How Stress Affects Our Body and Weight

How Stress Affects Our Body and Weight

Stress is the physical and mental reactions we have to our life experiences. Everyone encounters stress from time to time and it is just part of life. The goal is to either reduce stress, manage it, or eliminate it altogether.

Stressors can be major, minor, anticipated, or spontaneous. When we talk of stress, some of it isn’t always bad. “Good stress” can involve reactions to getting a promotion at work, finding out you’re pregnant, or the process of moving into a nicer house.

Despite being good things, these stressors cause our bodies and minds to react. “Bad stress also causes our bodies and minds to react. When we speak of stress, we are usually talking about bad stress. In one study, researchers reported that 70% of Americans experienced stress or anxiety every day. 

Untreated, stress can cause tension headaches, depression, insomnia, high blood sugar, fertility issues, and erectile dysfunction, backaches, and weakened immune systems. Cortisol, (a stress hormone) can interfere with weight loss. As you can see, it is important to learn how to manage stress.   

Why Weight Change Happens

Weight change can be a result of hormonal changes triggered by stress. The way our bodies respond to stress has been shown to cause changes in metabolism, insulin, and fat storage.

Chronic stress may lead to an increase in appetite, typically cravings for unhealthy food. Slowly, over the course of several months or even years of stress, your weight continues to grow.

Eating in Response to Stress

Eating as a response to emotion means eating that usually stems from a response to negative emotion or mood. It is common for people to binge eat when they are sad, frustrated, stressed, hopeless, or tired. Eating when bored is also fairly common. This type of eating isn’t meant to satisfy hunger and usually occurs in the complete absence of hunger.

In contrast to physical hunger, emotional hunger tends to:

  • come on suddenly
  • involve strong, seemingly insatiable cravings
  • persist despite a full stomach

How to manage your stress

But, since stress sometimes “sneaks” upon us, it is helpful to have “reserves” to manage.  Ideally, we build these reserves before a stressor hits, allowing us an easier experience. Here is a list of ways to handle stress:

Regular Exercise: This releases endorphins, gives you energy, helps you sleep, and builds confidence. All go a long way in stress management.

Aromatherapy: Scents can reduce anxiety and improve sleep. Try candles or oils such as Lavender, Rose, or Orange Blossom.

Write it Down: This will “simplify” or summarize your stressors and make it easier to problem solve or let go.  Writing a Gratitude Journal is also helpful.

Spend time with valued friends and family: This can release Oxytocin, which is a natural stress reducer.  “Valued” is an important word here. Limit or avoid time spent with people who “drain” you.  Use (or learn) good assertiveness skills. 

Laugh: Laughter releases endorphins that not only make you feel good, they also strengthen your immune system.

Soothing Music: Listen to music you enjoy. Pay attention to your feelings. Music is powerful and can also irritate us, make us nostalgic, bring up negative feelings, give us energy, or calm us.  

Yoga: This is not only good for us physically; yoga can be calming and spiritual.  

Try to come up with a list of activities you can use to reduce or manage stress and turn to the list in stressful times. It can be hard to remember strategies when we are in the middle of a difficult event, so when it is written out, all you have to remember is where you put the list!