By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Stress is something that most of us feel at one time or another. I’m constantly talking to both clients and Guided Reboot participants about how it affects our health. So, what’s the deal with stress, is it good? Is it bad? From a motivational perspective, there’s a positive side to stress because it can be a good motivator to get things done. But from the negative side, there’s a lot that chronic stress can do to our bodies that’s not so good.
When we’re stressed there’s a lot that goes on inside our bodies, and it’s a lot more than what meets the eye. Stress causes us to go into a mode to protect ourselves — hormones are released, heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, the process of digestion slows, and our bodies go into a mode that allows us to get out of a potentially dangerous situation. When we’re in that dangerous situation, this system is fantastic and works really well; however, when we aren’t in immediate danger, and instead face chronic stress this system may not be so effective. While many of the characteristics of the fight or flight scenario like elevated heart rate and blood pressure (to a certain extent) may normalize in a more chronic stress situation, there are other lingering effects such as stress hormones that continue to linger and wreak havoc on sleep, weight, our immune system and so much more.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that our bodies produce in response to stress and also to low blood sugar levels; cortisol works to return our bodies to a place of “normalcy” after a stressful experience. Besides stress, there are also other things that can elevate cortisol levels; these include not getting enough sleep, alcohol and caffeine.
Cortisol does a lot in our bodies and has a major effect on many different processes. When released in excess and over time, cortisol, acts to do the following:
One of the major side effects of cortisol and stress is challenged weight loss. Of course cortisol on it’s own can affect how our bodies uses and stores fuel by maintaining more elevated blood sugar levels that can contribute to fat storage in the abdominal area. Also, indirectly, stress can affect weight loss and weight management on it’s own. For example, when we’re stressed we may have interrupted sleep (remember this too can increase cortisol levels on it’s own!), make less-healthful food choices, be less likely to stick to our gym routine, and generally be off of our healthy-living game.
While we may not directly be able to affect how much cortisol is floating around our bodies, we can certainly impact how we handle stress by implementing activities and routines to help reduce stress and ensure that we make good choices, get enough sleep, and move.
Meditation and yoga can be overwhelming for some, but it really is one of the most powerful ways to bust stress. Both meditation and yoga promote deep, strong breathing that can help to promote stress relief, tension release and muscle relaxation (muscles can certainly get tense when stress is involved!). Try starting with a 5-minute practice of closing your eyes and breathing deeply to get you going.
Learn more about the benefits of yoga.
One of the most important aspects of dealing with stress is acknowledging the stress or negative emotion, as it is almost impossible to let it go otherwise. Find out how the power of permission can help you stay on track.
Keep yourself on track by ensuring that you have healthy options on hand. Letting yourself get hungry without good options to go for can make it hard (for anyone) to stay on track. Keep a list of the things you’ll need for the week including meals, juices and snacks so that when you head to the grocery store you know exactly what to purchase. Here are 6 easy and fast grocery store shopping tips.
Making exercise a priority can help to promote stress relief, restful sleep and weight management. If you’re feeling super stressed it can be helpful to plan to do something that you absolutely love, or something that doesn’t necessarily feel like a workout- zumba and walking with a friend are two of my favorites. Schedule your exercise into your calendar and try not to let anything get in the way. Try this quick workout here: A 20-Minute Do-Anywhere Workout
This is so very important because simply getting enough sleep can positively affect how well we’re able to deal with stressful situations, can help to keep our immune system strong, and can also help to keep our hunger hormones in-check. When we’re tired, hunger hormones get thrown off, making satiation and making the right choices even harder. Plan for at least 7-8 hours nightly. Here’s how the lack of sleep can affect your health.