We often think of negative situations causing stress due to unpleasant emotions, discomfort, or fear. But positive life changes can cause stress, too. For example, deciding to lose weight with bariatric surgery can bring with it a level of uncertainty, insecurity, and vulnerability.
The good news is that stress can be managed. The key is to balance and manage stress to meet your personal needs.
Why is Stress Management So Important?
Feelings of stress trigger our primitive fight-or-flight response because our nervous system perceives a life-threatening situation. The problem occurs when our nervous system perceives dangers that aren’t life-threatening, like moving, work deadlines, or paying bills. This can be damaging both mentally and physically, as stress can cause or exacerbate digestive problems, headaches, body aches, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and problems with your memory and ability to focus.
Learning how to manage stress doesn’t mean making stress go away. Instead, it’s a way of life that helps you regulate your reactions to keep your body healthy and strong. Managing stress involves creating good habits and healthy routines that help you stay balanced when you start to feel panic, anxiety, or nervousness.
A Philosophy for Stress Management: the 4 As
The 4 A’s of stress management are: avoid, alter, adapt, and accept. But before you can use the 4 A’s, you need to identify the stressors in your life. Family, work, money, living conditions, and the state or direction of our country are typical stressors. Dig deep and look for how your behaviors and thoughts contribute to your own stress levels.
You may want to keep a log before making your list to identify stress patterns. Start tracking the cause of your stress, how it made you feel, how you responded, and what you did to feel better.
Once you’ve identified your stress patterns, it’s time to use the 4 A’s.
You may be surprised how many stressors can simply be eliminated. When your friend texts you with unnecessary drama, don’t answer the text and cut back on time spent with them. Turn off the news once in a while. Say no to things that don’t have to be done or that increase stress.
If avoiding a stressful situation isn’t possible, you may be able to alter it.
That drama-filled friend? Answer the text with a positive message and refuse to engage in negativity. Stay up-to-date on the news with a quick scan of the headlines. To free up more time, set tighter boundaries – I only have 10 minutes; what can we get done in that time?
Be proactive about building a balanced life with time for the things that matter. Learn to express your needs in a clear, calm manner and allow others to do the same.
When it isn’t possible to avoid or alter a stressor, it may help to adapt your expectations and perspective.
Take a step back and look at your friend’s drama as theirs, not yours. Before scanning the news headlines, remind yourself that the media uses shock to raise ratings. And your busy life? Try to find gratitude for having a life that includes friends, family, and others who need you.
When a stressor is out of your control, the best way to cope may be to just accept it for what it is. You cannot control the weather, the behavior of others, the death of loved ones, a diagnosis of severe disease, the economy, or war. Nothing is helped when we stress over things beyond our control. Only our physical and mental health suffers.
As you work to maintain a peaceful outlook amid a stressful situation, it may help to talk to someone about your feelings, forgive and let go of anger and resentments, look for any potential upside, and keep your focus on things you can control.
Ways to Manage Stress in Your Everyday Life
Stress shows up in a variety of ways, so stress management will be different for everyone. Try to find ways to incorporate as many of these stress management tips into your life as you can without stressing yourself out even further! Start small and look for ways to implement these strategies into regular habits.
Exercise is, in fact, one of the best ways to combat stress and improve your mood. It works by increasing blood flow, producing mood-boosting endorphins, helping you sleep better, clearing your mind of worries, and improving your overall health, fitness, and confidence.
Set an exercise goal that works for you and then adjust it. Some simple exercises to try include walking, swimming, dancing, cycling, yoga, tai chi, or even gardening.
Meditation is a form of connecting with yourself and learning how to ignore distractions. You can start practicing meditation simply by paying attention to your breath for a few seconds. Learning how to meditate, and practicing it on a regular basis, can have positive long-term effects on your ability to manage stress by teaching you how to clear your mind.
Reduce the amount of processed foods you consume, as well as foods high in white sugar, carbohydrates, and fat. As much as possible, try to eat healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables, beans, fish, nuts, and seeds.
Processed foods can lead to blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes that ultimately increase cortisol production. Because cortisol is so directly related to stress, this can create a feedback loop that keeps you locked in a cycle of stress. Making more nutritious food choices can have a big impact on stress management.
Also, try mindful eating. Staying focused on your meal or snack — rather than eating while distracted (watching TV, using the computer, reading, etc) — can make a big difference. Because you’re paying closer attention to what you’re putting in your mouth and therefore eating more slowly, mindful eating can improve digestion.
It also helps you become more aware of your body’s signals, and you can be more in tune with when you’re full. Mindful eating is related to meditation, another technique for managing stress, because you’re focusing on what you’re eating and how it affects all of your senses.
Connecting with Others
Humans are social creatures. That’s why connecting with others is an important way to reduce stress. Make it part of your routine to reach out to family, friends, or anyone else with whom you feel a positive connection. Not only can they provide a stress-relieving distraction to give your mind a break, but they can make you laugh and generally improve your mood.
Our dominant thoughts shape our emotions, perceptions, and behaviors. When you see things positively and you look for the good in every situation and each person, your health and the quality of your life will improve.
Fill your mind with uplifting ideas. Focus on your strengths. Forgive and comfort yourself when things go wrong. Let your self-talk be like the soothing, supportive words of a good friend. Once you are aware of your negative thoughts, you can replace them with neutral words rather than emotionally charged words. “I am so angry that she did that, I just want to scream,” could be de-escalated to, “I am upset that she did that. It is unfortunate.” The words you choose impact the emotions you feel.
The Connection Between Stress Management and Weight Loss
When you encounter a stressful situation, your body responds by activating a series of hormones to fight the stressor. These hormones include adrenalin, which gives you instant energy, and cortisol. Cortisol’s job is to replenish your body after the stress has passed, and can cause your appetite to increase.
This system works well when the stressor promotes physical exertion because calories are burned. But when the stress is from non-physical situations, like trying to balance the checkbook or dealing with an angry customer, cortisol wants to replenish nutritional stores that were not used. To further complicate the matter, insulin levels also increase, creating the perfect conditions for your body to store fat.
So, stress makes your body think you used energy, even when you didn’t. And it’s now telling you it’s hungry when it doesn’t need the food. Your body especially craves sugar to replenish the glucose it thinks it’s lost. If you give in to hunger, your body will likely store the calories as fat. After a while, too much cortisol slows down your metabolism, which makes it even harder to lose weight. That, in itself, can become a major source of stress.
For those who have had bariatric surgery, it’s especially important to find ways to manage stress, as it can prevent weight loss despite the surgery. Your body has just been through a tremendous change. Give yourself time to make the necessary adjustments your body needs to recover from surgery and adapt to your new way of life. Pain and waves of conflicting emotions only add to this stress. Your surgical after-care is critical and must include stress management techniques.
At Barix, We Support Your Weight Loss Journey
The teams at Barix Clinics are here to provide you with all the support and care you need on your bariatric surgery journey. Our entire staff of doctors, nurses, and technicians are bariatric surgery specialists who focus on you as a person, not just a patient.
If you’ve tried every other weight loss technique out there and still have trouble losing weight, call Barix Clinic today at 734-547-4700 or fill out our simple online form to schedule a consultation. Our friendly team of experts is more than happy to discuss your weight loss options.