Chronic stress sets you up for weight gain: here’s how it works. You encounter a stressful situation and 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 fine when the stress promotes physical exertion, because calories are burned. But when the stress is from non-physical situations, like trying to balance the checkbook or deal 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 when you didn’t. And it’s now telling you it is hungry when it really doesn’t need the food. If you give in to the hunger, your body will store the calories as fat. The stressful situation hasn’t changed–only your waistline has.
We often think of negative situations causing stress, but change of any kind, positive or negative, can cause stress. It’s not the change itself that causes you to feel stressed, but your perception of the change. The good news is that you can actually change your stress level by changing your outlook.
Tips for reducing stress
- Plan ahead and get organized. Disorganization is a breeding ground for stress.
- Work to understand the situation. This will decrease the fear of the unknown, and better provide you with options to control, change or adjust to the situation.
- Set and accept limits. Say no to activities that you do not have time for. Say yes to achievable goals. You’ll feel confidence in your ability and a sense of success when the goals are met.
- Find regular escapes from the pressures of life with a hobby or activities that you enjoy.
- Check your attitude. Replace those negative thoughts with powerful, positive thinking. Our outlook on life can affect our physical and emotional health.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise is unequalled for releasing the tension of stress from our bodies.
- Don’t shortchange yourself on sleep. Stress hormones can rise when you become sleep deprived.
- Avoid caffeine, sugar and junk food.
- Talk it out. Expressing your anxieties or fears to a friend, therapist, or family member can be incredibly helpful.
- Stress isn’t the event or situation; it’s the reaction to that event or situation. Learn to react in ways that minimize the stress threat.
- Learn a relaxation method and take regular relaxation breaks throughout the day.