You know what sucks?
Stress. Especially chronic stress.
I don’t think I’ve met anyone in my life who hasn’t experienced chronic stress. And when you’re chronically stressed, a lot of weird things happen to your body. Stress will make it harder to lose weight, easier to gain fat, and harder to feel good about anything, really.
But I’m going to focus on one particularly awful thing that happens:
Your cortisol levels get all messed up.
Just like Batman is the superhero Gotham needs and not the one they want, cortisol is a the hormone you need, but not one you want elevated all the time. It’s vilified as the “stress hormone” and while it is related to your stress levels, not all stress is bad. Cortisol, when it’s behaving properly, is great. It helps you wake up refreshed in the morning and go to sleep easily in the evening. It helps you to respond quickly to stressors throughout the day as well.
But when you’re stressed out all the time, cortisol is elevated all the time. What does this mean?
- Trouble waking up in the morning
- Trouble going to sleep at night
- Feelings of anxiety, depression, and generally poor mood
- Cascading hormone problems that make it very hard to lose fat and affect everything from appetite and cravings to sex drive, mood, and strength
Fortunately there are some simple things we can do to improve the situation. But first, a quick science lesson (don’t worry, you don’t need to get the test tubes and microscope out).
It’s high in the morning which helps you wake up and gradually decreases throughout the day so you’re tired and ready for a good night’s sleep at the end of the day.
When you’re chronically stressed, it looks kinda like this:
It’s not quite high enough to wake you up in the morning so getting out of bed is a chore, it’s elevated all day so you feel stressed out, and it doesn’t let up in the evening so you can’t get to sleep when it’s time to.
So how do you stop stress?
These are a few simple and highly effective strategies to start handling stress better lose fat, and enjoy life:
1. Sleep (7-9 hours a night with good sleep hygiene)
- Sleep is restorative. This is the time that you actually burn fat, build muscle, digest, and recover. NOT when you’re in the gym.
2. Eat Vegetables at every meal
- Vegetables and fruits contain minerals like calcium, magnesium, chromium and zinc, and antioxidants like vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid, and Co Q 10. These are very important for regulating hormones and keeping stress at bay
- Exercise can increase energy levels, help maintain appetite, regulate hormones, and help you burn fat. It also has the added benefit of tiring you out a bit so sleeping doesn’t seem as hard to do.
4. Reduce or eliminate caffeine
- Caffeine isn’t necessarily bad but being dependent on it can cause problems. By reducing or eliminating it, you allow your body to find it’s natural rhythm and energy levels. Not having caffeine in the system will also make sleeping much easier.
5. Deep breathing and/or meditation
- Deep breathing and meditation have a mind clearing, stress-reducing effect which actually helps to regulate hormones like cortisol. It can also help to lower blood pressure and keep you calm through the day.
- We often build up stress internally and don’t talk about it or release it. Then, after it’s too much to handle, it comes out in uncontrollable outbursts. Journalling about your day, what you did, and how you feel is very helpful. Start a gratitude journal. Try to write three things that you are thankful for every day.
- At the same time, if you really feel like crap, write about it. See if you can find out why. Not every single entry will be the most positive thing ever
7. Laugh. Spend more time with a funny friend or watch a comedy
- We take ourselves too seriously. Laughter reduces stress. This one is plain and simple. We often don’t think about scheduling time to do fun or funny things but it’s important.
8. Listen to uplifting music
- Listen to music that puts you into a good mood. It helps.
9. Clear up unfinished business/to-do lists
- When you know you have outstanding tasks and errands, you’re stressed. Dedicate some time every day to clearing up unfinished business and to-do lists. There’s only so much room in your brain and you want to focus on how to move forward. Start de-cluttering your brain in order to de-stress.
As always, work on these habits one at a time. If you try to incorporate them all at once, you’ll make things difficult for yourself. Make it easy for you to succeed and your success will snowball.
Be patient. If you aren’t currently doing any of these things then doing just one will be an improvement.
Got any strategies you use to to fight stress? Share them with us in the comments.