I bet we can agree, 2020 was THE year of chronic stress worldwide.
First the raging pandemic. Now newly reported COVID-19 mutations. Coupled with the political chaos of the Trump presidency, then the presidential race itself. Followed by the actual election and the absurd claims about fraudulent election results. Well, well, well, haven’t we got ourselves one heck of a recipe for a nasty brew of chronic stress?
Oh, and let’s not forget the January 6, 2021 insurrection in the hallowed halls of the US Capitol building. Despair and grief keep compounding beyond our wildest imaginations.
Now, let’s add to ALL OF THAT the everyday stressors that permeate our lives.
So many stressors, so little time to process them all the way through.
While they vary from person to person, financial, job, relationship, scheduling demands and conflicts can accelerate the pressure and intensity our emotional load.
Of course, each of us has our own way of understanding, interpreting and coping with the world. What may seem dangerous or threatening to one person may be perceived as a challenge or all in a day’s work for another.
We experience two distinct types of stress: acute stress and chronic stress.
Acute stress is the kind that throws you off balance, but only temporarily. It comes on quickly, often unexpectedly, and doesn’t last for long. It can look like anything from the panicky feeling that rises when you accidentally leave your wallet on the supermarket check out counter to a spat with your partner to an unwarranted snide remark.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, tends to linger and can build over time. It can be anything from a humming undercurrent in the background of your life to periodic intrusive thoughts to a daily assault on your well-being that continuously upsets your equilibrium.
Acute stress is normal and your body is designed to process it efficiently.
From previous posts, you probably remember that your brain’s primary purpose is to keep you alive. I talk about that a lot. You know, that ol’ procreate and populate imperative. Therefore, scanning for danger is the brain’s default responsibility so you’re able to carry out your primary responsibility of perpetuating the human species.
When the brain detects the slightest hint of a potentially dangerous situation, it throws us into acute stress mode, activating our fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol flood the body. Once we’ve avoided or escaped the “danger” the situation resolved itself, these protective hormones recede and dissipate.
Your body returns to a state of relaxation.
Chronic stress hijacks your health.
Chronic stress, or poorly managed stress, may lead to elevated cortisol levels that linger and drive increased appetite.
This type of stress may leave you feeling wrung out like a used dishrag. Your motivation sapped. Your joy dampened. It can lead to burnout if not effectively managed.
When your body is constantly triggering stress hormones and hasn’t had a chance to recover before the next wave hits, chronic stress sets you up for a host of health issues. Think cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety, irritability, depression and weight gain.
Yes, chronic stress can even cause weight gain.
Here’s how chronic stress can contribute to weight gain.
- Stress drives many people to over eat and over desire certain foods. Comfort food comforts. Weight gain is often the unwanted result. In addition, those comfort foods you probably crave when stressed are generally laden with sugar. The dopamine hit our brain registers after consuming sweet tasting foods does make us feel better in the moment, but only briefly.
- It causes the body to produce more cortisol over a longer period of time. Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy, in addition to stimulating insulin release and maintenance of blood sugar levels. Since the end result is an increase in appetite, weight gain or difficulty losing unwanted pounds is the outcome.
- Cortisol promotes body fat, especially around the stomach. This fat has been referred to as “toxic fat,” since abdominal fat is strongly correlated with the development of cadiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes.
- Constant stress can even increase the number of fat cells we generate.
- Stress often disrupts sleep.. Less sleep can produce chronic fatigue which causes ghrelin, the primary hunger signaling hormone, to rise. It can stimulate us to want to eat, even at times we don’t actually need more fuel to energize our bodies.
Recurring thoughts can trigger or exacerbate chronic stress.
Negative thinking can be a hidden cause of chronic stress.
Just consider that every day your brain entertains around 60,000 thoughts. Those thoughts that run on repeat become hard-wired into a well-practiced internal dialogue. Because of the constant repetition, you grow to believe that these sentences in your mind are true, factual even.
But when your harsh inner critic is fast at work creating doubt, anxiety, worry and fear, we owe it to ourselves to question every one of them.
And the good news is you NEVER need to accept any thought or idea your brain serves up that drags you down. It’s always your choice to refuse and revise.
Examine your internal dialogue.
When your self-talk is dominated by that harsh inner critic, it’s important to examine your thinking through the process of writing a Thought Download.
For a detailed description on how to do this, check out this previous blog post.
When you can identify thoughts that are increasing your stress, you can challenge and change them.
Remember that the brain is an answer seeking machine. It will search for evidence to confirm whatever you tell it to beleive.
You can ask powerful questions like these:
- Is that true?
- Can I be sure that it’s true?
- How is the opposite of that thought ALSO true?
- What is the evidence that supports the opposite thought?
- What do I CHOOSE to believe?
Breathing exercises can reduce stress.
Breathing exercises can reduce stress by increasing oxygen exchange. This reduces your blood pressure, slows the heart, and releases any tension held in the abdomen.
These physical changes also benefit your mental state. Concentrating on your breath can bring you into the present, into a state of mindfulness.
Breathing exercises are particularly effective during periods of chronic stress, when your body is trapped in that “fight or flight” response mode.
Deep breathing is one of the simplest exercises you can do to relieve stress.
Here is a deep breathing tutorial recommended by Calmer.
Start by getting comfortable. Loosen any restrictive clothing, and find a position that is comfortable for you – this may be sitting down, laying down, or if that’s not possible, standing up.
In your comfortable position, rest your feet on the floor, and moving your arms a little way away from your body.
Now, through your nose, let your breath flow deep down into your abdomen, expanding the chest and stomach naturally, without forcing it.
Exhale out through your mouth, slow and steady, matching the same amount of time it took to inhale. It may help to count to five on each inhale and each exhale.
Repeat steps 3 and 4, concentrating on your technique and timing, slow and steady, in and out.
Keep doing this for 3-5 minutes, or until you feel calmer.
My weight loss coaching program addresses managing stress and restorative self-care.
Let me know you’re ready to make your weight loss realistic and easier than you ever imagined possible.
Managing chronic stress and incorporating self-care practices into your routine can accelerate your weight loss.
Schedule your free Strategy Call with me so we can see what’s possible for you by clicking right here.