The reality is that stress is a part of everyday life. But while some levels of stress, may provide motivation to achieve great things or complete complex projects, chronic stress due to increased daily hassles or major life events, can take a toll on physical and mental health, and can have lasting negative effects.
Maybe you’ve noticed that stress impacts your ability to get quality sleep, and affects your relationship, or even your productivity at home or at work, but you stopped to think how stress affects your weight loss?
‘Stress’ describes experiences that are emotionally, psychologically, or physically challenging (1) Stressors can be acute or chronic and can vary in magnitude. Chronic stress, or poorly managed stress, may lead to elevated cortisol levels (your body’s primary stress hormone) which can stimulate your appetite, result in weight gain or in difficulty losing unwanted pounds (2). You may experience chronicstress after losing a loved one or living through a natural disaster. This type of extreme stress response is often a prolonged feeling of overwhelm or pressure. Acute stressors are the daily hassles and annoyances – like being late to work because you’re stuck in traffic. Both acute and chronic stress impact cognitive and bodily functions, by increasing levels of cortisol. The increased consistent interference of stressors can slow or completely stall your weight loss progress.
When you experience stress, the decision-making part of your brain is compromised (3). When stressors are continuous, your body thinks it is fighting for survival all the time, so your cortisol levels remain high. Research has shown that there is a link between increased cortisol and weight gain. High levels of cortisol affect your weight loss through increased appetite, poor food choices and even the way your body stores fat (4).
Since the brain can’t effectively regulate itself with constant high cortisol levels while stressed, practicing stress relieving activities and cortisol-reducing strategies before stress levels are unmanageable is extremely important. Healthy habits can save you from having to make on the spot decisions which can sabotage goals.
While we may recognize the need to reduce stress, sometimes it’s hard to find strategies that work and fit into our busy (and stressful) days. Not all techniques will work for everyone and not all will be of interest. Experiment with different ones to see which stress reduction techniques resonate. Here are some ideas to get you started to a less stressed, better you!
Identify, reduce & accept – Examine your stress triggers and see what you may be able to eliminate or remove. How are these stressors serving you? We can’t control other people, the weather, and many other factors and events in our lives, but choosing to live in a state of acceptance can help alleviate negative thoughts and attitudes.
Prioritize – List your priorities the evening prior to the start of your day. Note 2-3 “must do” items and do your best to complete them. It can be simple things like calling a friend, cleaning the bathroom, or setting up a date night with your partner.
Put it in perspective – Recognize the major factors currently causing you stress. Take a step back to consider if this will matter in a week, a month, or even a year from now.
Eat well – Eating nutritious foods is a great defense against stress. Eliminate processed foods with dyes and sugars and skip the alcohol.Increase omega-3 fatty acids into your diet, foods such as wild salmon, flaxseed and walnuts are terrific options.
Breathe – Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to the brain and stimulates our rest and digestive systems which can help promote calm. Many of us hold our breath or take very shallow, quick breaths.Deep, slow, full breaths allow for the resetting of the stress response.
Move – Movement in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Being active boosts your feel-good endorphins. You don’t have to join a gym – dance, jump, ride, swim, stretch or skip where and when you can. Just taking a 10-minute walk or doing a few sets with hand-weights can help clear your mind.Yoga and stretching are wonderful activities that combine movement with breathing.
Meditation – Meditation can help bring you into a deep state of relaxation. It allows you to focus your attention and helps eliminate thoughts that may be crowding your mind. Even short stints of a meditative practice can result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.
Gratitude – Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Negativity can fuel stress. Grateful people tend to have more emotional resilience and are better able to maintain a positive mood. When we shift our focus from ourselves to the abundance that we do have, we are choosing to focus on the positive. This focus nurtures our wellbeing.
Write it down – Journaling or getting your feelings out on paper can reduce symptoms of stress and afford an opportunity to think things through.
Phone a Friend – Building a circle of close friends, leaning on them, and sharing experiences and challenges enhances resilience and offers conversation which can lessen the effects of stress.⠀
Laughter – Laughter is the best medicine! When you laugh, you take in more oxygen which, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles.This increases the endorphins that are released and activates your stress response. Hang out with a fun friend or watch a laughter filled comedy.
Find a furry or feathered friend – Petting an animal just feels good. It can lower your blood pressure and help release the relaxation hormone boosting your mood and bringing on feelings of happiness.
Get Outside – Spending just 20 minutes in nature can reduce cortisol levels and elevate your mood. There is something calming and relaxing about fresh air and the natural environment. Soak up the sunshine, smell the roses, watch the clouds, and listen to the birds. A stroll through a city park or a hike in the woods will increase your energy level and boost well-being. Nature is medicine.
Listen to music – Find your favorite tunes and feel the music.Dance, sing and sway. You may soon notice a significant decrease in stress.
Experiment – Try a new recipe, paint, color, or draw. Design a Pinterest Board.Creative expressions are linked to overall wellbeing.
Take a technology break – Technology has improved our personal and work lives in so many ways, but it also has blurred the lines between work and home life. The feeling of always being “on” and comparing our lives to others can add stress. Make time to turn off the screens.
Do something you enjoy each day – Even 10 minutes spent reading a book, practicing your golf swing, knitting, or coloring can be powerful mood lifter. Develop a hobby that allows you to take regular breaks from the stressors of life.
Take a soak -Epsom salts (which contain magnesium the relaxation mineral) may induce the relaxation response that is responsible for reducing stress and aiding sleep. Add a couple of drops of lavender oil for an extra benefit. ⠀ Sleep The chemicals connected with deep sleep are the same ones that tell the body to stop the production of stress hormones. Sleep matters.One of the best ways to tackle stressors is to manage them with a well-rested mind and body. Going to bed early and getting a good night’s sleep can do wonders to improve your outlook and energy level.
1. McEwen, B.S. (2007). Physiology and neurobiology of stress and adaptation: central role of the brain. Physiology Review, 87(3):873-904. 10.1152/physrev.00041.2006.
3. Quaedflieg, C., Stoffregen, H., Sebalo, I., & Smeets, T. (2019). Stress-induced impairment in goal-directed instrumental behaviour is moderated by baseline working memory. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory,158: 42–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2019.01.010
4. Roberts, C., Campbell, I., & Troop, N. (2014). Increases in weight during chronic stress are partially associated with a switch in food choice towards increased carbohydrate and saturated fat intake: Stress food choice weight increase. European Eating Disorders Review, 22(1), 77–82.