Stress. What is it?
Stress can be defined as a state of mental, emotional or physical strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.
Stress is something that everyone experiences from time to time and it’s a completely normal reaction to changing or challenging life events.
*Stress becomes a problem when the stressors we experience continue for prolonged periods of time without relief. If you feel you are experiencing chronic stress, please reach out to your GP.*
While we can’t avoid stress at all costs by removing every potential stressor from our lives (we’d probably never have jobs, children, travel, or do anything slightly challenging to help us learn and grow as people) we can learn to manage our stress and use tools to help us to release and even prevent it.
In this blog we discuss stress in relation to the 5 lifestyle areas that we support with Gloji, our digital weight management application. These are: Mind, Sleep, Nutrition, Alcohol and Movement.
First, it helps to understand and even befriend stress, after all, our body’s stress response is designed to help us and keep us safe by making us alert, motivated and ready to avoid danger. This was essential for our early ancestors to avoid environmental threats, when it was a matter of life and death; however, most situations we experience today (like meeting a deadline, for example) are rarely life and death like they would have been back in the day. Our stress response can make them feel that serious though. It uses up a lot of our energy and can be very demanding on the body and the mind.
So how do we ‘fight’ stress?
Well, rather than making stress an enemy to fight against, it might help to think of stress as someone or something to work alongside.
In times of stress, perhaps repeating a statement like the following to first acknowledge your thoughts and feelings might help.
“I understand that my thoughts and feelings right now are trying to help me, protect me and prepare me for this stressful event.”
You might go on to add “However, these thoughts and feelings are not helpful right now so I’m choosing to let them go.”
A simpler reply might be saying to your stress response either out loud or in your head “Thank you very much, I am listening.”
In the modern day, rather than a threat to life, stress can signal to us that we have too much on our plates and need to slow down and rest. If this the case, listen. Taking some time out for yourself, no matter how busy you might think you are, is essential to recharge and avoid burnout. So, what ever it is you enjoy and find relaxing – do that! Maybe it’s reading a good fantasy novel with a cuppa.
If your initial thought after reading that is, well, I’m too stressed to find anything relaxing, then maybe it’s time to try some mindfulness techniques. Here’s a couple we’d recommend:
Breathing Techniques - Box Breathing
Connecting with your breath can help you to quiet the mind, get back in tune with your body and return to a relaxed state. Box Breathing is one technique that you can use to do this.
1) Breathe in slowly and feel your lungs expanding with air while counting to 4.
2) Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
3) Slowly exhale feeling the chest flatten while counting for 4.
4) Hold for 4 seconds and then repeat.
Here’s a short video explaining the technique: Box Breathing
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PGMR)
PGMR is a technique which teaches you how to feel and release tension in different areas of the body starting from the top of your head, all the way down to your toes. This technique can reduce tension/stress headaches, stomach aches, calm the nervous system and help you to relax enough before bed in order to fall asleep.
Here’s a guided 15min tutorial on Progressive Muscle Relaxation and if this one doesn’t resonate with you personally, there’s many others to try.
Stress can stop us from sleeping or cause us to sleep too much when we get burnt out resulting in us neglecting our responsibilities and causing more work and stress for our future selves. We all know that sleep is necessary for cell rejuvenation and that most of us require around 7-8hours a night to function optimally, for some 6hours might be enough, although others may need 9hours.
What can you do to sleep better?
Practice good sleep hygiene.
You know the stuff, reducing blue light and screen time before bed, avoiding caffeinated drinks after 2pm and avoiding drinking too much alcohol(more on that later) can all help you to sleep better.
Routines and habits are great for regulating your circadian rhythm, so if you can go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day, do. For night shift workers, or those with babies and young children following a regular and uninterrupted routine might be difficult or near impossible – so focus on what you can control, rather than causing yourself more stress around the things you cannot help.
Think of yourself as Goldilocks, the environmental conditions for you to sleep need to be juuust right. Too light? Too warm? Too cold? Too noisy? It just won’t do! Sleep in a dark room with blackout blinds/curtains and use a sleep mask if necessary. Keep the room temperature cool and comfortable and wear lose, non-restrictive Pyjamas. Use ear plugs if you live on a busy road or with a loud snorer. Alternatively, listening to a sleep meditation, white noise, or some ASMR might work well for you.
If you’re stressed or worrying, try doing a ‘Brain Dump’ before bed. This is where you put pen on paper and write out any upcoming to do’s you have, reminders of things you don’t want to forget or any worries currently occupying your precious brain space before going to bed. It doesn’t have to be perfect, neat, or organised – just get it all out. This should allow you to relax and let go of your worries from the day and thoughts of what’s coming up tomorrow. Anything important will be right there for you to read over the morning, and anything unhelpful can be scrapped!
