When a person is under stress, hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released by the nervous system. As a result of this release, the body is primed for action. One’s senses grow sharper for enhanced focus, muscles of the body tighten, the heart beats faster, and blood pressure elevates in preparation for fight or flight. Stress affects a person’s life by providing them with the physical and sensory tools needed to handle change and certain situations, including those that are difficult or dangerous. Under normal circumstances, the stress response is a positive, natural, and necessary one.
Stress becomes problematic, however, when it does not go away as it should, when it occurs frequently, or when it is not warranted. The changes that take place in the body during the stress response are not changes that are meant to last as they also put a strain on the system. When the body fails to return to normal, numerous health problems may arise. One of these potential problems is weight gain; however, there are many others to be concerned about as well.
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Increased risk of a heart attack
- Overeating, which can result in the weight gain
- Type II diabetes
- Elevate blood sugar levels in diabetics
- Under-eating and weight loss
- Muscle pain
- Chest pains
- Muscular tension
- Depression or increased feelings of sadness
- Taking up bad habits such as smoking
- A decrease in sexual drive
Chronic stress can be overwhelming and people often seek quick ways to reduce it. Often these methods are a form of avoidance, are unhealthy, and/or mask over the real problem. Unhealthy stress coping methods must be recognized for what they are and avoided. Unhealthy methods of reducing stress include the following list.
- Overeating and/or consuming unhealthy food items as a way of calming down
- Sleeping longer and more frequently
- Take on too much work or responsibilities at once
- Drinking alcohol as a way of coping with stress
- Using illicit drugs to help calm down
- Smoking as a way of relaxing or calming oneself
- Isolating oneself from friends and loved ones
- Taking stress out on others through anger and/or violent actions
Fortunately, there are numerous healthy ways that a person can cope with stress. The following methods can help people reduce the impact of chronic stress and help prevent them from developing bad habits that are also detrimental to their health.
- Stay positive by having positive “self-talks” that are meant to replace negative thoughts or self-talk.
- Combat high stress by seeking out enjoyable activities.
- Indulge in daily activities that are fun or enjoyable.
- Take classes in yoga, meditation, or tai chi.
- Practice deep breathing exercises to relax.
- Keep a journal as writing can be a way of working through stressful situations or a way of releasing feelings about stress.
Stress is a necessary reaction that helps people through situations of change. Because stress causes a reaction in the body that prepares it for action, it is important for these stressful situations to be resolved and for the body to go back to a normal state. This doesn’t always happen and as a result the body’s constant state of alertness can be damaging to one’s health. Fortunately, there are ways that people can learn to cope with and manage these situations and reduce negative effects that include weight gain and other health risks.
- Stress Management: The American Heart Association Go Red for Women website explains what stress is and why it can become a health problem. The page also introduces additional topics for readers to click on and explore such as “How Reducing Stress Can Save Your Life.”
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Stress: Learn the answers to common questions regarding chronic stress and how it affects blood pressure and the heart. Readers are given answers to questions about medicine and stress management classes.
- Stress Symptoms: Effects on Your Body and Behavior: The Mayo Clinic provides readers with information regarding the common effects of stress. These common effects are listed on a chart and broken down into the effects on the body, mood, and behavior.
- Can Stress Cause Weight Gain?: WebMD answers the question of whether stress causes a person to gain weight and how it does so.
- Coping with Stress: The Palo Alto Medical Foundation lists ways that people can cope with stress in their lives.
- Stress Management: This thorough guide provides information on how to reduce the stress in one’s life, how to prevent it, and how to cope with it.
- Five Ways to Beat Stress-Induced Weight Gain: ABC News features this slide-show, which covers ways to avoid weight gain when under stress.
- Twenty-five Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health: The website for Health Magazine presents ways that stress can affect one’s health in a slide-show.
- Why Stress Causes People to Overeat: This Harvard Medical School newsletter discusses the reason why some people overeat when stressed.
- How Stress Affects Your Health: Click this link to read this article on the American Psychological Association website. The article discusses how stress affects health and what people can do about it.
- Stress: The relationship between diabetes and stress is covered by this article on the American Diabetes Association website. Ways of reducing stress are also discussed.
- Relaxation, Stress and Sleep: Information on this page includes symptoms of stress, suggestions for reducing stress, relaxation exercises, and more.
- Weighty Issue: Stress and High-Fat Meals Combine to Slow Metabolism in Women: An Ohio State University article discusses the results of a study on how stress affects the calories burned after eating a high-fat meal.
- How Stress Affects Your Weight: This presentation from Albany Medical Center covers how stress affects the body, as well as how to manage stress and weight.