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Societal Stress – The New Norm That’s Killing Us

I was tagged in a Facebook note and within the context of that note, the term “Society Obesity” was used.  I found this to be a clever choice of words and it got me thinking.

Our world has become more global, and fast paced, and many of us are living in a 24/7 world.  When you hear the news every day, everything seems so crazy and out of control.  In our 24/7 world, we’re being pounded with tons of news and information so quickly, and yet, mostly negative stuff such as, debt, stock market insecurity, the fall of the real estate market, rising gas prices, natural disasters, BP Oil Spill, terrorism, deadly flu pandemics, joblessness, the economy, rising health care costs, more instances of cancer and disease, child obesity, obesity, and the list goes on and on.  Think about how this affects you mentally as well as physically?  You’re going to react to this type of information whether you realize it or not.

We’ve also become a gluttonous society as well.  Think about it.  We want more of everything and we want it NOW.  With the invention of the 4G wireless network, this just adds to our hunger for instant gratification.  We expect everything to be not only faster, but cheaper,  not only with our information, but with our lifestyles in the food choices we make (quick, easy cheap) and with our workouts (in just minutes a day!).  Everything we do seems to happen so quickly and on the fly that we’ve forgotten how to catch our collective breaths and take care ourselves.

It’s a societal negative impact and maybe, this “societal obesity” has manifested itself in the physical obesity we read about every day.  With the world seemingly spinning out of our control, have we subconsciously allowed ourselves to become out of control?  In the “instant” world we live in, do we subconsciously expect we can instantly drop several pounds of unwanted body fat, have rock hard abs, and be cured of our diseases over night?

Time to take a deep breath
Stop the presses!!! Whew!!!  That’s quite a lot!!!  OK….take a deep breath and slowly exhale.  Perhaps the “societal obesity” we’ve created is really “Societal Stress” which has put us in a state of chronic stress.   Are we so accustomed to being under constant stress, that chronic stress is now the norm?  Ask yourself when was the last time you felt truly relaxed both mentally and physically?

Where am I going with all of this?  Perhaps all of this has turned us into a stressed out, reactive society.  Just like poor health and obesity has become the norm, so has stress and we don’t even realize how stressed we really are.  This not only affects our weight and health, but it also affects how we view the world and each other.  Do you find yourself complaining about something all the time?  Do you find yourself thinking positive, happy thoughts most of the time, or negative, angry, unhappy thoughts?  Do you find you have less patience with people or become more nit picky about over insignificant things?

What is Societal Stress Doing to Us?
Keep in mind that I have no research or data on any of this.  Societal Stress is a term I just coined.  This is my commentary, my opinion, my view of the world in which we live in and how it potentially affects our health and our mindset.

There certainly is no shortage of information out there on how stress affects us.  Let’s take a look at how it impacts us.

Chronic Stress and Weight Gain
When we’re stressed, our bodies release a hormone called Cortisol.  Too much Cortisol in the body can slow down your metabolism causing you to gain weight.  Cortisol raises your blood sugar causing fat cells to grow larger. High levels of cortisol over a prolonged period of time increases belly fat levels creating weight loss resistance.

Chronic stress can trigger emotional eating or craving foods that are sugary, fatty, salty.  Essentially, the foods that are bad for you.

Chronic stress can rob you of your energy making you feel run down, tired and irritable.

Stress affects lifestyle choices such as running to the drive thru for an unhealthy meal rather than preparing a healthy meal at home simply because we feel pressed for time or don’t have the energy to cook.

Chronic Stress and Your Health
Chronic stress lowers your immune system making you more susceptible to colds and flu.  Stress can cause insomnia.  It is also linked to many health problems and can worsen health problems such as high blood pressure, and heart attacks.   If you have digestive issues such as GERD (aka acid reflux), peptic ulcers, irritable bowel disease or ulcerative colitis, stress can make your symptoms worse.

Headaches, neck, back and shoulder pain can be brought on by stress.  Over time, these issues can become more frequent and debilitating.

