Chronic stress can have many evil effects on your body, including accelerating aging and packing on the pounds. To find out how stressed you are — and learn how to turn a negative stress into a positive one — take this quick and easy quiz from Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy by JJ Virgin.
Do you feel as though you’re always fighting through stressful moments that only lead to further on-the-edge situations? Your body is feeling the harried state and responds by breaking down muscle (mobilizing energy) and dumping it into the bloodstream as sugar. Wonder why so many Americans have a high fasting blood sugar level? When your body does this, it follows by raising your fat-storing hormone, insulin, to move the blood sugar into your cells. At this point, you will experience low blood sugar and will want some refined carbs and/or sugar to get your energy level up again (at least for a little while).
Stress can lead to both insulin and leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone that is key in appetite regulation. If you become resistant to it due to stress, your body fat may increase because the leptin won’t reduce your appetite and you will be hungry all of the time and probably gravitate to the kitchen. All the stress hormones are packing on the pounds, especially around the waistline, while making it harder to burn off the fat that’s already there.
Finally, chronic stress can lower the production of other hormones, including testosterone and DHEA, that help burn fat, build muscle, and promote a healthy sex drive. In order for the body to keep pushing out cortisol to keep up with the stress demands, it steals it away from the other hormones. Stress can also impact your ability to create active thyroid hormone, which is one of the master controllers of your metabolism.
Chronic stress can lead to fatigue, PMS, anxiety, depression, obesity, and immune dysfunction. If you continue to live under chronic stress, eventually you will just burn out and feel exhausted all of the time even when you finally get some rest. This is your body’s later-stage reaction to stress, which is to conserve energy and go into “famine physiology.” This is when it feels as if nothing you do to lose weight or build muscle seems to work. And if you do overexercise and cut your calorie intake drastically, you can actually make yourself worse.
Here’s why. Let’s say you go on a diet by cutting calories and plan to lose weight. Your body instantly blocks you because it believes the calorie cutting is just another stressful event that it must cope with in order to survive. What to do? Why not slow down your metabolism? Unfortunately, at the same time, your body lowers your immune system and accelerates the aging process.
I don’t mean to stress you out further; I simply want you to recognize that you must work on getting all the unnecessary stresses out of your life — and you need to start right now.
Is Stress Making Your Arms Fat?
Answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions. Count your “no” answers after you complete Part A. Count your “yes” answers after completing Part B.
Part A: Stress Relievers
- Do you have a close support network of family and friends?
- Do you have a spiritual foundation from which you draw strength and faith?
- Do you feel that you have control over your life and its direction?
- Are you happy in your career or job?
- Do you do burst-style exercise regularly three times per week?
- Do you eat three meals per day at least six days of the week?
- Do you take downtime each day to experience your own personal bliss?
- Are you comfortable financially?
- Do you keep your weight within your ideal weight range and body fat composition?
- Do you regularly get seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night?
Total number of “no” answers is _______.
Part B: Stress Provokers and Indicators
- Do you regularly consume caffeine, alcohol, and/or sugar and refined carbohydrates?
- Do you frequently feel fearful and/or that things are beyond your control?
- Do you struggle to remember things?
- Do you suffer from allergies, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, asthma, or headaches?
- Do you suffer from digestive problems, including heartburn, gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation?
- Do you engage in endurance training (cardio exercise for forty- five-plus minutes a day, three or more times a week)?
- Does it take you thirty minutes or longer to fall asleep at night?
- Do you have difficulty sleeping through the night?
- Are you sensitive to smells?
- Have you lost interest in sex?
- Are you more tired after you work out?
- Are you impatient or easily irritated?
- Have you experienced any major life stressor (positive or negative) in the past year (i.e., death of a loved one, major illness, divorce, marriage, birth of a child, move, change of job, financial change)?
- Do you need caffeine to wake you up in the morning or help you make it through the day?
- Do you get sick three or more times a year?
- Do you crave carbohydrates or sugary foods? Do you crave salty foods?
Total number of “yes” answers is _______.
Grand total: _______
If you scored three or more in either part or four or more overall, you need to address your stress! Ideally, no matter what you scored, you will want to rectify any “no” answers in Part A and “yes” answers in Part B. Of course, you can tackle only what’s possible to change, but you can focus on short- and long-term strategies to correct those stressful life areas because now you know they’re a big detriment to your health and metabolism.
Just remember one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Hans Selye: “Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.”
You should also be aware that there is good stress, such as when we fall in love, get married, retire, have a baby, buy a house, or get promoted. Then there is bad stress, such as when a spouse dies, we have a bad fight with a significant other, we get divorced, we lose our job, we change occupation, or we have a serious illness. When you’re forced to navigate times of bad stress, pay close attention to taking better care of yourself and practicing distressing techniques. Remember, a large part of stress is your perception of it and reaction to it. Ensure that you are adequately armed with the tactics from Part A to help you cope better.
Are These Poor Lifestyle Habits Stressing You Out?
Here are some activities that are very stressful on the body that you can fix quickly to lower your stress:
- Excessive intake of caffeine (more than one to two servings daily)
- Excessive intake of alcohol (more than one serving daily)
- A very-low-carb diet
- Skipping meals
- Endurance training
- Sleep deprivation
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JJ Virgin, author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy: The 5-Step Plan to Sleek, Strong, and Sculpted Arms (Copyright © 2010 by JJ Virgin & Associates, Inc.), has successfully coached Hollywood elite, rock stars, heavyweight champions, Olympians, and CEOs into shape using her powerful weight loss program. She is an on-camera nutrition and fitness expert, writer, professional speaker, and radio personality on nationally syndicated shows, including two seasons as the nutrition expert on Dr. Phil. A board-certified 25-year veteran of the health and fitness industry, she lives in Palm Desert, California.
MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR
- A Fat-Burning Cardio Program You Won’t Hate
- Arms Are the New Accessory
- How to Stay Committed to Your Exercise and Weight Loss Goals
- What to Eat to Burn Fat and Lose Weight