Please share in the comments below…