Adulthood comes with a lot of unavoidable responsibilities. We have to deal with our boss and colleagues, manage our relationships, pay the mortgage, look after the kids. All this responsibility comes with lots of emotions and daily challenges that we never had in our student and teenager years. That said, studies are showing how teenagers are getting more and more stressed too.
Top 5 Causes of Stress in America (according to the American Psychological Association)
- Job Pressure: Work overload, co-worker tensions
- Money: Loss of job, medical expenses
- Health: Chronic illness, health crisis
- Relationships: Loneliness, divorce, arguments with friends
- Poor Nutrition: Refined carbs (high in added sugar), junk/processed food, caffeine
- Media Overload: Instagram, Facebook constantly showing us amazing moments while we do “tedious” work tasks
- Sleep Deprivation: Too much stress means too much brain activity, so we’re unable to relax and sleep properly
- Violence/Crime: Especially in urban areas
- These are the most common causes of stress, but there are lots more and every year the list gets longer.
Our lives and environments are becoming more and more stressful, with more work and family tasks to do in less time, but with the added pressure of trying to avoid compromising quality. We are asked to do better and more in less time, and often with fewer resources.
Subsequently, we have less time and energy for our friends and family, we put our dreams on hold, and this all leads to frustration which causes anxiety and stressful thoughts.
In stressful situations, our adrenal glands release cortisol, the stress hormone.
Cortisol prepares our body for action by:
- Increasing blood glucose and diverting glucose to the muscles for energy.
- Diverting blood away from your internal organs to your muscles.
- Switching to survival mode: Growth, digestion and other long-term metabolic activities are temporarily restricted.
At a first glance, it looks like cortisol could help you to burn more energy and lose weight, and it does, but only in the short-term.
Prolonged high levels of stress lead to continuously high cortisol levels which raise blood sugar (glucose) levels and trigger a spike in insulin production.
Short-term elevated cortisol levels help to burn more energy, but prolonged high levels of cortisol will lead to increased insulin levels. More insulin means more fat storage. The very opposite of what we want.
Too much stress during the day can also lead to too much stress at night – especially when it’s time to sleep. Increased brain activity during the night causes poor quality sleep and we may also sleepless. This means we wake up feeling tired and with very low energy levels.
A good night’s sleep is not just about how long we sleep, but the quality of that sleep too. Have you ever woken up after a night of sleep feeling more tired than when you went to bed? If the answer is yes, you experienced too much stress at night for yourself.
Anxiety, worrying, planning, frustration, and thinking about all the tasks we haven’t yet finished means we are often unable to shut down or quiet our thoughts. Instead of calming down, our brains stay in high gear with lots of thoughts running around at the same time.
We fall asleep but we are too stressed to have the good night’s sleep we need to recharge our batteries and get ready for next day.
When we are tired we tend to binge on junk food. That’s not just my personal experience; studies have proven it too. It’s been shown that when we don’t get enough rest, we tend to eat more. A study published in Nature.com revealed that sleep-deprived people ate around 385 calories more than usual. Study participants craved high fat, high sugar, and processed foods.
Another study showed that sleep deprivation causes a higher consumption of high-calorie food.
Scientific American writes “Past studies have established that the stress of sleep deprivation puts the autonomic nervous system on alert, leading to increases in the hunger hormone ghrelin and decreases in the satiety hormone leptin”. This means more hunger signals and fewer satiety signals. This hormone unbalance makes the perfect combination for weight gain.
Ways to Reduce Stress
These are the most common ways that Americans manage their stress:
- Listen to music
- Exercise: Walk, run or hit the gym
I would like to add the methods I personally find best for reducing my stress levels:
- Sports: Running (our running guide here), home workout routines (a 5-minute workout you can do at home without equipment video here), and walking (our walking guide here)
- Reading: I prefer non-fiction books
- Meditation: During the last month I have been using the Headspace app. It’s free and very easy to use. You can use it to help you meditate anywhere.
- Listen to books: When my eyes are tired, listening to a fiction book while lying in bed helps me to forget my tasks and problems and allows me to be absorbed and distracted by the book’s story.
- Journaling: Writing down my problems, worries, tasks and my in-the-moment thoughts helps me to reduce my brain activity and also improves my sleep time.
- Reduce caffeine: Too much caffeine can make you irritable and tense, increasing your stress levels. Too much caffeine also increases cortisol production.
Before you go…
Beyond weight loss, reducing stress must be a priority as we are living in evermore stressful times, and stress is the leading cause of many different diseases. It can make you feel depressed and constantly tired, and also affect your relationships and even your job. Reducing stress is one of the most important things you can do for your mental and physical health.