Stress causing you sleepless nights? Pulling at your hair and gritting your teeth only to discover (as if you needed more stress) that your pants don’t fit anymore? If you’ve been going through a period of higher than usual levels of stress, you may have noticed gaining a bit of weight, especially around your midsection. While short term stress can lead to weight loss, chronic stress can actually increase our appetite.
Adrenalin & Cortisol
At times of high stress, our bodies respond in a way they have evolved to – by preparing to fight or flee. This causes a rush of adrenaline to harness stored energy, then cortisol which signals that energy needs to be replenished. This is great in a fight or flight situation, but doesn’t often to apply to our modern lives! Our body tells us to replenish calories we haven’t actually used. Suddenly we’re craving those tasty comfort foods and that’s when we start piling on the pounds.
Here are our tips for effectively dealing with stress related weight gain:
Get Better Quality Sleep
Our sleep is one of the first things to suffer when we’re stressed and it’s a big contributor to weight gain. Follow these tips to improve your quality of sleep:
1. Read a book in bed
The best books to choose are those you can become fully engrossed in but that aren’t overly stimulating (avoid stressful themes!). This is a great way to focus your mind away from worries.
2. Turn off your phone
Avoid using your phone or a tablet in bed which can over stimulate the brain. Keep the bedroom separate from anything work related.
3. Practice a simple meditation
First focus on taking deep breaths into your tummy, paying attention to the rising and falling of your stomach. Then working slowly from your head to your toes, focus on one area of your body, imagine it relaxing deeply and sinking deeper into the mattress. If you notice your mind wandering, just gently bring your thoughts back to that area of your body.
Healthy, Satiating Foods
Unfortunately, when we are suffering from chronic stress, it’s rarely spinach and bananas we find ourselves craving! Follow these tips to improve the quality of your diet:
1. Keep the junk food out
We may craving sugar and fat, but eating these will only lead to further hunger and cravings. Keep satisfying but healthy snacks in the house. Things like unsalted nuts, hummus, guacamole, and fruits like pineapple and berries are great at satisfying cravings.
2. Healthy comfort foods
Cook healthier versions of your favourite comfort foods rather than trying to avoid them. Add extra veggies and use whole grains for a boost of fibre. There are lots of resources online for healthy recipes, or check out our series of healthy versions of comfort foods.
3. Mindful eating
When we are stressed and distracted, we might find ourselves rushing through meals and snacks, sometimes while multitasking doing other things. It can be difficult to eat mindfully if there’s a lot going on, so keep in simple. Try to slow down when you’re eating, put your cutlery down between mouthfuls and pay attention to signs of being full. Set yourself the rules of only eating at a table, turning the TV off and keeping your phone out of the way.
4. Avoid late night snacking
Eating close to bedtime can affect your quality of sleep. It’s best to have at least 3 hours without food before you hit the hay.
Of course, the best way to deal with weight gain related to stress is to work on fixing the cause. Here are our easy to use tips for reducing stress.
1. Alternate nostril breathing
This simple breathing exercise can be done anywhere, at any time, and it’s super effective at instantly calming us down. Gently hold your right nostril closed with your right thumb, take a deep exhale into your belly then your chest, hold for a few seconds, then hold the left nostril closed with your index fingers and exhale through the right. Now hold your left nostril closed with your index finger, inhale deeply then hold, close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale. Repeat 5 times.
2. Gentle exercise
While intensive exercise has many benefits and can make us feel great (not to mention burning more calories), putting the additional stress on our bodies isn’t always a great idea when we’re suffering from chronic stress. Try some gentle exercise like yoga, walking, Thai Chi or swimming for fantastic stress relief.
3. Make time for yourself
Sometimes self-care gets put on the backburner when we have a lot on. But not taking time to look after ourselves can increase our stress and leave us feeling run-down and burnt out. Even if you only have a few minutes spare, take time to for yourself. This could be running a hot bath, doing a face mask, or even simply sitting down for a cup of tea. Whatever your self care involves, try to take time out for it each day.
4. Take a bath or shower
A bubble bath can be very therapeutic, release tension in our bodies, and allow us time out from all the other things we have to do. If you don’t have a bath, taking a long uninterrupted shower can be equally effective.
5. Draw or play a musical instrument
Creative and artistic hobbies can be a form of meditation. It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw or aren’t musical, no one is judging your skills! Anything from colouring books, to knitting, or carpentry (and everything in between) will engage your mind and bring you to the present. Just chose something you enjoy!
6. Keep a journal
Journaling our thoughts and feelings when we are going through tough times is a great way of getting things off our chest and clearing our mind. It can be useful to record the time of day and what you were doing to see if there are specific things triggering stress, that you could make changes around.
Do you have any stress relief tips you could add? Perhaps you tried some of these tips? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments!