A few posts back I wrote about ways to bust through a plateau. One of the things I listed that could be a factor in stalled weight loss is stress.
Stress is unfortunately a huge part of modern life. I know I am often a victim of it, letting little things get to me that really shouldn’t. I find myself with my shoulders up to my ears for no reason or clinching the steering wheel while driving.
I became acutely aware of my stress levels recently for a couple reasons. One, probably the most important one, is the relationship strain it was causing. My husband is a wonderful, helpful and very easy going man. When he’s had enough, you know there is a problem. The other reason was my own attempt to lose those last few nagging pounds of fat. I wasn’t going anywhere and I knew stress was probably part of the problem.
It’s not that I am a stress eater, at least not anymore. Before I started this journey I would often let my emotions dictate my food choices. Thankfully I got that under control early on. However stress causes things to happen in the body that are counterproductive to health and weight loss.
Stress makes the body produce more of a hormone called cortisol. When truly needed cortisol is beneficial in releasing fuel to the body. In an emergency where you need to move quickly or be alert, it’s a good thing. The problem is constant stress. Consistently elevated levels of cortisol (which also leads to elevated insulin levels) can encourage fat storage. It also goes without saying that stress is bad for your overall health.
These increased hormone levels can cause imbalances in the body which can lead to other issues like disease (think type 2 diabetes), increased inflammation (a key factor in heart disease) and premature aging. Even if we can get past the physical side effects stress is detrimental to our mental health, productivity and overall quality of life.
So we know stress is bad. What can one do about it?
For me I have always used exercise as an outlet to let go of stress. I can remember days, during my previous career, that were extremely stressful where exercise was truly my only relief. I would come home, make dinner as quickly and as peacefully as possible, then go to the gym. Only after that did I feel like myself again.
Recently I have looked to another form of stress reduction. We’ve had a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Meditationon our bookshelf for years but I have never read it. My stress levels over the last few months have been off the charts, so I figured now was the time to dust it off and see what it had to say. I had to find a way to bring back some focus and peace.
I have to say the book has been fantastic. I told my husband that I feel more relaxed just reading it. I have tried a couple of exercises and really feel like they are starting to make a difference. Don’t get me wrong, I still have some stress going on but it’s not as bad as it was for sure. I am making progress.
One exercise that I have found highly beneficial is about gratitude. I have been doing it every night and find it helps put my day in perspective and quiets my mind a bit before bed.
The exercise is to list something you are grateful for that involves one of the five senses. For example, if I were doing this exercise today for my day thus far it might look a little something like this:
- I am grateful for the smell of my morning jasmine green tea.
- I am grateful for the feel of my husband’s hug as sends me off to the Farmer’s Market.
- I am grateful for the taste of homemade protein bars
- I am grateful for the sound of the birds outside while I do my yoga.
- I am grateful for the sight of morning sun.
If you are like many of us, struggling with the pitfalls of daily life, I recommend giving this a try and looking for other ways to reduce the stress in your life. Exercise, meditation or yoga are all fine examples and will go a long way in supporting your journey to health and fitness.