The world is STRESSED right now... Are you?
I know I am... (and how does stress eating factor into it?)
There’s a lot of STRESS in the world right now.
That’s likely an understatement, too…
There’s the daily stress that we deal with around our jobs, our relationships, raising kids, deadlines, physical stress from workouts, etc.
But there’s also global stresses which can impact us (sometimes without us even knowing it)...
Like, COVID, which we are/have been in for the past two years… fingers crossed we’re on the other side of it for real this time.
Like, war and threats of nuclear weapons. (This might sound ignorant, and I’m NOT attempting to decrease the significance of this event, but I’ve actually be trying to decrease my time spent thinking about this because the added emotion/worry/wondering how far I’d need to go from my house to clear the radius of a nuclear weapon is actually something I’ve considered and that feels like A LOT.)
Like, the construction noise that has been going out outside my house for the past two years.
Like, the stress of planning and attending upcoming events.
Like, global warning and the fact that we’re not doing enough to mitigate the impacts for ourselves and future generations.
Like, watching the market/crypto/investments roller coaster-ing over the past few months.
Like, the current housing market.
Like, worrying you’re getting “too old” to do the things you want to do.
Okay… I admit it… this is a list of things I’m personally stressed about…
Me right now:
And I imagine you might be stressed about some of those items too, and could likely add your own stressors to the list as well.
To an extent, some level of stress is GOOD for us and we need it. When we exercise, we put appropriate levels of stress on our systems so that we can make gains. Or, we feel stress around vulnerable situations to inherently seek safety. Some of those are needed… but the ones that just pile on top or operate as constant worry in the background can be TOUGH.
I feel that.
And when we are stressed, our body releases a hormone called cortisol, which can have various impacts on us.
Cortisol plays a role in the body’s response to physical and psychological stress. When we experience stress, cortisol levels rise. This rise has the power to influence our behaviors.
As stated above, with acute stress, like that of a workout, our appetites are typically suppressed. However, with more chronic stress or worry, that can cause an increase in consumption of higher calorie foods, which can lead to weight gain.
Thus, this continued feeling of stress can lead to a number of challenges… undesired body composition shifts, increased anxiety or depression, digestive issues, pain, and difficulty sleeping.
(This is also one of the reasons why I dislike the recommendation of, or reliance on, “willpower” around food choices. We’re talking about real physiological impacts here, which may be outside of our control, not necessarily something you can just change by trying harder… *steps off my soap box*)
Anyway, a 2017 study showed that higher stress and cortisol levels leads to a higher amount of weight gained over a 6 month period.
Okay, we understand the potential causes and the impacts of stress… but what can we do about it?!
First of all, we can attempt to minimize general stress by:
Getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night
Limiting caffeine intake (especially in the afternoon/evening)
Curating our exposure to our social/news networks as needed to protect your own well-being
Do activities that you know help you relax and feel good! Walking, journaling, napping, exercising, spending time with loved ones, etc.
If we’ve done our best to decrease the stressful intakes, we can also support ourselves to deal with our stresses and emotions as they come up.
The first piece of this is NOTICING that it’s coming up in the first place.
Then, when you notice that you’re feeling some type of way, see if it’s possible to support yourself in a way that does not involve food first. This may seem simplistic, but I actually really appreciated this chart shared by Precision Nutrition about identifying feelings and suggestions on ways to help them:
In sharing this, I’m not suggesting that if you’re feeling sad and you cry you’ll magically be all better. I am sharing this to say that “using food” to try to feel better is usually not effective, can lead to more feelings of sadness or guilt, and it’s worth diving deeper into what we’re feeling to see if there are other paths to try before we eat/drink about it.
And sometimes we decide to eat/drink about it anyway… and if that’s the case, do your best to make sure you’ve also eaten some nutrient-rich fruits/veggies/proteins in addition to the more indulgent food choices. And, aim to eat until you’re 85% full, not 110%. And remember that one indulgent day won’t “ruin” your progress.
And lastly, when things get challenging, I invite you to look at the positives as best as possible. Focus on what you ARE able to accomplish around your food, workouts, sleep, etc, even if it’s not “perfect.” Sometimes focusing on the pieces that we WERE able to accomplish can be more beneficial than dwelling on the pieces that weren't perfect. So, if you are able to shift your focus to the positives, AND continue to notice where challenges/stress/feelings come up, then we can each strategize around them moving forward.
Through it all, I recommend giving yourself some grace as you're navigating your feelings and emotions. Keep doing your best.
So, I guess the point of this blog post was to share some facts and strategies about stress and cortisol, but mostly just to say that I’m right there with you if you’re feeling extra anxious, worried, or stressed lately. Sending love and peace to you and the world!
If you have suggestions on stress-relief strategies or how to decrease stress eating, please feel free to share in the comments.
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I appreciate you!