Fight, Flight, or Eat: How Stress Affects Our Bodies
Money, jobs, relationships, illness, kids, misbehaving family members – life is full of stressors. But sometimes, what really stresses us out is – us. We all take on too many commitments. And women, in particular, try to be everything to everyone, fix all the problems, and make every single person in their lives happy. That’s too much pressure for anyone to handle so it’s no wonder if you reach for moral support in the shape of a chocolate chip cookie!
When you’re stressed, your body goes into survival mode which causes you to over-eat, sleep less (fatigue also leads to eating more), and feel terrible – but you know that already. What you might not know is that when you’re stressed for an extended period of time, your adrenal glands produce cortisol, which increases appetite. Studies show that stress specifically makes us crave foods that are high in fat and sugar. These are quite literally “comfort foods” because they do make us feel better by inhibiting the brain’s stress-hormone receptors – but only in the short term.
So what can you do to decrease stress?
Find Your Balance
Remove the optional stressors. Some things can’t be helped, but a lot of them can. Start to be aware of the causes of your stress, and if you can get rid of them – do it! This may be as simple as not watching the evening news, or as complicated as switching jobs. If you’re running into conflict with a person, see if you can make the first move to patch things up.
For the things you can’t fix, you can improve your coping skills. I find praying works wonders, because if you can’t handle a situation, you know who can. People who have a strong spiritual life have lower levels of anxiety – and hey, you don’t have to bear your burdens alone!
De-Stressing activities like exercising, taking long walks out in the sunlight, learning a new hobby, volunteering at a local church or charity, or learning progressive relaxation therapy all help lower stress levels. The key here is finding something so absorbing that you don’t have any room to dwell on your worries. And, if you take up a hobby like yoga, you might find that some of your physical concerns melt away with the mental ones.
When you have to reach for comfort food – maximize the comfort-value. Salmon, walnuts, spinach, goji berries and avocado are all super foods when it comes to providing your brain with what it needs to relax. And, of course, chocolate – in moderation.
Time management is the real key to reducing stress, and what that comes down to is prioritizing your life according to God’s purpose for you. That doesn’t mean overcommitting yourself to helping with every cause, even though we should leave the world better than we found it. Take a realistic look at what is important to you and your calling, compared to those things that are just keeping you on a hamster wheel leading nowhere. And you – taking care of you – should be on your To Do list.