Work, traffic, pandemic, social pressure and everything in between means our lives are busting to gills with stress.
Recent statistics state that over 55% of people deal with stress, anxiety and depression and that the number of people who state that they are struggling to cope with stress rose to 73%.
This lack of coping, or stress burnout, is due to the amount of stress in our lives but also the way we deal with it. If we fail to complete the stress cycle then our stress levels will consistently rise and we will be left with chronic stress.
What is the stress cycle?
The stress cycle goes back to our ancestry and our biological design. It’s the moment at which our bodies learn that, after facing danger, we are now safe: the completion of the full circle of stress.
Let us illustrate this simply by an ancestor swimming from a shark. Shark pops up or gives chase, the body enters fight or flight and the swimmer is filled with adrenaline and a spike of cortisol to swim safely to the beach. The swimmer is now safe on the beach and the body perceives that the threat is over, stress levels and cortisol drop back to normal, and the stress cycle is complete.
Modern stress is usually not as clean cut.
The phone dings with a news feed of a rise in COVID19 cases, your boss giving you an assignment, or a high school reunion announcement. Your body enters fight or flight the same way as it would facing a shark, and yet there is no safety of the beach. You scroll through social media or the news instead and keep getting hit by stressors, panic, eat a pack of Oreos, and numb out with Netflix.
The problem is that instead of completing the stress cycle, you keep piling on top of it, leading to chronic stress activation which can lead to high blood pressure, burnout, depression, and weight gain.
The Connection Between Weight Gain and Stress
Stress hits us two ways when it comes to weight gain or weight retention hormones and emotional eating.
When we enter the stress cycle in the flight or fight level, our body slows down its gut function to save energy for the flight and also releases cortisol, a stress hormone to spike energy.
Normally, cortisol levels drop after the stress is gone BUT when stress is chronic, cortisol levels remain high.
But what does cortisol do?
Cortisol stimulates your fat and carbohydrate metabolism, creating a surge of energy in your body. While this process is essential for survival situations, it also increases your appetite. Additionally, elevated cortisol levels can cause cravings for sweet, fatty and salty foods aka “comfort foods.”
An excess of cortisol also can lead your body to produce less testosterone. This may cause a decrease in muscle mass, as well as slow down how many calories your body burns on a daily basis.
Not only does it mean we keep a hold of a fat storage and makes it difficult to lose weight, with a lower metabolism, it tends to hold our fat storage around our abdomen.
Besides cortisol’s craving for carbs, sugar and salt, we have our own emotional tendencies for foods as well. The pint of ice cream after a breakup, the beer after a long day of work, or the fast food as a last minute dinner grab.
We may think: “It doesn’t count because i’m stressed” or “I deserve this because it has been a long week” or “The chips will help with the unease in my gut” or “I don’t have time to make an actual dinner – fast food it is” or we don’t think at all and just plow through the bag.
Either way, our normal habits go out the door when stress takes over our hormones and emotions leading to overeating, poor food choices, and lack of sleep – which leads to further hormone imbalances and food choices.
Risk of High Stress
Depression, high blood pressure, insomnia, heart disease, anxiety, and obesity are all linked to untreated chronic stress.
The risks associated with weight gain include:
- high blood pressure
- reproductive problems
- a decrease in lung and respiratory function
- an increase in joint pain
Ways to END The Stress cycle
In order to mitigate the negative effects of stress, you need to cue to the body that the stressor is over and that you are safe.
Which is NOT adding more stress on social media, or numbing/ignoring the emotions with Netflix or eating more food.
When you’re feeling stressed, there are several small steps you can take to calm down, including:
- exercise gently for 20 to 30 minutes – best defense as it mimics flight or fight in a safe environment. Take down the shark 😜
- practice 10 minutes of deep-breathing– immediately releasing counter hormones and lowering cortisol levels
- get outdoors and enjoy nature
- nourish your body with a small snack
- cultivate social support (aka, phone a friend), ask family for help
- eliminate one item on your to-do list – this releases immediate dopamine
- take a 10-minute yoga break, practice meditation
- listen to music while reading a book
- go to bed one hour earlier
- be kind to yourself
- say “no” to one thing that may add stress, less stress = fewer stress cycles to complete
MARINA WELLNESS WEEK – Jan 3-8, 2022
If you enjoyed this post and would love to learn more, joining us at our 2022 Marina Wellness Week, January 3 to January 8!
Marina Wellness Week will be a chance to meet local health and fitness professionals, enthusiasts and newbies, exercise together and learn about the options you have to make 2022 YOUR year.
Programming features workshops and seminar style sessions by Monterey Bay Moves, CSUMB, the Blue Zones Project, Nau Haumana and the Monterey Stinging Jellies Disc Golf club.