How would you rate your stress levels right now?
If you’re like most Australians, chances are you’d describe yourself as stressed — maybe not every minute of every day, but each day brings a level of stress to you and your family.
Stress levels in Australia
Recent research shows that around a third of corporate Australia is affected by either depression, anxiety or stress. Teenage kids are also feeling the effects of stress, with more than half of them reporting stress around exams and academic performance.
And we bet that when your kids are stressed, you’re a little stressed too. Are we right?
What is stress?
Stress is actually a normal reaction and occurs whenever there is a change in your environment. Your body reacts to these changes with physical, mental and emotional responses. Stress can have a positive effect on us — causing us to be alert, motivated and ready to avoid danger. This is called the ‘fight or flight’ response and is activated as a survival mechanism.
However, too much stress becomes a negative force. When you face continuous challenges without relief, or too many stressors at once, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, tense and ‘stressed out’. This means that the stress response is activated continuously, and this is not good for your physical or mental health.
How stress affects you
Stress can cause a number of health issues including headaches, nausea, high blood pressure, chest pain, and sleep problems. It can also lead to depression, panic attacks and other forms of anxiety and worry. It can also worsen symptoms of other medical conditions. Research has shown that chronic stress is linked to heart disease, cancer, lung illnesses, accidents, liver disease and suicide.
To make things worse, many people turn to substances or behaviours as a way to deal with their stress. They may binge eat, drink excessively, rely on tobacco or other drugs or engage in other addictive behaviours, like gambling.
How stress affects your weight
Stress and weight gain are also closely linked. This is because chronic stress elicits responses in your body that make losing weight difficult.
The first is the release of cortisol. This is a hormone that is released when you’re stressed. Cortisol increases your appetite, increases your cravings for junk food and makes it easier for your body to accumulate belly fat. Research now indicates that stress can cause you to burn less calories.
To make things worse, chronic levels of stress interfere with sleep. Good quality sleep is essential for weight loss. Lack of sleep has also shown to increase your appetite and your hankering for junk food, thereby increasing your intake of calories. Poor sleep also lowers your metabolic rate, which means it’s harder to lose weight.
And to complete this vicious cycle, poor sleep increases your stress levels.
What can you do to reduce stress?
First of all, you need to stop and breathe! Then look at the things that are causing your stress and weight gain and see if you can eliminate them, or reduce their impact on you. Accepting that you can’t control everything, and keeping a positive attitude can help.
Relaxation techniques and taking time out for yourself can also reduce stress enormously. Regular exercise, good nutrition and plenty of sleep will also help you cope better with the things that you can’t control.
These things can help you in the short-term. But a sure-fire way to reduce the effects of stress in the future is to understand what causes you stress in the first place.
What causes stress?
You might think you know what causes stress. Certain situations in life can be very stressful — death of a loved one, loss of a job, or even moving house. But these stressors are usually short-lived and over time, don’t carry the same level of stress about them as they do initially.
Of course, there are everyday pressures that can lead to stress and weight gain — being too busy, financial pressures, raising a family, relationship problems and being worried about the future.
However, there are many other things — habits — that you’re unaware of, that may be causing you a great deal of stress without you even realising. These include:
- not liking who you are
- trying to keep everyone happy
- comparing yourself with others
- worrying about what other people think of you
- putting the needs of other people before yours
- trying to do too much
- being on a diet (i.e. restricting your food and calorie intake)
- trying to be perfect
- judging yourself
- engaging in negative self-talk
- having unrealistic expectations
- feeling you’re not good enough.
CHANGE YOUR HABITS TO REDUCE STRESS AND LOSE WEIGHT
If you can relate to any of the above, then you may need to change your way of thinking. The behaviours above are simply habits. And when you recognise habits that don’t serve you anymore, then you need to replace them with healthier ones. You can read all about how to do that in our blog How to break your bad habits.
Of course, if stress is having a major impact on your physical, emotional and mental health, seek help from a trained professional.
At Imani Tribe Transformations, we help our clients reduce stress so they can lose weight. Because reality is, the most perfect exercise and eating program will still fail to get anyone results if stress is a factor. So we help our clients address the habits that are causing them undue stress and contributing to their weight issues. We help them replace these habits with healthier ones, so their bodies will respond in a way to get them the results they crave.