CHALLENGE 5: Manage your stress
Stress and weight loss have a complicated relationship. At times, high stress can lead to unhealthy, often-temporary weight loss from skipping meals or being overly active. But the weight usually returns. Chronic, uncontrollable stress can undermine your efforts to eat healthy, exercise, sleep, and develop healthy habits. And struggles during your weight-loss efforts can create additional stress.
When you’re stressed you might find yourself more likely to eat junk food, or “stress eat” when you’re not hungry. Stress can also slow your metabolism and make it harder to burn fat, particularly belly fat. Unhealthy stress can also lower your self-regulation, making it harder to exercise and maintain healthy habits. Sleep and stress are often connected in a vicious cycle: stress causes sleep loss, making you feel more vulnerable to stress, which leads to even more sleep loss. Luckily, you can use stress to your advantage and develop skills to help lower stress when it’s unnecessary.
The first part of this challenge is to help you see how stress can be good for you! While most people believe stress is seriously harmful to their health, it turns out your “stress mindset,” or how you think about stress, influences whether your reaction to stress impacts you positively or negatively. When you think about stress as your ally, rather than your enemy, you can train yourself to experience more of the positive effects of the stress response. Without some healthy stress, you wouldn’t stick to your exercise routine, meal plan, or even bother getting out of bed in the morning.
When you begin to see stress can be a good thing, it can actually help you to get healthier. For example, when your heart starts pumping harder from a stressor, your blood vessels relax, inflammation decreases, and the pumping mimics exercise, which can help boost cardiovascular health.
Although stress can be good, it’s also important that you know how to recognize when your stress levels are unhealthy. By developing the skills to activate your relaxation response, you can lower your stress levels and stay in control. Once you learn about different relaxation response skills, choose one to practice every day for at least a week. Like any skill, you will get better with practice, so it’s important to practice these skills even when they aren’t needed “to calm you down” in the same way you wouldn’t want to only practice your marksmanship skills during a firefight.
Finally, learn how reduce your stress while eating—and avoid overeating while distracted—by practicing mindful eating.
TASKS to achieve Challenge 5:
- Understand how your stress mindset affects weight loss.
- Learn how to make stress your ally.
- Find out how to deal with unhealthy stress.
- Use this worksheet to practice your relaxation response skills.
- Practice mindful eating to help you lose weight.
Additional resources: Challenge 5
Find more resources to help you successfully manage your stress.
Combat and Operational Stress Control (COSC)
How physical fitness can help with stress
How to choose what you want most
Influence your stress and relaxation response systems
Just the facts: Life stress overview
Mindfulness in military environments
Stress facts and assessment
Download the PDF version of this guide here.