With the onslaught of modern advances in daily living, one could assume that as a people we all are living easy and with less stress. Yet, the reverse seems to be true. According to an American Psychological Association survey, nearly one-fourth of Americans rate their stress levels as 8 or more on a 10 point scale. Of course, not all stress is bad in fact it can be helpful and necessary. Stress can motivate us to get things done or automatically move us out of the way of a dangerous situation. Chronic stress develops when we feel we have no control over and no way out of stressful events in our lives.
Chronic Stress and Effects on the Human Body
When the body is under stress the adrenal glands secrete a hormone called cortisol, which increases appetite. After a stressful event, the body’s cortisol levels will decrease, however, if stress becomes chronic cortisol levels may stay elevated. Elevated cortisol levels often leads to weight gain. Stress also causes us to sleep less, stimulating a hormone called ghrelin, known as the hunger hormone, and this increases our appetite.
If stress reduction and attaining our weight loss and weight maintenance goals were as easy as knowledge from experts who educate us on what, when, and how to eat, be active, and sleep there would be no weight concerns among us. The reality is we are complex human beings with many internal and external stimuli that create a flood of emotions and reactions each and every day. The key to successful weight maintenance is getting a handle on our stress levels, our emotions, and the food reward responses we may be using to mask what is really going on.
A Mindful Exercise is the Stress Stopping Equation A+B=C
To reduce your stress response, corresponding food cravings and unwanted eating behaviors, consider the following Stress Stopping Equation A +B=C created by Dr. Albert Ellis, founder of the Albert Ellis Institute. A is the Activating event that causes stress. B is the Beliefs that come to mind in the stressful event. For example: This is awful; the worst thing ever. I am not sure I can get through this! Finally C, the Consequences of your beliefs about the stressful event, it is your reaction. You may feel angry, sad, frustrated, out of control, physical symptoms may include shallow breath, rapid heartbeat, and lightheadedness. Dr. Elis states that the way to think differently about a stressful event is to challenge B your beliefs about the situation in order to change C the consequences of the stressful event.
The consequences of positive beliefs here are relaxed mood, positive outlook, release of physical symptoms and the need to control, acceptance, and allowing one to be present in the moment.
Putting the A+B=C Equation into Practice
This week make a point to mentally define or better yet write down your A+B=C stress provoking scenarios. First, identify the stress Activating event, second, recognize your automatic and negative Beliefs about the event, call out your negative beliefs and reframe them to be positive. Now evaluate the Consequences of this exercise. How do you feel now after believing in a positive way about this stressful event?
With continual use of Dr. Ellis’s A +B =C equation you are bound to feel a reduction of immediate physical stress responses, less anxiety, less sweet food cravings, less emotional eating, increased feelings of happiness and gratitude, and an increase in deep restorative sleep. All of this translates to living with less chronic stress and an increased belief in your ability to reach and maintain your weight loss goal.
Lieberman. Daniel. E. (2015) The Story of the Human Body New York, NY: Pantheon Books
Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School. (2012, Feb. 12). Why Stress causes people to overeat. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu
HelpGuide.org. (2015, Oct. 29). Emotional Eating: How to recognized and Stop Emotional Eating. Retrieved from www.helpguide.org
StressStop.com (2009) Albert Ellis, Cognitive Restructuring and Short-Circuiting Stress. Retrieved from www.stressstop.com
The Albert Ellis Institute. (2014). Albert Elis Institute (AIE), Retrieved from www.albertellisinstitute.com