Stress Relief: 8 Highly Effective Strategies for Relieving Stress
8 Tips on How to Take Better Care of Yourself
Stress is our body's adaptive reaction to an unpleasant feeling, a negative emotion, a difficult experience, .... It is also one of the main causes of weight gain. A study by Professor Herzog of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research has shown that most people under chronic stress eat more and/or are naturally attracted to high-calorie, high-sugar, high-fat foods.
For our brain, "stress" means "danger"! It does not know the difference between real and imaginary stress. When we are stressed, our body secretes various hormones, notably adrenaline and cortisol, intended to provoke a shot of energy in order to flee or fight. In the case of occasional stress, everything goes back to normal after a few minutes and we relax.
But when we are in difficult situations every day, our body is constantly in "survival" mode, which is extremely anxiety-provoking. Our brain will then try to compensate for this discomfort by pushing us to eat to comfort us but also to anesthetize, most of the time, our unpleasant feelings.
We then enter a vicious circle where we feel guilty for eating too much or too little, which creates stress related to our self-image, and which pushes us again to seek comfort in food. The loop is closed and we find ourselves trapped in a spiral of addictive behavior.
So, how can we get out of this vicious circle and take control of our lives? Here are a few ways to help you.
1. Stop dieting
The first thing to do is to stop dieting. Dieting is about depriving your body of food, limiting calories or eliminating one or more food categories from your plate. It is also a state of mind. The simple fact of "paying attention" puts us in "diet" mode.
In November 2010, the ANSES (French National Agency for Health Safety) issued a report following a study to evaluate the risks associated with weight loss dietary practices. This report states the following:
- In 95% of cases, the effectiveness of a diet does not exceed 3 years;
- 80% of dieters regain more weight than before. In fact, our body will try to make up for everything it has missed via food compulsions. And as it has understood that when it asks for food, we do not give it to it, it will take more to stock up for the next shortage. This behavior is instinctive, directly associated with our memories of hunger;
- The sensations of hunger and satiety are considerably diminished or even disappear. By dint of being told when to eat, what to eat and how much to eat, we no longer know when we are hungry and when we are no longer hungry, whereas it is these feelings that should guide us in our eating practices!
- In the long term, diets have harmful, even irreversible effects on our metabolism (premature aging of the skin, endocrine problems, depression, etc...).
Moreover, diets provoke food obsessions. They make us conscious of our behavior in relation to food. And if we happen to exceed the limits we have set ourselves, we feel guilty and try to make up for it by compensating, either by eating less or by doing more sports! This way of functioning generates important stresses that will push us to seek comfort... in food!
The more we function in "diet" mode, the stronger the catch-up system will be, and the more we will store and gain weight.
2. Respect your "real" hunger
Our body has a central neuro-vegetative system, totally autonomous and unconscious, which manages our homeostatic needs. This means that when we listen to it and respect its needs, our body is able to maintain itself in perfect health. For example, when we feel cold, we have a physical sensation (shivering, goose bumps). Our brain translates: "You're cold, cover up!". We then go home and get warm or put on a sweater and everything goes back to normal.
Well, it's exactly the same with food! When our body needs to refuel, it sends us a physical signal (tummy rumbling for example). The brain translates: "Here... I'm hungry!". We then prepare the meal and eat with appetite what we want!
However, we need to know the difference between "real hunger" and "false hunger"! Real hunger responds to a physiological need and is felt in the body (below the neck). It can be manifested by rumbling or contractures of the stomach, a feeling of hollow or cold in the stomach, a general weakness with difficulty in concentrating, etc. .... False hunger, on the other hand, responds to a need to compensate for an inner malaise and is characterized by a desire to eat (thus in the head!).
When we respect our true hunger, the satiety hormone is naturally secreted and, most of the time, we eat much less. We leave the table comforted and no longer think about eating! Food obsessions and compulsions quickly disappear, as well as guilt.
Wait until you feel real hunger to eat, even if it means skipping a few meals! Rest assured, you won't die if you don't eat for a while! It takes more than a month for a person of normal build to die of hunger...
3. Practice mindfulness
Listening to your feelings can sometimes be impossible. Most of us are not used to listening to ourselves. Our mind imposes its law on our body: When we have a fever, we take painkillers to be able to go to work, we go to bed late because we want to finish our favorite series, we fight fatigue with coffee or sugar, etc. .... In short! We put our body to the test, in the service of our mind.
Stop for a moment and experience mindfulness. How can you do this? Simply by using your 5 senses. For example, when you eat, take a few minutes to :
- Carefully observe the contents of your plate
- Smell the odors of your food
- Listen to the sound of your food on the plate or in your mouth
- Taste the food and identify its flavour
- If possible, touch the food to feel its texture
In general, practice feeling the water running over you in the shower, the caress of the wind or the warmth of the sun on your face, the small pebble that has fallen into your shoe, the sensations after eating or playing sports, ....
You can also try to feel what happens in your body when you have an emotion. Emotions are systematically accompanied by physical sensations that send you messages about your body's needs.
This mindfulness work allows us to reconnect to ourselves in order to better listen to ourselves and act in the direction of our health balance. It is the body that must guide us, accompanied by our mind, and not the opposite!
4. Get moving and rejuvenate
It's no surprise! Resourcing activities, whether physical or not, improve our health.
