This is always a weird question to ask my clients, because I'm always met with the same answer: "of course I'm stressed! I have kids and events and a crazy spouse and work and a nagging mother-in-law and I need to make more money and this and that and I want to lose weight for a wedding and all this stressthatI'mtakingonthatshouldbesomeoneelse's..."
Take a breath. Your body was not made to take this much constant beating! Historically, when cave people were being chased by dinosaurs, the adrenal gland would release a stress hormone called epinephrine. This released glycogen in the liver and muscles as an energy source for some quick fleeing or fighting. After the stress of imminent death by consumption was OVER, the cave people RESTED.
This is very different from how we deal with stress today. No, we aren't worried about being eaten, but we have a deadline on Thursday for that project we haven't started. Oh, and the kids need to get to three different activities at the same time on Wednesday night. You don't have time to make dinner, so you'll have to eat out again. You're trying to eat healthier as a family, but that's so much more expensive if you haven't planned ahead. But you're almost over budget for the month already. You also need to take the cat to the vet. Four hours of sleep really wasn't enough to get through today. The kitchen sink is leaking. The car is making that strange squishing noise again. Are any of these the end of the world? No, but combined, they make for a pretty tear-your-hair-out existence. If you're trying to lose weight or keep a fit stature, this kind of stress can add another issue to your life.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that conserves energy. When we had very little food and long periods of fasting, that slow metabolism and fat storage was key to survival. Now, chronic high levels of cortisol makes it very difficult to lose excess abdominal fat, causes a decrease muscle mass, raises blood pressure and blood glucose levels (think diabetes), and makes you feel fatigued. Remember how you get energy from your liver and muscles when you're under stress? Well, your body is going to want that back. After the adrenal gland releases epinephrine, cortisol will make you feel like you need to eat any carby thing in sight to remedy that problem.
So, how do we fix this? You can't give up work, the kids' activities, or relationships, but you can change your outlook on certain things. First, try to figure out what is stressing you out the most and decide what you can do to make a change. This might involve bringing a (very positive) friend or professional in to give you an outside look at your life. Exercise is also a great way to decrease cortisol and make you feel less stressed! Lastly, and I cannot stress this enough: take a break! Although a vacation may not always be a feasible option, take time for yourself at least once a week. Sign up for a bowling club or painting class. Anything that breaks you out of the stress of daily life!
Think it might be more than stress? Check out the signs of burnout here.
Some nutrients are also very helpful in managing stress: