Stress affects your whole body, and the stress hormone cortisol may have a significant impact on your ability to maintain a healthy weight. The Mayo Clinic notes that when you are stressed, your body releases cortisol, which increases glucose (sugars) in your bloodstream.

According to the Mayo Clinic, if the stress in your life is ongoing and becomes chronic, your stress response system may release too much cortisol and other stress hormones. This may wreak havoc on a number of bodily functions, resulting in health problems that sometimes include becoming overweight or obese.

To avoid the potential weight gain that may accompany stress, it's important to learn how to recognize the warning signs that stress is taking too great a toll on your body. Once you recognize the effects of stress in your life, you may find it helpful to adopt certain stress management techniques to help you cope.

Warning Signs

When you feel at the mercy of the stressors in your life, it's easy to be tempted by a bag of potato chips or a comforting candy bar. However, the Mayo Clinic notes that it's possible to identify the warning signs of stress. If you learn to recognize your own stress levels, you may be able to nip bad eating habits in the bud:

  • Feeling anxious or irritable may tell you that you're starting to reach your stress limit.
  • Muscular tension may be a sign that your body is enduring the effects of being over-stressed.
  • If you feel like eating when you aren't hungry, then back up and make sure it's not stress that's guiding your food choices.

Strive for Stress-Management

There are a wide variety of stress management techniques that may help you release stress and avoid being overloaded with cortisol. No one technique is better than another; what's important is to practice strategies that make you feel the most relaxed:

  • Get active. The Mayo Clinic notes that regular physical activity may be an effective stress-reducer to help you blow off steam. Choose a form of exercise that you enjoy, such as walking briskly, riding a stationary bike, or swimming. The key is to be consistent--30 minutes a day of moderate exercise most days of the week may help keep stress at bay.
  • Breathe deeply. Relaxation techniques can be very simple. When you feel stressed or anxious, pull back from your problems, and take some time simply to observe your breathing as you inhale and exhale deeply. Many people feel intimidated by the idea of "meditating." But meditation can be as easy as sitting quietly and staying focused on your breath. Each time you lose focus, simply bring your attention back to the air entering your lungs.
  • Sleep in. Your body needs sleep to function at its best. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep nightly for maximum health. Even partial sleep loss can result in weight gain, and you may have a more difficult time managing stress if you are sleep deprived. Take preventive measures, and try to get to bed at a reasonable time.

HealthAhead: Relax, Unwind, and Protect Your Waistline

We all experience stress--it's part of being alive. You may never be able to get rid of stress entirely, but you can find ways to manage how stress affects you. Moreover, you can take steps to limit how stress impacts your weight. The Mayo Clinic notes that your body's stress-response system normally regulates itself. When you are no longer facing a stressful situation, your cortisol levels drop, and your bodily systems may return to functioning as usual. Better yet, when you feel less weary, you may find it easier to stick to healthy eating habits. Set a new goal to start practicing the stress management techniques that work best for you--in the long run, you might just find it easier to maintain a healthy weight.