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Coping with Stress to Fix Your Metabolism

Do you automatically correlate stress with negative emotions and situations? Here's a reality check for you: Stress is a normal response to events and is unavoidable. But it's not always a "bad" thing in our lives. Stress can actually be a positive force to motivate us to succeed, keep us focused, and help us grow personally and professionally . . . up to a point. Everyone has a different tolerance for how much stress they can handle. It's really about how you respond to the major stressors in your life which makes all the difference with regard to your mental and physical health.

When you're stressed out, your body reacts by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, your stress hormones. Your body senses emotional stress or the demand from being overwhelmed by what's going on around you, whether that be having an argument with your boss, struggling to pay bills, or dealing with a recent loss. When you sense physical danger, this hormonal response is very sudden — called the fight or flight response — giving you the energy to fight or escape the situation completely.

You may have heard stories about superhuman strength in times of crisis, such as a woman being able to single-handedly lift a car when her child is trapped underneath. This is actually due to more adrenaline pumping, which speeds up metabolism to mobilize energy for you to use however you need. Cortisol also works to increase glucose in the blood to use for energy. Sounds like it could be a good thing, no?

The problem is that the type of stress you experience internally from situations you can't control, emotionally, and from being tired and overworked results in a release of more adrenaline and cortisol for weeks, months, years at a time — not just a quick spurt. Your body can't use that excess created energy, and you become desensitized to being able to do so over time. Cortisol takes that extra glucose floating around, which is supposed to be used for energy, and stores it as fat instead, resulting in weight gain and a slowing metabolic rate in the long run.

In addition to the physiological level, you have the ways you cope with stress, such as not sleeping or turning to food or smoking, which add even more metabolism-busters to the equation. However, by learning how to relax and taking time for yourself without turning to unhealthy habits, you can lower your cortisol levels and reverse the effects years of stress have had on your body.

Surefire signs you are too stressed

First, you need to identify how stress is putting a damper on your life. Once you recognize the signs, you'll be even more motivated to take time to take care of yourself because you understand how it's truly affecting you and, often, your loved ones and everyone around you:

  • Your appetite changes. Either you eat more or less. You may turn to food to fill a void or as a means of calming down, OR stress might cause an anxious stomach or decreased digestion and therefore, appetite.

  • Your sleep patterns change. Are you up tossing and turning and not getting enough sleep, or are you overworked and overtired and you just can't get enough sleep?

  • You're a moody rollercoaster. Because of stress alone, or with a combination of changes in sleep and eating patterns, your mood changes like the weather. You can feel depressed, anxious, irritable, overwhelmed, and frustrated, which you then take out on innocent bystanders, from friends to family to the waiter taking your order.

  • You turn to substances. Many people start relying too heavily on alcohol or drugs to make worries temporarily disappear and relax. Chain-smoking becomes almost a nervous tic to get you through the day.

  • You're always sick. Your immune system is unable to fight off illness when you're stressed, so you're coming down with colds, the flu, and digestive problems. Subsequently, stress increases inflammation, which plays a role in raising your risk for conditions from asthma to heart disease.

  • You neglect the important things. If you can't cope with stress effectively, your performance at work and school could suffer. You may lack concentration, miss deadlines, and just feel fatigued about life in general. Similarly, you may isolate yourself from your friends, family, and activities you love to do. This makes you feel lonely, which then makes it even more difficult to deal with stress in the first place.

Making your mental health a priority

Everyone deals with stress differently, but the one common thread for doing so successfully in a healthy manner is to understand how to make your mental health a priority. If you truly value your physical health and boosting your metabolic rate, you'll take action to improve the mental piece of the puzzle.

If you always feel anxious or say, "I don't even have time to breathe, things are so crazy," you need to start reevaluating the role you're playing in letting stressors take over your life. True, certain situations may be out of your immediate control, but the way you respond is completely within your grasp. That's not to say you have to put blame on yourself — just take some responsibility.

What works for one person might not work for another when it comes to stress management. Depending on what you struggle with the most, here are some strategies to help you deal with demands:

  • Find a balance. Letting one thing take over your life, such as work, a relationship, or family life, will make you feel overwhelmed. Take time to relax, whether that's through exercise or meditation or reading a book.

  • Rethink how you spend your time. If you feel like you have no extra time to take for yourself, not even 15 minutes, you need to think about how you are spending your day and whether there are activities or errands you can cut out.

  • Manage your time. Use a calendar to keep all your appointments in check so you don't feel like a chicken with its head cut off throughout the day. Prioritize what's most important or the most difficult and time consuming. Don't procrastinate.

  • Exercise: Getting exercise releases your feel-good endorphins and can help reduce depression and improve your sleep. Any type of movement you do helps you clear your mind and reduce all those anxious thoughts.

  • Get support: Just spending time with friends and family can make you remember what life is all about. Research shows that people with a solid support system and pets who love them unconditionally have less stress and can manage it better than those who don't. And your loved ones can provide insightful suggestions for you when it comes to the challenges in your life. This can also be tough because they aren't objective, so seeking out counseling from a professional may be what you need.

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