Stress causes the trifecta of weight loss failure: it makes us overeat, zaps our motivation to exercise, and by exhausting us, makes us more sedentary. I have seen many patients fail to lose weight simply because the stress in their life wasn’t allowing them the time or the energy to develop healthy lifestyle habits. Is this you?
Stressors can be rocks or boulders. A rock is a stressor that causes discomfort but probably doesn’t require a major life change. Rush hour traffic, being late for a meeting, and/or a long day taking care of children are good examples. A boulder, on the other hand, is one that probably won’t be resolved without a major life change. For example, an unsatisfying job or relationship, doing poorly in school, a house that is falling apart, or lack of meaning in life require big changes. The first approach to truly overcoming your stress will be to determine whether you are dealing with rocks or boulders.
If you are dealing with boulders, then there are no easy fixes to help you overcome them. The best course of action is seeking counsel by a professional or a friend to figure out what changes you need to make to get to a better place in life and how to go about doing so as soon as possible. Being stuck with a boulder on your shoulder for long periods of time will slowly erode your health and rob you of the energy to live a healthy lifestyle. Get help in moving the load.
If your stressors are rocks, they can still feel pretty heavy when they add up. Pick something new to try from this list of stress management strategies to see if it lightens your load.
1. Get Social. In this age of social media, we seem to spend less time having deep, meaningful conversations with loved ones. Texting and Facebooking are great for saying hi, but more meaningful social support can only be had with full-fledged conversations. Find pockets of time for conversation with your spouse, a friend, or family member to share the trials and tribulations of your day. For example, cook a meal together or go for a walk or play cards instead of watching TV. People with strong social support are more resilient to stress so try to solicit deeper social support in your life by making time for it.
2. Commute Makeover. The commute to and from work can add to the stress of the work day or it can help to reduce it, depending on how you use the time. If you are bored of the same old radio and feel eager to get home because your stomach is growling, then the commute is not helping. Find a podcast (e.g., all of NPRs shows can be listened to online via your phone anytime), audiobook, or new Pandora station to stimulate your mind. Pack a light snack to prevent impatience that is spurred by hunger pangs. Another idea is to use this time to call and chat up a friend who may be suffering through his/her commute across town.
3. Deep Breathing. Stress speeds up the heart rate and jacks up blood pressure which makes us feel even tenser, making for a vicious cycle. To prevent the physiological cascade of stress from escalating, take 10 deep and slow breaths. Each breath should take 5 seconds to inhale and 5 seconds to exhale. Notice what your body feels like as you take control of your respiration. Your heart slows, your muscles relax, and you feel calm.
4. Lighten Your Load. Stress happens when we have a bigger load than we can carry. When we get super busy it becomes hard to calm down enough to ask for help. Think of one task you can fairly delegate to someone else. Is there a child in the house who could do some laundry? Could your spouse take over some of the grocery shopping? Could you hire someone to do some light housework? Make a to-do list every Monday and then identify at least one task that could be delegated to someone else.
5. Me Time. When stress really gets out of control, all time for yourself gets squeezed out. Reclaim time for yourself. Make a list of “me time” activities that you find stress reducing. Examples might include a hot bath, a 15 minute yoga video, meditation, reading a book, or going for a walk. Make sure you set time aside on most days to decompress with one of these activities.
6. Rediscover your hobbies. What ever happened to hobbies? People used to spend more time engaged in hobbies, but hobbies seem to have given way to DVR, cable TV, and the internet. Hobbies are better for stress reduction than TV and internet because they provide a sense of mastery, fulfilment, and accomplishment. Allocate some of your down time to a long forgotten hobby or a new one you always wanted to start. This is a great way to rejuvenate your mind at the end of the day or on a weekend.
Do you have some go-to stress reduction habits? Please share in a comment!
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