How stress can sabotage healthy habits

Stress is very much a by-product of life, but ‘being stressed’ has become so accepted in our culture, we often just battle on through and learn to live with it. Even before Covid-19 came along, stress was playing a worryingly normal part in lives.

Of course, taking on some stress is all too common among us women in midlife, because we are often balancing many different elements - work, kids, parents, life, partners - so it's not surprising we are left feeling out of balance.

Our bodies need more love and care in midlife. Period. So understanding when we are stressed, how to manage it and developing resilience to stress, is a really valuable to embed in your daily life.

What stress does....When your body is stressed - either through physical danger or emotional/mental pressure (your body doesn't differentiate) the 'fight or flight response' kicks in. Your heart rate increases, blood pressure rises and your adrenals will secrete stress hormones, including cortisol, which works on releasing glucose in the body to give you energy!

Now some stress is not that bad for us, it can even be useful to help us operate at the top of our game. However, if your body is stressed on a regular basis - chronic stress - its can have quite a damaging impact. In midlife, when our hormones are fluctuating and our bodies are working extra hard, we need to minimise stress as much as possible.

If you’re striving to build healthy habits and manage the menopausal transition, stress can well sabotaging your efforts too. Below I've outlined five ways this can play out:

1. Stress impacts your dietary choices: It's very common for appetite to change when we are stressed. Your appetite may increase, pushing you towards sugary and fatty foods or stimulants to keep you going… such as caffeine, alcohol, energy or soft drinks. However, stress may also suppress your appetite, so you skip meals and then reach for foods to give a quick burst of energy. Many of us identify with being a 'stress eater.' If you're doing this on a regular basis, it could be leading to unwanted weight gain or make it difficult to lose weight.

2. Stress depletes your energy levels: As you’ve probably noticed, stress drains you physically and mentally. Making it hard to concentrate, causing mood swings. You're less likely to want to exercise and more likely to reach for stimulants and quick energy fixes to keep you going.

3. Stress can impact your circadian rhythm: Your body’s 24 hour body clock, causing disruption in sleep. Stress can make it harder to get off to sleep, you may wake in the night or early in the morning. If you’ve experienced that ‘tired and wired’ feeling in the evening, your cortisol may what be out of balance. Sleep also disrupts ghrelin and leptin our hunger hormones, altering our normal eating patterns. 4. Stress can affect weight management and prevent you from losing weight: Our metabolism is slowing, hormones are in flux so it’s much easier to put on weight anyway. Then appetite increases and we crave sugary and fatty foods. Persistently elevated cortisol levels can result in more fat stored around the abdominal region too. Dieting itself can be also be a stressor, since restrictions will trigger more cortisol. 5. Stress reduces the production of sex hormones: When you are feeling physically or emotionally stressed, the body diverts its attention to producing your stress hormones and stops producing your much needed sex hormones - oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. If your are peri-menopausal this will add more disruption to your hormones, leaving you feeling worse. Reducing stress and increasing your resilience to, will help to balance your hormones, and help reduce your susceptibility to the many peri-menopausal symptoms.

April is stress awareness month, so I hope you found these points useful. It's important to keep an eye on stress and look at ways to manage it. Remember, stress could well be standing in the way of you achieving your health goals and getting a handle on your body as it adapts to hormonal changes.

In my Nutrition & Lifestyle review, we take a good look at stress levels and the potential impact it could be having. If stress is an issue for you, I'll look at how diet and lifestyle changes can support you, possible supplements and potentially more specific strategies. Please get in touch to arrange a chat.

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