An interesting paradox about the way people process stress is that while some eat less during stressful periods, others eat more. A large number of people who have gained weight complain of stress.
Stress is linked not just to weight gain but a range of other health problems — from the common cold to heart disease, diabetes, and asthma.
Some questions to help see if stress makes you eat more
- When working on a deadline or towards a goal, do you feel like eating more?
- If you have to get something done quickly, would you want to be eating something (or drinking something sweet)?
- If something is not right in your life or environment, does eating something make you feel better?
If your answer to any of these questions is a ‘yes’, you will need to have a solution that addresses your response to stressful situations.
Real life offers many stressors. The solution is to have strategies in place that will help you navigate stressful situations without doing any harm to your weight loss goal.
Two strategies to counter the ill-effects of stress
Both the strategies listed below rely on you being mindful of what’s going on, that is, realising that you are experiencing a stressor. Once you know what’s going on, you could:
- Have a list of alternative activities handy. For example, when you have to finish something in a hurry, instead of having coffee, you could have a glass of clear, cool, water with a lemon rind in it. Other positive and/or harmless activities to deal with stress include: having a chat with a friend or well-wisher, going for a short walk and making something creative with your own hands, such as craftwork.
- Understand what stress is and reduce it. Experts call stress a fascinating interplay between the body, the mind, and the environment. Each of you responds to the environment in a unique way. Imagine flying a plane: for a first-time pilot, this is usually a high-stress event. The same thing, for a seasoned pilot, is just a regular day at work. The ways in which people respond is also quite different. On roads, for instance, a driver who cuts you off without a signal may make you full of anger or feel sick with fear — both these are reactions to a particular event. The good news is that everyone who experiences stress can benefit from an appraisal of the stressful event and by learning relaxation techniques.
Many of you who are employees know this word as an HR technique to check your performance, but psychologists have used this technique to help people see what’s happened and then determine how to respond to it. When an event occurs, this technique calls for looking at the usual way in which we perceive and interpret this event, and calls for a revaluation.
For example, a visit by a particular relative can be a particularly stressful period for many of us. The appraisal method of stress reduction calls for looking at actually what happens, and then looking at your reaction to it. A negative comment from a guest can lead to a blow to self-esteem, anger, and depression in one person. Another person might start blaming the guest and strike back in some self-defeating way. A third might take the feedback on board and come up with ways in which the guest’s expectation can be managed such that the period of stay can be more harmonious.
Relaxation technique 1: Relaxed breathing
Practise deep breathing at a regular time and in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Loosen or remove any tight clothes you are wearing, including shoes. Make yourself feel completely comfortable.
Sit in a comfortable chair which supports your head or lie on the floor or a bed. Place your arms on the chair arms, or flat on the floor or bed, a little bit away from the side of your body with the palms up. If you’re lying down, stretch out your legs, keeping them hip-width apart or slightly wider. If you’re sitting in a chair, don’t cross your legs.
Good relaxation always starts with focusing on your breathing. The way to do it is to breathe in and out slowly and in a regular rhythm as this will help you to calm down.
Fill up the whole of your lungs with air, without forcing. Imagine you’re filling up a bottle, so that your lungs fill from the bottom.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Breathe in slowly and regularly counting from one to five (don’t worry if you can’t reach five at first).
- Then let the breath escape slowly, counting from one to five.
- Keep doing this until you feel calm. Breathe without pausing or holding your breath.
- Practise this relaxed breathing for three to five minutes, two to three times a day (or whenever you feel stressed).
Relaxation technique 2: Deep muscle relaxation
This technique takes around 20 minutes. It stretches different muscles in turn and then relaxes them, to release tension from the body and relax your mind.
Find a warm, quiet place with no distractions. Get completely comfortable, either sitting or lying down. Close your eyes and begin by focusing on your breathing; breathing slowly and deeply, as described above.
If you have pain in certain muscles, or if there are muscles that you find it difficult to focus on, spend more time on relaxing other parts.
You may want to play some soothing music to help relaxation. As with all relaxation techniques, deep muscle relaxation will require a bit of practice before you start feeling its benefits.
For each exercise, hold the stretch for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat it a couple of times. It’s useful to keep to the same order as you work through the muscle groups:
- Face: push the eyebrows together, as though frowning, then release.
- Neck: gently tilt the head forwards, pushing chin down towards chest, then slowly lift again.
- Shoulders: pull them up towards the ears (shrug), then relax them down towards the feet.
- Chest: breathe slowly and deeply into the diaphragm (below your bottom rib) so that you’re using the whole of the lungs. Then breathe slowly out, allowing the belly to deflate as all the air is exhaled.
- Arms: stretch the arms away from the body, reach, then relax.
- Legs: push the toes away from the body, then pull them towards body, then relax.
- Wrists and hands: stretch the wrist by pulling the hand up towards you, and stretch out the fingers and thumbs, then relax.
- Spend some time lying quietly after your relaxation with your eyes closed. When you feel ready, stretch and get up slowly.