Everyone experiences stress in their lives. Contrary to popular belief, not all stress is bad. It is what triggers our fight or flight response which sharpens our concentration, alertness, and the body’s ability to react under pressure. Think of how your body feels when you see a car pull out in front of you. Stress causes your adrenaline and cortisol to kick in, your senses sharpen, you slam on your breaks or swerve to avoid the accident. That feeling of rapid heartbeat, tense muscles, elevated blood pressure, stays with you for a short period of time after the fact then subsides. However, if we are in a continued state of stress without that recovery time, stress starts to work against us. It can negatively affect our immune response, increase heart disease, lead to anxiety and depression, cause sleep issues, digestive issues, along with many other physiological and psychological maladies. The more we expose our bodies to stress, the quicker we enter into the stress response, and it is harder to turn it off.
Some of the most common reasons for stress are job or money related, relationships with family and/ or spouse, life changes, and daily demands. What differs for everyone is the way we cope with stress. For many of us it is with food. Stress eating is very real and a very real problem if left unchecked. Much of the comfort food we consume is loaded with unhealthy fats, heavily processed carbohydrates, and refined sugars. These foods are what typically leads to weight gain. Changing a few habits can make great strides on how you deal with stress.
Start by recognizing your triggers and have a plan before you are in the moment. Eliminate the trigger foods from your house. If they are readily available, you will most likely eat them. Replace those foods with healthier choices such as prepped vegetables and nuts. Practice meditation and deep breathing exercises to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Exercising or walking on a regular basis will also lower stress levels and increase physical fitness. Find a support system of friends that you can talk to when stress levels get high. Sometimes verbalizing what is causing your stress to elevate will improve your stress level even if the situation doesn’t change.
Written by: Christine Brown, MFS