Lack of sleep is also related to the food choices we make, weight gain and obesity. How? Lack of sleep makes us more tired, meaning we have less energy to go about our day-today life and therefore want more food to provide us with that energy. We’re also much more likely to opt for a quick and easy takeaway that’s much higher in calories when we’re tired. If we’re getting technical about it, sleep deprivation increases ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and decreases leptin, the satiety, or feelings of fullness hormone. You can read more about the links between the mind, body, stress and sleep in Dr.Chatterjee’s book The Stress Solution.
Which leads us nicely onto the next pillar of nutrition.
Stress can make it difficult for us to eat well and lose weight, but eating a balanced and healthy diet is key to helping our bodies manage the physiological changes caused by stress.
Many of us are emotional eaters, meaning we turn to food when we are stressed, anxious or low in mood resulting in overeating and weight gain, and likely some discomfort, bloating or gas because when we are in a stressed ‘fight or flight’ state blood flow is diverted away from the digestive system making it more difficult for us to digest our food.
On the other hand, others when stressed tend to have a reduced appetite and struggle to eat or simply don’t find the time to take lunch, however, it is just as important to avoid skipping meals as it is to avoid over-eating.
Our Top Tips:
Get a healthy breakfast and avoid caffeine first thing on an empty stomach. Our cortisol levels are already highest in the mornings after we wake up and drinking a black coffee on top isn’t going to help manage stress and anxiety levels.
Help to stabilise your blood sugar levels throughout the day by eating regular meals, avoiding too many highly processed foods, and reducing foods high in processed sugars.
Eat the rainbow to get a wide range of vitamins, minerals and nutrients – remember your 5-A-Day.
Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and combat headaches that you might by more likely to experience as a result of stress.
If you’re looking for support with diet and meal ideas, Gloji has plenty of tasty recipes for you to try out that are quick and easy to make! (Let us know if you give any a try by tagging us on our socials! @glojihealth).
Experiencing stress can often lead us to engaging in unhealthy coping habits, like drinking more, and while we’ve all had a drink in the evening to wind down after a stressful day, making this a regular habit can soon become a problem. Instead of reaching for the bottle, try managing stress in other ways, such as through mindfulness or movement (coming up).
It is a common misconception that alcohol helps us to sleep better. While it might make us feel drowsy and allow us to drift off, it effects the quality of our sleep and over time this starts to impact our day-to-day lives and our ability to cope with stressful events.
Furthermore, people who suffer from anxiety are more likely to experience anxious feelings after drinking. So, although using alcohol to dampen nerves and manage stress in the present moment might sound like a good idea, the rebound anxiety effect can be far worse (not to mention the worry and regret we experience after making risky choices while under the influence).
Alcohol is another factor that can cause imbalances in blood sugar levels, with many alcoholic drinks containing a high amount of sugar, that’s not a great addition to your already high blood sugar levels due to stress.
Meet up with friends for an alcohol-free activity or give someone a call for a chat. Sometimes it is the social interaction we really crave and benefit from, rather than the social act of drinking.
Remember, it’s recommended to drink no more than 14units of alcohol per week, spread across at least 3 days and you should aim to have at least 2 consecutive alcohol-free days per week to reduce the risks of drinking.
Gloji has plenty of help and tips to offer for those who are wanting to cut down on their alcohol. Not only can cutting down help with stress and sleep, but it can also help you to save money and lose weight!
The final pillar, Movement. Movement is a fantastic way to release stress and tension and get those feel-good endorphins flowing around the body.
Whether it’s putting on your favourite tunes and doing a bit of a dance around the kitchen to ‘Shake it Off’ by Taylor Swift, focusing all your might and strength to lift heavy at the gym, or rolling out the yoga mat –step away from your stressors and move your body.
Regular exercise can help you to relax, sleep better at night, decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, improve mood and increase your self-confidence.
Bonus points if you can find a way to move your body out in nature, such as a bike ride around the lake or walk through the woods. Evidence shows that being out in nature can reduce stress and anxiety and boost feelings of happiness and wellbeing.
We hope this blog gave you something useful to take away with you to help you to manage stress.
*Stress becomes a problem when the stressors you experience continue for prolonged periods of time without relief. If you feel you are experiencing chronic stress, please reach out to your GP.*
If you’re looking for support with weight loss that takes into account all areas of lifestyle and wellbeing, then take a look at Gloji, our new digital weight loss application that helps you to discover how one area of your life impacts another and how small and manageable changes make it possible to achieve big ambitions.