Can stress have an impact on my body – and my weight?

Yes! People often underestimate the potential impact of stress on their bodies. Stress triggers the physical “fight or flight” response from your body, which can directly impact your blood pressure, circulation, breathing, muscles, and senses.

Stress can affect your immune system, making us more susceptible to illness and infections. Over time, stress can exacerbate the conditions that can lead to hypertension, stroke, heart disease, depression, alcoholism, gastrointestinal disorders, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulitis.

Stress and Weight

Stress can also have a direct impact on your weight. Many of us reach for food as a coping mechanism to manage stress and tension. Studies have also shown that cortisol, a hormone that increases when you’re stressed, can cause carbohydrate cravings and make it easier for your body to store fat. When stress is prolonged, serotonin, the brain chemical that controls mood and energy, becomes depleted. When you consume carbohydrates, especially simple sugars with fat (such as a donut), serotonin levels are temporarily increased, which only triggers more cravings. This cycle can lead to weight gain.

Managing Your Stress

Learning positive ways to manage stress can be a key component to staying healthy and managing your weight. Try to be conscious of your body when your stress levels start to mount (a stiff neck, aching back or throbbing head are telltale signs) and take steps to soothe yourself before your cortisol climbs.

Here a few ideas that can help reduce stress when you feel it coming on:

  1. Take a few deep, soothing breaths and consciously relax your jaw.
  2. Get up from your desk, stretch, and take a quick walk down the hall
  3. Eat a well balanced diet
  4. Involve yourself in challenging activities
  5. Sweat it out during a workout

Exercise is the best tension management tool and body fat burner we have; it increases levels of serotonin in the brain, thereby decreasing cravings for carbohydrates. Walking 4-6 days per week for 30-45 minutes is very effective.

Besides helping you manage stress, finding ways to relax can also help decrease food cravings. Some people use medication, yoga, deep breathing, self-hypnosis, and music to relax. It’s important to find a form of relaxation that you look forward to, so that you will practice it regularly.