How Stress Adds to Your Weight

Have you ever felt bloated, tired, or have trouble functioning even after getting an ample amount of rest? If yes, then it’s time to pay attention to your body’s stress-related signals. Stress can significantly impact your physical and mental health. Acute stress effects are generally short-lived while chronic stress can lead to a “Stress Bod”. In this newsletter, we will explore hidden stressors and share tips to reduce stress.

(Disclaimer: All the tips and expression of thoughts are non-medical in nature. Please always consult your trusted official sources like doctors, therapists, etc for following any advice related to your health.)

Think: A vehicle has abruptly shifted lanes and entered in front of your car. What happens internally?

Generally it causes your sympathetic nervous system to ramp up, which releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to prepare the body for dealing with the situation. This is an example of Acute Stress, which arises immediately and will be resolved in a short duration.

With acute stress, you might notice:

  • Your heart beats a little faster

  • Your breathing gets deeper and quicker

  • You feel a burst of energy, alertness, giddiness, and/or focus

  • You might feel a little shaky or even nauseous if the stress was intense

This stress response is built-in. Your body responds automatically in this way to all stressors.

Luckily, the recovery response is also built-in. Once a threat recedes, your heart rate and breathing will return to normal, and you’ll feel calm again. But what happens when the body is subjected constantly to a situation of repeated stress?

Chronic stress is when that sympathetic activation lasts for days, weeks, or months, without adequate opportunities for recovery. This is what affects our physical and mental health. The problem in today’s modern world is Invisible Stress. Stress which we don’t realise happening to us but it’s sucking life out of you. (Check my Twitter thread on it)

These hidden stressors can be so constant that we don’t register them. They’re a part of the backdrop, woven seamlessly into our ‘normal.’ Over time, however, as they accumulate, hidden stressors can wear us down— leaving us feeling foggy, listless, tired, bloated, and sore.

And this Chronic Stress leads to Stress Bod.

“Stress bod” is a term used to describe the physical changes that occur in response to chronic stress. These changes may include weight gain, particularly in the midsection, due to increased cortisol levels, as well as muscle tension, headaches, and other physical symptoms. The term “stress bod” highlights the idea that chronic stress can have a tangible impact on the body and overall health.

When we have a Stress Bod, we might not feel rested, even after sleeping more than 8 hours. So we turn to caffeine, sugar, salt, and fat as energy-sustaining and coping substances.

What’s your Stress load?

Use these questions to rank your overall stress as well as how effectively you’re coping with it. They’re based on the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS)—the most widely used stress assessment.

Disclaimer: The scores on the following self-assessment do not reflect any particular diagnosis or course of treatment. They are meant as a tool to help assess your level of stress. If you have any further concerns about your current well-being, you may contact your Doctor and talk confidentially to a therapist.

For each question choose from the following alternatives:

0 – never, 1 – almost never, 2 – sometimes, 3 – fairly often 4 – very often

In the last month,

  1. how often have you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly?

  2. how often have you felt that you were unable to control the important things in your life?

  3. how often have you felt nervous and stressed?

  4. how often have you felt confident about your ability to handle your personal problems?

  5. how often have you felt that things were going your way?

  6. how often have you found that you could not cope with all the things that you had to do?

  7. how often have you been able to control irritations in your life?

  8. how often have you felt that you were on top of things?

  9. how often have you been angered because of things that happened that were outside of your control?

  10. how often have you felt difficulties were piling up so high that you could not overcome them?

Figuring Your PSS Score

You can determine your PSS score by following these directions:

  1. First, reverse your scores for questions 4, 5, 7, and 8. On these 4 questions, change the scores like this: 0 = 4, 1 = 3, 2 = 2, 3 = 1, 4 = 0.

  2. Now add up your scores for each item to get a total. My total score is __.

  3. Individual scores on the PSS can range from 0 to 40 with higher scores indicating higher perceived stress.

  • Scores ranging from 0-13 would be considered low stress.

  • Scores ranging from 14-26 would be considered moderate stress.

  • Scores ranging from 27-40 would be considered high perceived stress.

The Perceived Stress Scale is interesting and important because your perception of what is happening in your life is most important. Consider the idea that two individuals could have the exact same events and experiences in their lives for the past month. Depending on their perception, the total score could put one of those individuals in the low-stress category and the total score could put the second person in the high-stress category.

6 Steps to Address Stress Bod

Step 1 – Consult your Doctor to rule out other problems. Your healthcare provider can test you for anaemia and other conditions that look and feel like Stress Bod

Step 2 – Look for hidden Stressors: Some stresses don’t feel stressful. Which ones do you have

  • Frequent use of social media

  • Obsessive news consumption 

  • Excessive Noise

  • High air pollution

  • Frequent travel

  • Intense exercise

  • Food intolerances

  • High caffeine intake

  • High alcohol intake

  • ‘Always on’ texts and emails

  • Long commute in traffic 

  • Unhappy relationships

  • Lack of confidence

  • Comparing yourself to others 

Step 3 – Log your Stress– For one week keep a log of your stressors and symptoms

  • Each morning – How you slept, how you feel, what’s your heart rate, what’s your body temperature

  • Throughout the day – what you eat and drink, how you feel, exposure to any hidden stressors. 

  • Each evening – time you go to sleep, how you feel 

Step 4- Remove stressors

  • Talk to a therapist 

  • Reduce news consumption to one a day 

  • Work from home once a week to reduce commute traffic 

  • Ask for help – maybe from a colleague or your boss.

  • Timebox social media.

  • Outsource your least favourite chores

  • Establish boundaries like no work message post 7 PM

  • Automate less important decisions like what to wear or eat eg. eat the same thing for breakfast everyday

  • Consider breaking up with toxic relationship 

  • Journal your worries and stressors 

Step 5 – Add Stress relievers

  • Meditation

  • Yoga

  • Breathing exercises

  • Nature walk

  • Reading

  • Warm baths

  • Calming music

  • Doing your hobbies

  • Gratitude diary 

  • Writing thank you notes

  • Searching for a silver lining

  • Intentionally spreading awareness

To add effective stress relievers in your routine, experiment

  1. Pick one practice to try.

  2. Track morning heart rate, temperature, mood and energy level 

  3. After 14 days, look at your journal. How is the change working?

  4. Repeat the process 

Step 6 – Embrace incremental change for long-term success

Quality nutrition, sleep and self-care strategies can protect you from stress bod. But an all-or-nothing mentality can be counterproductive. Health practices are like a dial. Bump them up by just a notch or two. For example, bump up sleep 1 notch by going to bed 15 mins earlier.

Stress is uncomfortable, but it also helps us grow. It is part and parcel of our lives. Treat it like a phase which will eventually go. Always reach out for help. It is the best step to take!

May 14, 2023

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