Trying to maintain your health and weight when life is throwing some major life stresses at you (such as the death of a loved one, work redundancy, relationship breakdown etc) is challenging to say the least! While some people lose weight in times of major life stress, many others tend to put on weight as comfort eating increases and physical activity decreases. Adding to this, the hormone cortisol is released in higher amounts at times of stress and this tends to slow down metabolism leading to weight gain.
2009-2010 was a period in my life where I seem to experience many major life stresses that really took a toll on my health. It would be nice to think that no further major stresses will occur in my life and I’ll go on to live happily ever after, free from stress; however, reality seeps in and tells me that major life stresses are inevitable and will occur at some point in the future – here’s hoping it’s just not all at once!
So how do you maintain your sanity and health and when going through major life stress?
Self Care, Self Care, Self Care! A common theme I have noticed in many people when they are going through major life stress, is they tend to reduce or completely stop engaging in activities they need to do to allow themselves to sooth their distress. For example, many people stop going out with friends, or they stop eating well, or they stop exercising or stop doing things that they normally give them pleasure. Looking after yourself is important at any time and in times of major life stress it is even more essential to engage in self care.
How do you look after yourself? What self care means to one person is different to the next person. For example, some people self care by talking to others, some people find meditation and relaxation techniques helpful, some like the gym, while others love to pamper themselves with massages or beauty treatments. If you were asked the question “How do I look after myself when times are tough?” or “How do I look after myself in general?” would you be able to answer? If you have to pause and think about it or are stuck on one thing, then maybe it might be worthwhile taking some time to think about what activities form part of your ‘self care plan’.
Do you listen to that inner voice that says you need a break, or to relax, to slow down? That’s the voice that wants you to look after yourself. Although it can be tempting to keep going and ignore it, listening to that voice is more likely to help you make healthy choices with food.
Get back to basics! Adults tend to overcomplicate what they need to do in times of stress, which just adds to their woes. Getting back to basics and setting simple tasks (such as going for walks, taking a break, preparing a nutritious meal or engaging in simple pleasures) can help you in times of stress.
Do you give yourself permission to look after yourself? Many people don’t allow themselves the opportunity to take care of themselves. They may view this as being ‘selfish’ or ‘indulgent’ and may neglect to prioritize their wellbeing in general. However, the consequences of not prioritizing wellness are far reaching. Self care is something that needs to be incorporated into daily life to minimize the impacts of life stress.
So are you actively and regularly engaging in self care NOW? If you are not making self care a priority when life is going well, it makes it harder in times of major stress to look after yourself. Self care is something that needs to be a regular habit.
Make time for self care. Do you regularly set aside time each day for self care? I find even a few minutes of quiet and stillness can be very helpful in giving back to myself. If other activities such as engaging in a hobby, being with others or being out in nature are your preferred self care activity, then find some time in your day where you can take time to do that and make it a priority.
Reassess health goals and priorities in times of major life stress. If you are experiencing major stress and turmoil in your life, it is important to reassess your health goals and life goals. It is difficult to have focus and motivation to be able to successfully achieve goals such as weight loss, when you are faced with major adversity in life. While I don’t advocate for dieting to lose weight at the best of times, dieting when you’re going through major life stress is just going to compound your stress as dieting is stressful! It is best not to make major life decisions and set huge goals when going though major life stress, if you can help it.
When I think of the term ‘Maintenance’ in regards to diets, I automatically think that that is something you do only once you’ve reached your ‘goal weight’. However, maintenance may be a realistic health goal to keep in mind in times of major life stress. Comfort eating is more likely to happen in times of stress, so having a goal of maintaining your health, rather than trying to lose weight can be a more realistic goal in the circumstances.