Hey, on a scale of 1-10, how stressed out do you feel right now? Are your shoulders tight? Is your breathing shallow and uneven?
With everything going on around us (as I'm writing this, we are still knee-deep into the first wave of the COVID-19 virus here in Houston. The pandemic epicenter of Texas), stress levels are understandably HIGH. And all of this added stress could be killing your health, fitness, and physique if you're not careful.
In this post, I'll show you why that may be the case. Plus, I'll let you in on a few of my personal strategies for putting stress right where it belongs.
If you've subscribed to my email newsletters, or follow me on social media, you know I've been focused on metabolism this month. I know many people feel like they could use some help after the lockdowns earlier this year. Especially if there were tons of goodies to eat as we lounged around the house!
So … on to the subject of this post: stress.
Our bodies have a love-hate relationship with it. Some stress can be useful for you. Our bodies are incredibly adaptable and can actually IMPROVE when under pressure.
For instance, working out places specific stressors on your body, and in response, it usually gets stronger and more fit.
The same thing happens when you work really hard on mastering a new skill, which is another form of stress, your body and brain respond by getting better at it.
However, that doesn't mean that because a little stress is good for you, a lot is even better.
Here's a quick synopsis of what happens when you get stressed.
Let's say you're at work, and your boss drops a massive last-minute project on your desk … Plus, you have less than a day to get it done.
First comes the awesome... Wow! They obviously trust you and are confident in your abilities! But then comes the second – woah... How the heck are you going to get it all done?
Stress to the rescue! At that point your body immediately releases a bunch of hormones to heighten your senses to either attack the problem head-on, or run away. Yes, it's the classic "Fight or Flight" syndrome.
Unfortunately, this is your job that we're talking about, and you can't "technically" run away. And while this is fine once in a while, if this heightened stress response becomes a constant issue, as it did for many people during the lockdown this year, it can lead to real problems.
Here's what I mean. When you are overly exposed to stress, stress hormones – like cortisol and adrenaline – build up and can cause a long list of issues for your body… including lowering your metabolism …
First, cortisol can give you intense cravings for high fat, high sugar comfort foods.
These high carbohydrate foods ignite your brain's "reward centers," giving you a temporary chemical reprieve from your stress – and they make it easy to slide into a pattern of overeating junky, highly processed foods.
Several years ago, a study found that women who ate a high-fat meal after feeling stressed out the day before actually burned less calories (about 100 fewer) the next day.
Plus, they had higher insulin levels, which promotes fat storage, and tends to shunt it into areas that are the worst for your health – like your belly and around your organs.
So … what can you do?
The most significant thing would be to BE MINDFUL and listen to your body.
Have you ever noticed how sometimes you'll just be living your life, working, or going about your regular business, and all of a sudden you realize your shoulders are incredibly tight? Or your jaw is clenched? Then you wonder, "how long have I been walking around like that?"
Sometimes you'll discover that you're breathing is shallow, which is another sign of excessive stress left unattended to.
Here is how this usually happens; stress sneaks up on you over time. Then, before you know it, stress overwhelms you. That's why it's essential to work STRESS MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES into your regular lifestyle!
The fantastic thing is that these techniques actually FEEL GOOD and leave you feeling recharged!
Plus, they can help undo the detrimental effects stress can have on your metabolism.
This can be as simple as finding ways to work "alone" time into your day to recharge. If you're really busy with family and work – and many of us are! – this can be as simple as listening to music you enjoy while carrying on with your tasks.
The key here is intention: Be deliberate with this time and give yourself permission to relax.
You can also experiment with breathing exercises or meditation. There are plenty of Smartphone apps designed specifically for this. Some fitness trackers even have a breathing feature designed into them. These are great tools and really do help! (If you've tried any of them, please leave a comment and let me know which you like best!)
Another idea is to cut back and figuratively "clean house" on anything that causes you a lot of stress. For example, if you find that scrolling through your social media makes your blood boil, perhaps you should take a break. Or, at the very least, unfollow the accounts that make you feel that way!
The same goes for network news – if it makes you feel overly tense, stay informed, but don't let yourself get consumed by the daily ups and downs in the media!
Now, you know I have to bring up the subject of exercise (it's what I do!), but it's only because exercise can be a major stress buster.
Exercising helps you feel better and revs your metabolism in several different ways. Your body's response to exercise is to release endorphins, which are neurochemicals that act as natural painkillers. These endorphins help cut stress, and they also help you sleep, which is another big stress buster.
An added bonus is that working out is great for your metabolism because all that physical activity literally helps you burn more calories.
That said, stress overload can still impact your metabolism in a profoundly negative way. So, I repeat; it's definitely worth the effort to work in some stress management into your daily routine!
If you need help getting a better grip on your metabolism, then let me invite you to join my 5-Day Metabolic Jumpstart Challenge and discover the small dietary, health, and lifestyle swaps you can do to enhance your body's energy burn naturally. BONUS: these steps easily build one upon another and work synergistically to help you feel amazing!
Join now and you'll get a complete step-by-step program PLUS daily coaching from me. It's all yours as my free gift to you, to say thanks for being such a loyal reader.