Do you worry about your kids, spouse, family members, etc.? Do you stress about money, paying bills and how you are going to pay for essential items? Does driving in the rain, construction, crowded/congested highways make you nervous or anxious? Are you a “chronic stressor”? If you worry consistently about things you may be inadvertently contributing to your weight.
Some people tend to gain weight when under stress, but the cause of the gain is likely a mix of hormonal and psychological factors. Our bodies do have a hormonal “check system” that balances and can actually promote weight gain.
The Biology of Stress
Cortisol is the body’s so called “stress hormone” and it is released in the body during times of stress as well as epinephrine and norepinephrine. The latter two are released in response to a perceived threat and results in the “fight or flight” response. After a stressful event, epinephrine and norepinephrine levels return to normal, however, cortisol can remain elevated over a longer period of time. In fact, cortisol levels can remain persistently elevated in the body when a person is subjected to chronic stress.
Cortisol has many actions within the body, but its ultimate goal is providing energy for the body. Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy and causes the release of insulin which in turn increases the appetite. This is the reason some people are “stress eaters”. Whenever a person has chronic stress or poorly managed stress, they can gain weight or have difficulty losing unwanted weight.
Cortisol will promote weight gain, but it also affects where you put on the weight. Researchers have shown that stress and elevated cortisol tend to cause fat deposition in the abdominal area rather than in the hips. It is difficult to predict whether or not your stress levels will result in high cortisol levels.
Stress & Weight
Experts agree that stress management is a critical part of weight loss regimens. This is especially true of those who have elevated cortisol levels. In this situation, exercise is the best and fastest method for weight loss. Why? Because exercise releases endorphins which naturally fight stress and reduce cortisol levels. In order to effectively reduce elevated cortisol levels during stress, it is necessary to make lifestyle changes! The next time you are experiencing stress or a stressful situation, go exercise–go for a walk, go to the gym or put in an exercise dvd!
Understanding Stress & the Types of Stress
We typically experience three kinds of stress: stress, eustress and distress. Stress is defined as (1) pressure or tension exerted on a material object; (2) a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. An example of stress is better known as “everyday stress”. Examples include: cleaning up your child’s spilled juice for the second time in a row or driving to work in an ice storm while others are driving like Nascar drivers.
Eustress is the good stress. Eustress can be defined as stress that is deemed healthful or giving one the feeling of fulfillment. An example of this would be an athletic competition. This type of stress is usually short-term, motivating, exciting and improves performance.
Distress is defined as “pain or suffering affecting the body or mind”. This is the effect on our body of prolonged stress that we aren’t coping with very well. Some examples of this might be emotional responses such as depression; lack of concentration; withdrawal or physical reactions such as ulcers, high blood pressure, or even weight gain!
How to Handle Stress
Ideally, we all live our lives in a state of eustress and “stress” would not be a problem for us. However, stress rears its ugly head in our lives on a daily basis. It is very important to develop our own effective ways of dealing with stress.
The American Heart Association recommends four ways to deal with stress:
1.) Positive Self Talk: This involves using positive phrases and terms instead of saying we can’t do something or thinking of the negative of issues–“I’ve got this”; “Things could be worse”, etc.. Its deals with being very positive and looking at the bright side of things!
2.) Emergency Stress Stoppers: these are immediate ways to deal with stress–take a deep breath, count to 10, go for a walk, etc..
3.) Finding Pleasure: Do things you enjoy! This naturally helps fight off stress. When things upset you or get you down, take time for yourself and go do something you enjoy. Make plans and schedule time to do at least one thing you enjoy every day!
4.) Daily Relaxation: This means calming the tension and stress in your mind and body. Relaxation takes practice and can be a challenge. Get into a routine of practicing it daily and you will improve upon it!
If we could find better ways to deal with and reduce our stress, I bet our society would be much healthier and happier. My hope for you is that this blog makes you stop to think about your own life, recognize some of your daily stressors and allow you to find ways to better deal with your stress. And, if all else fails….