It’s fitting that April is Stress Awareness Month, being that I, along with so many of my friends, classmates, and colleagues, are suffering from anxiety and malaise lately. For me, it’s the perpetual reprioritization of school assignments and business ventures, both time-sensitive, that have me shirking my self-care. I also thrive on sunshine and all we’ve had lately here in the northeast has been clouds, rain, and more clouds and rain. Being in the health and wellness field doesn’t mean I don’t suffer the same triggers and effects as the rest of the population when it comes to mindlessness and emotional eating. In fact, that sometimes adds to my stress because I should know better and do better and be the example to my clients and everyone else in my circles, but I’m only human.
I realize it’s easier said than done, but reading the research and other information that’s out there lets me know I’m not alone and has helped me gain control––even if only temporarily––over some of my knee-jerk reactions when it comes to dealing with stress. I’m sharing the following with you in hopes that, if you are dealing with stress in your life, this might help quell your angst as well.
When it comes to overall wellbeing, I believe four factors play a role: food, mood, sleep, and exercise. Stress can affect any one of those and when one falls down, they all fall down. In regards to hunger, specific hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, insulin, and ghrelin are responsible for the food choices we make1. Being stressed also tends to leave us sleep-deprived and unmotivated to exercise (or motivated to drink alcohol), which can contribute to weight gain2. But, when we overeat, comfort eat, and/or deny ourselves sleep and physical activity, we end up feeling guilty and, most likely, more stressed for having made poor decisions, falling off the wagon (if we were on one to begin with), and needing to start all over to get back on track to health.
Obviously, focusing on a healthful, balanced, nutrient-dense, mostly plant-based diet can help support us in times of stress and in general as some anti-oxidant foods can also act as anti-anxiety foods3, but how do we get to that mindset when we’re already so far down the rabbit hole?
One small step you can make is to clear the clutter, both figuratively and literally. Stop to reassess the true problem at hand, take a breath and step aside for a moment to get your thoughts together and decide what the next step should be, focus and figure out if there’s anything you can do to get rid of the stressor(s) in your path, forward plan to be sure you’re getting enough breaks during the day and the week so you can enter into challenging situations with a clear head to begin with instead of an already muddled one, watch a funny show, reach out to friends who can talk you down from the ledge you’re on and help put things back in perspective, meditate for 10 minutes or go punch something (preferably an actual punching bag) for 20, tell someone you love them, and, while you’re at it, tell yourself the same.
- Lebre, M. (2016). Stress and weight management — Learn about the body’s physiological responses to stress and effect stress has on weight management. Today’s Dietitian, 18(4), 42.
- How stress can make us overeat. (n.d). Harvard Health Publications website.
- Naidoo, U. (2016). Nutritional strategies to ease anxiety. Harvard Health Publications website.