Physical activity of any kind allows our brains to breathe and our tensions to be relieved by the secretion of endorphins, also known as the well-being hormone. It has been proven that half an hour of walking every day considerably reduces the risk of becoming overweight. If you don't like or can't walk, you can dance, do gardening, yoga, etc...
You can also paint, sing, play a musical instrument, cook, do crossword puzzles, ... These activities also, if practiced with pleasure, promote concentration and calm your mind. You remain in the present moment and no longer think about your daily problems.
Doing a physical or recreational activity promotes positive feelings such as pride, enthusiasm, joy, gratitude... and considerably lowers the level of cortisol in the blood.
5. Learn to breathe
Breathing is just as important. We don't know how to breathe anymore! Our breath is often short and incomplete, when we don't simply forget to breathe!
Cardiac coherence is one of the most effective techniques to fight anxiety and stress. It consists of breathing in a regular manner (inhale for 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds) for 5 minutes. As a preventive measure, it is recommended to do 3 times 5 minutes per day. In case of intense or chronic stress, this breathing can be applied as many times as necessary. It is recommended to relax and focus on your heart rate during the session.
You can get help from applications to download on your phone.
Other breaths can also be effective. For example:
- Breathing deeply through the nose and blowing through the mouth: focusing on the chest to ease sadness, or focusing on the belly to ease anger, or blowing really hard and fast to overcome fear.
- Breathing 6-3-9 to decompress (inhale on 6 beats, block on 3 and exhale on 9)
Less well known, yawning is a great way to relieve tension! It is sometimes necessary to provoke them but when we succeed, the feeling of well-being and liberation is intense! Isolate yourself regularly if necessary and take a few moments to yawn during the day. Also do this exercise at night when you go to bed to improve your sleep.
6. Pay special attention to the quality of your sleep
Lack of sleep is one of the aggravating factors in weight gain. Not only does fatigue increase our state of stress, but the energy that we do not manage to recover at night is compensated during the day by food intake.
There is no shortage of techniques to improve sleep and I am not going to invent anything, but I will mention a few that I think are effective:
- Get enough sleep: we all have our own biological rhythm. Some people need only 4 hours of sleep while others need 9 hours to feel well. Try to respect your body's needs as much as possible in this area as well.
- Sleep in a quiet, dark, temperate room
- Avoid excitants (coffee, tea, chocolate), especially in the evening
- Avoid doing too much physical activity in the evening: doing sports increases our body temperature, whereas our body needs to lower its temperature in order to fall asleep.
- Set up a "bedtime ritual". For example: take a warm shower, read a good book, give yourself a foot/hand/skull massage, listen to soft music or do some meditation, etc.
Customize your ritual based on what you enjoy and feels good! Take at least ½ hour to get ready for bed so that your brain and body have time to calm down.
7. Monitor and modify your thoughts
This may seem complicated, even daunting, but it is extremely important and you get the hang of it pretty quickly! It is about becoming aware of the perception we have of our environment in order to be able to modify our inappropriate behaviors. Let me give you an example:
You are late and you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam while you have an important meeting in ½ hour at the office:
Case 1: You think: "I'm late! I'm going to miss my meeting! Besides, I wanted to prepare it before going... Well, I can forget it! I'm going to fail, that's for sure! What will my boss say? etc... etc... ". You get angry at the wheel, you curse, you honk... You start to sweat, your heart speeds up, your hands are sweaty! Anger, frustration and fear take over and you are no longer in control. You go home in the evening, disgruntled, exhausted, frustrated. You feel you have earned a little aperitif to comfort you from this bad day and you finish your evening by eating the chocolate milk bar in front of the television.
Case 2: You think: "Well, here I am, stuck in this traffic jam and late. OK! Don't panic! I'll call the office first to let them know I'm late and I'll use this time to mentally prepare for my meeting. It's no big deal and it doesn't happen to me very often, so everyone will understand!" You stay calm, take a deep breath and do what you set out to do. Your day goes on as it started... You go home in the evening serene and happy to have managed the situation masterfully. At no time do you think about the chocolate bar!
In both cases, the facts remain the same (you are late and stuck in a traffic jam) but it is your perception that will change everything! And the fact that you resisted the stress and handled the situation calmly gave you a sense of pride. You don't need to compensate for a malaise since it doesn't exist!
8. Develop your self-esteem
This last tip is related to the previous one. Changing your perception of the world around you and your life in general will help you change your perception of yourself. Here's how:
- Stop judging yourself as "too much of this" or "not enough of that": comparison and guilt are poisonous!
- Consider yourself as if you were your best friend: would you tell your best friend that he/she is bad, not smart, ugly, etc.?
- Every night, find 3 things you did during the day that you are proud of;
- DARE ! Experiment with new things even if the result is not what you expected. This increases your sense of pride in having succeeded or at least tried;
- Develop the power of gratitude: focus on what you already have, not on what you lack, and say THANK YOU!
Being overweight is just a symptom! To lose weight and stay slim, we must go back to the source of the eating disorder. Understanding our conscious and unconscious stresses, in order to modify the behaviors that push us to eat or store food, is the essential condition for a sustainable weight loss and well-being.
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Sharing the best self-improvement tips and personal growth ideas that will help you build a fulfilling life.
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This was super informative! Thank you so much for sharing!