Stress, overeat, feel guilty, restrict, repeat… does this cycle sound familiar to you?
Stress has been proven to significantly impact our ability to maintain a healthy weight. It can make it more difficult to lose weight. Whether it’s the result of high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, unhealthy stress-induced behaviours, or a combination of the two, the link between stress and difficulty with weight management is clear.
We often feel like there is nothing we can do about stress. The bills never stop coming, work and family responsibilities are always demanding and there never feels like there are enough hours in the day to get everything done. But we have a lot more control than you might think! Stress management allows us to take charge – of our thoughts, emotions, lifestyles, and the way we tackle problems. No matter how stressful your life seems to you, there are strategies you can put into practice to manage your stress and take back control.
WRITE A TO-DO LIST EVERY DAY
Write a list of everything you need to do each day. Rather than letting this list overwhelm you, accept that you can not do everything at once and start to prioritise and your tasks in order of importance. Make a note of what tasks you need to do personally and which ones can be delegated to others. This will help you break it down your list into a series of smaller, more manageable tasks spread out over a realistic time frame. Remember to keep some time free to deal with unexpected and time-sensitive tasks, and to include time for your own relaxation as well!
USE RELAXATION TECHNIQUES
Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule. Don’t allow other obligations to take away from this time. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and recharge. Come up with a list of healthy ways to relax and recharge that you enjoy doing and try to implement one or more of these ideas each day, even if you’re feeling good. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Meditate (there are some great apps available that will guide you through it)
- Go for a walk
- Spend time in nature
- Call a close friend
- Relieve tension with a workout
- Write in your diary
- Take a long bath
- Light scented candles
- Enjoy a warm cup of coffee or tea
- Play with your pet
- Spend some time in the garden
- Get a massage
- Read a good book
- Listen to relaxing music
- Watch a movie that makes you laugh
Don’t worry if you find it difficult to relax at first. Relaxation is a skill that needs to be learned and you will improve with practice!
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF SLEEP
A lack of sleep can be a significant cause of stress. Not to mention how it also keeps us awake with constant thoughts going through our mind about all the things we need to do. Instead of relying on sleeping medication, your aim should be to optimise your sleeping environment and bedtime routine to increase your relaxation. It is best to avoid caffeine during the evening, as well as excessive alcohol as these can lead to disturbed sleep. Avoid doing any mentally demanding work too close to bedtime so that you give your brain time to wind down.
DON’T FOCUS ON THINGS YOU CAN’T CONTROL
Unfortunately, some sources of stress are completely unavoidable. We can’t prevent the emotional stress caused by the death of a loved one, or the physical stress caused by a serious illness. In these cases, the best way to cope with the stress is to just accept things as they are and know that things will get better. Acceptance may be difficult at first, but it will be a lot easier than trying to combat a situation you can’t change. Many things in life are beyond our control—especially the actions and behaviour of other people. Instead of allowing your stress response to take hold, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems. Look for the positive in every situation when facing major challenges, try to see them as opportunities for personal development. If a stressful situation is attributed to your own choices, reflect on why this happened and learn from your mistakes.
LEARN TO SAY NO
One of the biggest causes of stress is having too much to do and not enough time in which to do it. On top of this, many people will agree to take on additional responsibility, causing MORE stress! Learning to say “no” to additional tasks will help to reduce your stress level, and can also help you develop more self-confidence. Many people find it difficult to say “no” because they want to help and are trying to be nice or polite. Others fear conflict, being rejected or missed opportunities. These barriers to saying “no” are all created by you. You may feel reluctant to respond with a definite “no” at first but by practising some pre-prepared phrases to let people down more gently, you will become more confident!
MOVE YOUR BODY EVERY DAY
Stressful situations increase the level of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in your body. Physical activity plays a major role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress, and you don’t have to spend hours in the gym to reap the benefits. Just about any form of physical activity can assist in relieving stress and reducing feelings of anger, tension, and frustration. Exercise releases endorphins that elevate your mood and make you feel good. Not to mention it can also be a great distraction to your daily concerns.
While it is recommended that you exercise for at least 30 minutes a day to gain the most benefit, you can build up your fitness level gradually. Remember that even small activities can add up over the course of a day. The most important thing is to get yourself up and moving!
ACCEPT YOUR ROLE IN YOUR OWN STRESS
Changing jobs, moving home, or the loss of a loved one are easy to identify as sources of stress but it can be more complicated to pinpoint sources of everyday stress. People often overlook their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours – all of which contribute to your stress levels. Your work deadlines may be a source of worry, but it could be your procrastination that is causing you stress, rather than the actual demands of the job. Take a look at how you manage things and your habits to identify your sources of stress:
- Do you define stress as temporary even though you can’t remember the last time you took a break or time out for yourself?
- Do you define stress as a normal part of your work or home life or as a part of your personality?
- Do you blame other people or outside events for the cause of your stress?
Accepting responsibility for the role you play in creating your own stress, is the first step in getting it under control. It all starts with you!
The most efficient way to take control of your stress and potentially avoid overreacting to an event is to reach out to someone. Communicating what you are going through can be very therapeutic, even if there’s nothing you can do to change the stressful situation. Reach out to family and friends and connect regularly in person. The people you talk to don’t have to be able to fix your stress; they just need to be there to listen and help you feel comfortable and safe. Here are some strategies:
- Have lunch or coffee with a friend
- Reach out to a colleague at work
- Ask a loved one to check in with you regularly
- Go to the movies or a concert with a friend/family member
- Go for a walk with an exercise buddy
- Schedule a weekly dinner date with someone
- Make an effort to meet new people and create new connections
Have a go at including some of these stress management strategies into your day and see which ones work for you!