Stress is inevitable. Whether we’re preparing for a job interview or avoiding a potential car accident, our bodies respond with a series of changes that heighten our awareness and prepare us to react to dangerous, unexpected or uncomfortable situations. This speeds up our pulse and breathing, increases brain activity and tenses up our muscles. Once the immediate threat or discomfort passes, we return to functioning normally.1
The constant demands of work and home, health problems of your loved ones and yourself, troubled relationships and the problems of the world can put you in a chronic state of stress. That’s harmful to your physical, emotional and mental health.1 It can even slow your weight loss progress! Check out these seven common symptoms and signs of stress and their effects on your health.
1. Lack of energy.
While short-term stress can increase your energy levels and keep you alert, persistent chronic stress can leave you feeling lethargic and unmotivated with low energy levels.1 When you lack energy, you are less likely to cook healthy meals and get in the regular activity that helps you lose weight steadily.
2. Trouble sleeping.
You may lack energy when stressed because you can’t fall asleep or you are awake during the night.2 When you don’t sleep for seven to eight hours each night, it can impact your health and weight loss.
3. Muscle tension and pain.
Aching muscles can keep you awake at night. When your body is stuck in the “flight or fight” mode, you may feel like you are permanently clenched. That tension shows up as headaches or discomfort, jaw clenching and even serious muscle pain in the neck, shoulders or back.2 Persistent pain can keep you from being active and lead to more serious problems.
4. Upset stomach.
Your brain and your gut are interconnected. Chronic stress can lead to an upset stomach and digestive issues. According to the UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders, “Common gastrointestinal symptoms due to stress are heartburn, indigestion, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and associated lower abdominal pain.”3
5. High blood pressure.
In stressful situations, your heart starts pumping harder, causing your blood pressure to rise. Chronic stress can lead to hypertension—blood pressure that is consistently too high. Even “thinking about stressful events can delay BP recovery,” say researchers in a study, published in the journal Current Hypertension Report.4
6. Daily drinking.
An “adult beverage” can help you feel relaxed and less focused on your worries, but frequent or excessive drinking is a symptom of stress, too. In fact, alcohol is a depressant that compounds the problem. Plus, it comes with a lot of empty calories and often leads to unhealthy food choices.1 Speak to your doctor if you are experiencing this sign or if you are feeling overly stressed.2
“Chronic stress is known to alter the pattern of food intake, dietary preference, and the rewarding properties of foods,” say researchers in the journal Current Obesity Report. They found that stressed people are more likely to eat foods high in sugar and fats.5
3 Smart Strategies for Stress Management:
The good news is that there are a few proven methods of stress prevention as well as stress management strategies that can help reduce chronic stress and its damaging effects. You may not be able to eliminate the causes of stress in your life, but you can reduce their impact on your health.
1. Talk about it.
When you are alone and feeling stressed, your thoughts can get stuck in a seemingly endless worry loop. Professional counseling is a valuable tool when you can’t break out of that cycle, but simply talking to family and friends about your stress points also helps to defuse them, according to researchers, published in the medical journal Psychiatry. Their study results showed a strong connection between social support and resilience to stress.6
2. Breathe with a purpose.
Breathing exercises are a recommended activity that may help with relaxation and stress management. You can also try other activity to relax and destress, such as meditation and muscle relaxation2 Check out these two breathing techniques that reduce stress! >
3. Get moving.
Walking, working out in the gym or any other kind of exercise may help to boost your mood and prevent stress. Consider yoga or tai chi classes that take stress relief to another level. These are relaxing exercises that may help with stress management.2
Even if you just walk for 30 minutes each day (the amount of activity recommended on Nutrisystem), it can improve your health and give you a mood boost.1 It will also speed up your progress to your weight loss goal, which is one less thing to feel stressed about.
*Always speak with your doctor if you are feeling overly stressed.