Is stress taking a toll on your body? The signs of stress are not always obvious, so it’s important to watch for these warnings.
Persistent stress triggers the adrenal glands to work overtime pumping out stress hormones, which in turn ramps up our appetite, making you more likely to grab a cupcake than a carrot. Once you get your sweet fix, the sugar rush goes straight to the ‘reward’ centre in the brain, creating a vicious cycle of mindless overeating, irrespective of hunger.
The Fix: Rather than act on impulse, stop, pause and take five deep breaths! Deep breathing can help transition the body into a calm state by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system) which functions to slow down the heart rate and clear the mind, helping you become more mindful of food choices.
Ruminating thoughts and waking up startled with worry is another way stress weasels its way in to your daily life. At the end of a long day, you should feel tired enough to drift into a peaceful sleep. However, feeling under the pump can activate the fight-or-flight mechanism making it difficult to fall and stay asleep. The knock-on effect is poor concentration, exhaustion (and potentially burn out), mood swings, and stress-induced ‘junk food’ cravings – all of which can impact your exercise and physique goals.
The Fix: Create a digital detox hour to help you unwind before shut-eye. Use this hour to have a warm bath, sip herbal, listen to calming music or stretch. By creating a pre-sleep ritual, you’re establishing a clear association between certain activities and sleep.
Chronic stress deactivates your body’s natural self-repair mechanisms. And since your body has been working overtime during this stressful period, it hasn’t had any time to actually recover, leaving you vulnerable to every cootie you encounter.
The Fix: Listen to your body when you feel under the weather and make time for rest and sleep. Switch to more gentle forms of exercise like restorative yoga, walking, and stretching to help bolster the immune system back up again.
When stress lingers for a long time, cortisol (stress hormone) levels continue to rise and potentially remain elevated – in which case, the body actually resists weight loss, despite your best efforts to eat well and exercise regularly. Why? Your body presumes you’re in strife and you might starve, so it hoards the fat you eat and deposits it around the mid-section reserving it for the next panic-worthy situation.
The Fix: Be sure not to leave too long in between meals. Long breaks between eating can set the scene for a ‘sugar hunt’ to curb your hunger but leave you empty one hour later. Keep your blood sugar levels stable with regular meals and snacks that focus on fibre-rich carbs (fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes) and lean sources of protein (fish, nuts, eggs, tofu, beef). This combination can actually help to keep hunger at bay and ward off sugar cravings by keeping your blood sugar levels on an even keel.