Last week I watched a documentary about stress, in particular, the harmful effects of having to deal with too much of it. The documentary explained that over time stress breaks down both physical and mental health.
Many of us are so used to living in a high-stress state that we don’t realize how much stress is in our lives. I have five questions for you:
- Do you experience nervousness, anxiety or tension?
- Do you have muscle pain, headaches and dizziness?
- Do you have trouble sleeping?
- Do you have trouble with high blood pressure?
- Do you struggle with irritability and depression?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these, you might have high stress in your life; any of these can be symptoms of stress. Uncontrolled stress is associated with high blood sugar and high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, cancer, skin problems, substance abuse, stomach problems and memory loss. Stress also can cause weight gain, and for most of us, that’s the last thing we want.
One nutritional challenge of stress is emotional eating, which is when you eat a lot of food – usually comfort foods like sweets and salty snacks – for reasons other than hunger. The MOVE weight management program has some great ideas about managing this type of eating.
A plan for avoiding weight gain due to stress is to follow a regular meal plan. This means no skipping meals and no midnight feasts. Choose colorful vegetables and lean cuts of meat, avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and make water your main drink. Focus on choosing whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice and whole-wheat bread. Snacks to enjoy may be nuts, multi-grain crackers, raw vegetables and fruit. Enjoy a treat occasionally, but don’t let that treat turn into a habit. This reference from our MOVE program has more information on stress and diet.
Behavior modification can decrease your stress. Consider gardening as a way to relieve stress AND have a supply of fresh herbs and vegetables. Contact your local extension office for help with starting a garden. Try to exercise daily, a guaranteed way to decrease your stress and improve your health. Check out these MOVE tips on exercise. Trouble with joint pain or mobility? Look here for ideas!
Stress may never go away completely, but if you use some of the tools below to manage it, your health will improve as a result.
- Connect with a group of people that you can relate to, such as a bike club or a Bunco group.
- Take time out to breathe and relax.
- De-clutter your home.
- Turn off your TV and read a book instead.
You can learn more ways to manage stress-eating and receive weight loss support through the MOVE program at your local VA. There are a few ways to be involved with MOVE, including group classes, home monitoring (TeleHealth), individual appointments with a dietitian and telephone support programs. VA also has behavioral health psychologists who can help with modifying behaviors to improve your stress levels. Call your local VA today to get started!
Sarah Lacoma is a registered dietitian at the Fayetteville, N.C. VAMC. She has been with VA for three years and, being from a military background, is honored to provide services to the Veteran population.