Stress: A Hidden Factor in Weight Loss?
Beep! Beep! Beep! You have to pry your eyes open to see the clock. It’s 6:10am and you don’t dare hit the snooze button again. You head for the kitchen in search of coffee, knocking on the kids’ doors as you pass. Before the water can even begin to drip through the coffee filter, your brain is trying to figure out how to get the kids up, fed and off to school, take your shower, get dressed, finish off that last report and get on the road before the traffic jam starts.
Finally, the kids are off to school. You’re dressed and ready to go when you realize you haven’t eaten. No worry, you grab another coffee and a muffin from the café on your way to the office. Work is crazy, as usual….Between meetings, while eating an apple and sipping your fourth cup of coffee, you realize you forgot to pay the bills last weekend. Then your daughter calls to remind you that she has soccer practice tonight.It’s 5:06pm and you can’t wait to get home. But you first must drop off clothes at the cleaners, shop for groceries, work your way through traffic to pick up your daughter at soccer and your son from day-care.
Now it’s almost 7:00pm and you cook dinner while trying to prepare for tomorrow’s meeting and help the kids with homework, and of course, get those bills paid. After dinner, exhausted looking at a pile of dishes and a cluttered kitchen, you wonder how long you’ll have to work like this. You have a final cup of coffee clean up and get back to preparing your reports for tomorrow. It’s only Monday, but you could swear it was at least Thursday.”
* From “How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy!” Copyright 2004, Paul Chek
Sound familiar? Or maybe this sounds like a walk in the park compared to your day?
These days it seems stress and the busyness of life is unavoidable. Stressors of one kind or another seem to be an inevitable part of our daily lives with mobile and internet technology meaning that we are always “on” or available 24/7. And you might also agree that despite your best efforts, you sometimes have little or no control over when and where these stressors will occur. So if you could find a better way to address and manage the stressors when they occur, wouldn’t you agree that you could expect to feel a whole lot better? But first….
How does your body react to Stress?
Our bodies have an in-built survival mechanism. You may know this as the flight or fight response, a response mechanism that served us well in pre-historic times when faced with a bear or lion – stay and fight or run away to safety. Faced with a bear or lion, our body released cortisol, a stress hormone that prepared the body to stay and fight or run away. The stress response caused elevated heart rate and blood pressure, increased sweating, blood moved from internal organs to skin and muscles in preparation for fight or flight and digestive and eliminating functions were slowed or stopped. Made sense if you’re running from a bear or lion and you’ve probably experienced some of these symptoms when suddenly faced with a frightening or challenging situation but the difference between pre-historic times and today is that once the danger had passed, our bodies reverted to a balanced state. With today’s commonly accepted busy lifestyle, the stress doesn’t seem to ever go away and we stay in a constant fight or flight state.
So what are the long term effects of Stress?
Every time our body experiences stress, it can have an accumulative effect if you don’t know how to trigger your body to revert to a balanced state. Your body does not discriminate between, physical, chemical, electromagnetic, psychic (thought patterns), nutrition or thermal stressors. Whether it’s a real threat or just our day to day activities, the body does not differentiate between stresses, it only knows it’s under stress – constantly. And over the long term, when the body contains excessive cortisol and growth and repair hormones are suppressed, this can lead to tissue breakdown, fatigue of the adrenal glands, suppression of the immune system, chronic illness and disease. In addition, poor digestion, constipation and poor sleep can result in increased belly fat and an inability to lose weight!
In a nutshell, when you have financial stress, too much or not enough food, poor food quality, bad relationships, dirty air, chlorinated water, medical drugs, industrial toxins, disrupted sleep/wake cycles, stinkin’ thinking’, too much or not enough exercise, your body will produce more cortisol and less repair and growth hormones to counteract this stress leaving you burnt out, tired all the time and could be contributing to your inability to lose those last few kilos.
But there is hope!!
Stress Reduction Techniques
Food and Water
One of the first steps in reducing stress is to increase the quality of the food you eat. If Organic food is not an option for you, ensure you eat the best quality, freshest food you can find and afford. The quality and types of food you eat can affect the way you think. So skip the last minute muffin and coffee, and above all, don’t forget to eat. Skipping meals triggers that survival mechanism and can slow down your metabolism even more. Next step is to ensure you have an adequate water intake. Among other things, insufficient water is just another stress on the body which can result in tiredness and headaches and can affect your ability to handle the stressors which come up in your day.
Many people spend the majority of their day sitting at a desk, driving in the car, sitting at meal times and ending their day sitting on the couch in front of the TV. Not a whole lot of movement happening there which can lead to decreased flexibility and muscle imbalances. Without some form of regular movement and stretching, over time, putting your socks or shoes on in the morning will become a monumental challenge. Stretching is a great way to relieve tension too as we often hold our stress in our backs, necks, chest, shoulders and stomachs.
When we think of Stress we usually think of it as all bad but that isn’t necessarily so – just as bones and muscles need physical load (or stress) to keep strong and healthy, our bodies need some level of good stress to stay healthy. Overloading muscles and bones under the influence of gravity lays down more bone and muscle fibre and more muscle means an improved metabolic rate.
Yoga and Meditation
Yoga can be a great way to release stress by stretching your muscles, focusing on your breathing and in some cases meditating for a period of time. Meditation is a great way to still your mind, even if just for a few minutes. It can lower your heart and breathing rate, increase your blood flow, initiate a deep level of relaxation, lower your blood pressure and decrease muscle tension all contributing to a return to a balanced state for your body.
Whether you choose one of the stress management techniques above or prefer to have a regular massage, walk along the beach, sit and listen to relaxing music or something different all together, the most important thing is to ensure you include stress reduction and stress management techniques as a regular part of your health and wellness regime.