Managing Stress

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We all experience stressful situations but, how do you identify and avoid prolonged periods of stress and what’s your plan for when it happens?

Stress is a response to any stimulus that overtakes, or threatens to overtake, the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis, or our body’s equilibrium of internal biological mechanisms.  In other words, when your body is exposed to stress, or anticipates stress, regardless of the source, it anxiously fights to remain safe.  We call the response to stress “fight or flight” though, it’s the host of chemicals released by the body during this process that troubles us in our modern world.


Acute Stress Vs Prolonged Stress

The biological response to stress doesn’t know if you are being chased by a predator or having a disagreement with your boss.  Our stress response mechanism is designed to respond to acute physiological stresses- ones that place stress upon our body for only short periods of time, like preparing for battle. The reality is most of us carry stress around as if perpetually preparing for battle.  And therein lies the problem and the connection to weight and well-being.  Stress is necessary and is largely responsible for our success as a species, however, prolonged exposure to stress is a modern phenomenon that we simply are not adapted for.  It is the long term exposure to stress that can lead to weight gain, hormonal imbalances, disease, loss of sleep and pre-mature death.


Stress and Metabolism

The body releases insulin in response to food or in anticipation of the arrival of food, but during periods of stress, the body will inhibit the release of insulin as it favors catabolic or breaking down processes.  This catabolic function provides fuel during periods of stress and then allows the body to restore energy reserves during periods of recovery.  But, when your body is chronically stressed and there is no increase of energy expenditure, these mobilized fuels are not utilized.  Our biological response mechanism kicks in to increase the desire for food even though we really have no need to eat. This response often overrides our regulatory processes of hunger and helps explain why 2/3 of people experience an increase in appetite when stressed. Simple carbohydrates and sugar are our bodies’ preferred fuel source because they break down quickly. In a stressful situation we call these foods “comfort foods” because they literally restore lost fuel expended during the stress response.  Reaching for bad food isn’t just a lack of willpower, sometimes you’re fighting brain chemistry!


What is the brain telling the body to do?

  • Stress kicks out energy as calories to burn in a “fight or flight” emergency and stops insulin from releasing, so those calories must be used or the stay in the blood as sugar.
  • Prolonged stress can leave you hungry and crave comfort food even if you haven’t moved an inch.
  • Getting stressed out is like eating ice cream from simply having the experience and then wanting a craving more ice cream because you need to recover the fuel you just wasted.



Strategies to deal with stress?

  • Anticipate Stress

Knowing that stress is normal and being aware of the things that stress you out the most gives you an opportunity to be prepared.  Have a protocol for times that you know or think you know are going to be stressful.

  • Breathe Right

Mammals naturally breath by using their diaphragms to expand the belly. Taking deep diaphragmatic breaths (belly breaths) can quickly calm you down. Breathing using the chest muscles, on the other hand, is a part of the stress response to consume additional O2. Breathing through your chest is a good way to stay stressed out.

  • Exercise

Exercise is the body’s natural remedy for dealing with stress. The purpose of the stress biological stress response is to provide energy for you to utilize in movement. Don’t waist it. Use it towards your fitness plan.

  • Nutrition

Two thirds of people experience an increase in appetite when stressed. Preparing healthy snacks to eat will help you prevent a blood sugar spike.

  • Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do for nearly every bodily function.  Sleep plays a role in hormone production, metabolism, your ability to stay calm and literally every other part of the stress response.


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