Lets admit it. We all experience some degree of stress. Between work, kids, finances and everything else we are constantly battling “stress mode.” Whether it’s good stress or bad stress, the body responds in the same way: we enter “fight or flight.”
Initially, you may notice a loss in appetite but after prolonged periods of stress you may find yourself eating more food, more often. For many, stress results in sleep disturbances, whether it’s initiating or maintaining sleep. Evidence shows a link between the amount of sleep you get a night and the hormones leptin and ghrelin. When you don’t get enough sleep (less than 8 hours), leptin levels go down leaving you feeling unsatisfied and wanting more food. Ghrelin levels rise, increasing your appetite. When you don’t get enough sleep you’re more likely crave processed, high-sugar foods filled with empty calories and no nutritional value.
The stress hormone, known as cortisol, affects a number of systems in the body including the thyroid and pancreas. The thyroid is responsible for metabolism and chronic stress slow the metabolism down by impairing thyroid hormone production. This results in the thyroid having to work harder to produce sufficient amounts of thyroid hormone.
Stress also affects the pancreas, which is the organ responsible for releasing insulin and controlling blood sugar levels. Elevated cortisol levels cause your blood-sugar levels to skyrocket so that you can “fight or flight.” Chronic blood-sugar imbalances lead to cravings, insulin resistance (type II diabetes) and fat storage.
The reality is that stress is impossible to avoid. We may not be able to control the stress triggers in our lives but we can certainly work to control how we respond to stress and how we cope. Below are my 3 favorite tips for managing stress.
1. Breathe. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. When you breathe deeply you send a message to your brain to calm down and relax. All it takes is 3 deep breaths to reduce tension and relieve stress. Practice deep breathing by putting one had on your chest and the other on your belly. When you inhale, you want to feel your belly pushing out. When you exhale, you should feel your belly go back in.
2. Exercise the stress away. Studies show that all it takes is 7 minutes of physical activity to lower cortisol levels. You don’t have to commit to 60-minutes at the gym but you do need to get your body moving. Take a walk, jog or even download a free app such as “Seven” that not only helps to reduce stress but also helps reduce cardiovascular disease and fat.
3. Avoid sugar. Food DOES equal mood. It’s easy to turn to high-sugar, low calorie foods when you’re in a state of stress but the best thing you can do is avoid these foods all together. Refined sugar not only causes spikes in blood-sugar levels (contributing to insulin resistance); sugar affects brain function and can lead to anxiety and other mood changes such as irritability and panic.
If you have difficulty losing weight or have experienced weight gain or fluctuation, stress may be a major contributing factor. Make sure you manage your stress and if you need some extra help reaching your goals, get in touch with our Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Shelly Reitkop, N.D.