Guest Author - Patricia Mitchell
“Can it be a mistake that 'STRESSED' is 'DESSERTS' spelled backwards?” ~Unknown
Can stress make you fat? That's an alarming thought considering we all live with stress on a daily basis. Constant anxiety and tension can lead to hormonal imbalance, poor eating habits, and weight gain. How do you handle stress? Do you choose a healthy salad when you have a bad day, or do you devour an entire carton of chocolate ice cream?
A friend of mine was experiencing a tremendous amount of stress after moving for a new job. She came home from work one day and ate an entire can of chocolate icing! Experts suggest that 75% of overeating is due to our emotions. Many of us when stressed turn to unhealthy foods such as burgers, fries, sweets and alcohol. Eating these highly refined carbohydrate foods trigger the release of hormones that can wreak havoc on your body.
Serotonin is a hormone that directs information from the nervous system to the rest of the body and is thought to produce feelings of well being. Highly refined carbohydrate foods have a substantial effect on raising serotonin levels. These levels can remain elevated for 1-3 hours after consumption of high carbohydrate foods. Serotonin is thought to affect our brains similar to the addictive nature of drugs and alcohol. Elevated serotonin levels also trigger the release of the hormone cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands. Increased cortisol levels can lead to elevated blood pressure, decreased immune function, and weight gain.
It is crucial to learn to efficiently manage stress in your life. It's important to seek a solution, or learn to cope with stress in a more positive manner. Try the following methods to help deal with stress by learning more effective coping mechanisms.
Identify - The first step in dealing with stress is to identify the source. Don't avoid or deny the problem or it will continue to exist and affect your health. For instance, if one of your stressors is your morning commute to your job, then get up fifteen to twenty minutes earlier to leave for work. Sometimes small changes can make a huge impact on your quality of life.
Plan - Many people turn to comfort food as a solution to their stress. Therefore, it is important to keep your kitchen stocked with good food choices. You are less likely to binge on unhealthy food during stressful times if you don't have access to it. Keep fresh fruit, yogurt, and nuts available to satisfy sweet cravings at moments of weakness.
Breathe - Sometimes just taking time to clear your mind and focus on breathing can help reduce stress. Next time you are in a stressful situation, take 5-10 minutes of quiet time and slow yourself down. Find a place where you can be alone. Sit comfortably and try to clear your mind of your thoughts. Start to focus on your breathing and increasing the length of the inhalation and exhalation. Notice how this immediately calms you down and leaves you feeling more refreshed.
Journal - Consider starting a journal to write down your thoughts. Make a list of your current stressors and determine what changes you can make to decrease or eliminate them. This can help you solve problems and help you gain a sense of control over stressful situations.
Exercise -Workout and get your mind off your worries. Intense training can help produce "feel good" neurotransmitters called endorphins to relieve anxiety and stress. A consistent exercise program can help to reduce your overall stress levels, decrease blood pressure, and improve your health.
Time management- Scheduling activities on a calendar can help you find balance, order, and control in your life. Procrastination increases stress, therefore, it helps to have a plan when you have a busy schedule. Write your family’s activities for the entire week on your calendar. This will help everyone to be better organized with their time. Advanced planning can help you worry less and sleep better at night.
Yoga or meditation -Yoga can be a sweaty and intense power workout or can be a more relaxing, meditative practice. Either workout will help reduce stress and can improve your mood. Try a class at a fitness center or purchase a home DVD that you can use anytime you are in need of a stress relieving workout.
Sleep - Make certain that you get enough sleep every night. Lack of sleep not only can cause stress but other serious problems such as high blood pressure and heart issues. Make a habit to go to bed the same time every night and avoid or limit caffeine prior to bedtime. Try to turn off the television and computer to relax before bedtime. Reading a book can help you to unwind and fall asleep more easily.
Stress is a normal part of our lives. However, learning effective coping mechanisms can significantly improve your quality of life. Learn to reach for your journal rather than dessert when you find yourself in a stressful situation. Go for a run or do yoga instead of consuming an entire bottle of wine. Developing positive reactions to stress will empower you to take charge of your life and may even help you avoid an expanding waistline. We all live with stress and situations we can't control, but how we deal with it can make a huge impact on your life.