Researchers have known for years that physical stress is detrimental to our health and well-being. It is only recently, however, that psychological stress has become linked to a number of health complaints. In fact, a study conducted by researcher Paula Rhode, PhD and her colleagues revealed that higher stress and depression were linked with weight regain, typically due to seeking comfort from food, especially calories from fat.
How we handle stress is up to us, but it could make a difference in weight loss success.
Rhode revealed in the study, “Incorporating stress- and mood-management techniques into future weight-loss programs may help to prevent or delay weight regain that occurs as a result of poor coping and/or increased high-risk or unhealthy behaviors.”
How Stress Affects Us
Most of us are all too familiar with the feeling of being stressed: your heart races, your breathing becomes rapid and shallow, your blood pressure rises and your hands become cold or clammy as blood flow is directed to your arm and leg muscles in preparation for escape. This is our initial response to stress, otherwise known as an adrenalin rush. The relaxation response is just the opposite: breathing rate slows and deepens, muscles relax, blood pressure lowers, pulse rate slows down and more blood flow is directed to the organs of digestion. It is this state that is best for our mind and body.
Under chronic stress, whether it is physical, emotional, mental or environmental (i.e. cold temperatures), real or imagined, the stress hormone cortisol is released. Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands (stress glands), two small glands that rest on top of the kidneys. These glands release adrenalin, as an immediate response to stress and cortisol under prolonged periods of stress. Both adrenalin and cortisol are necessary in small amounts for us to adapt to stress effectively. In high levels, however, they are harmful.
It seems that mental or emotional stress is the most harmful to us because it is not followed by a relaxation response in the way it happens with most physical stress. As long as the perceived stressful event remains in our head, we remain in a heightened state, just a notch above a resting, healthy, balanced state. Over time, this leads to permanent harmful changes in our body.
Three Ways to Handle Stress Effectively
Avoid foods and products containing caffeine. Caffeine raises our stress hormones. Green tea is one of the few products containing caffeine that is less harmful than others because it also contains a naturally calming compound called theanine that blocks the effect of stress hormone. You can also purchase L-Theanine in pill form. Eat protein with each meal and snack. Protein helps to maintain steady blood sugar levels. Changes in your blood sugar levels can worsen stress-related symptoms.