Chronic Stress and the Mind
Chronic stress can affect the way you think, feel and act.

Stress can make you cranky and irritable and perhaps cause you to lose your temper more often

Chronic Stress can lead to depression and or anxiety

Stress can make small problems can seem overwhelming.

Stress can keep you from seeing opportunities and solutions

Chronic stress keeps you in a negative mindset, finding yourself more focused about what you don’t like about a person, place or event rather than what you do like about a person, place or event.

The list about how stress effects your mind and your health goes on and on, and as you can see from the basics of what I listed, how it can impact you.

Time to regain control
There are things you do have control over and yes, these things take time, are daily habits and are a conscious effort and choice.  If you do feel as if the world is spinning out of control, two things you can control are the foods you eat and, getting exercise.  Don’t let stress control what you eat.  Getting control of the foods you eat can go a long way in helping to reduce stress and making you feel more in control.

Another thing you can do is change your perception of the people, places, events that create stress and anxiety for you.  Yes, it our thoughts that create stress.  Our thoughts influence our reality because what we think influences how we react and respond to people, places, situations and events.  You control your thoughts, feelings and actions.

Exercise to relieve stress
One of the best ways to combat stress is through exercise.  Many people who are stressed say they don’t have time to exercise, however, you are the one who controls your schedule and with many 24 hour fitness centers opening up, you can find the time to fit exercise into your schedule.  Something as simple as going out for a leisurely walk can make you feel better and release some of your stress and anxiety.

I used to have an office job that would make me feel anxious and stressed.  What helped clear my mind and release some of the stress was a simple 15 minute walk outside around the building.  Surely you can find at least 15 minutes once a day for a leisurely walk.

One of the stress relieving benefits of exercise is that it releases endorphins which literally makes you feel as if you took a “happy pill”.  It improves your mood, is good for your health, improves sleep, and is a great way to focus your thoughts away from the stresses of the day and focus on the task at hand, regardless if it’s running, swimming, weight lifting, taking a group exercise class, etc.

Scheduling exercise into your week makes you feel more in control of yourself and your time.

Nourish the body and mind with food
When you choose to eat unhealthy fast foods, not only does the process contribute to your stress because everything is done in a hurry, but you probably don’t feel so great after eating it.

According to, “Foods can fight stress in several ways. Comfort foods, like a bowl of warm oatmeal, actually boost levels of serotonin, a calming brain chemical. Other foods can reduce levels of cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones that take a toll on the body over time. Finally, a nutritious diet can counteract the impact of stress, by shoring up the immune system and lowering blood pressure.”

Stress can trigger cravings for fat, sugar and salt which are mostly in the form of processed foods.

To calm your craving for fat, choose foods that contain healthy fats such as avocados, almonds and salmon.

If you are craving carbohydrates, look to eat foods that are high in fiber such as whole grain bread, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta.  These foods can act as comfort foods without spiking insulin levels.

If you’re craving something sweet, choose fresh seasonal fruits which are naturally sweet such as berries, oranges, cherries, apples, bananas, etc.

Studies have shown that dark chocolate may lower stress hormones while satisfying your craving for something sweet.

Time to unwind and quiet the mind
There’s nothing like a good massage to unwind, relieve tense muscles, relax the body and the mind. If you haven’t made an appointment with a licensed massage therapist lately, you may want to do that now.

Stress can affect the quality of your sleep.  Getting 7-8 hours of good, quality sleep is essential for optimal health and weight loss. Stress can also cause you to grind your teeth in your sleep which can cause headaches and muscle tension in the neck and shoulder area. Not getting enough sleep can rob you of your energy, and make your days seem longer and more stressful.  It can become a viscous cycle.

Even though you’re tired and want to sleep, if you’re stressed and have a lot on your mind, many people find that their mind is on constant go and can’t seem to quiet the mind in order to fall asleep.

Watching the evening news is probably not the most optimal way of winding down before going to sleep being that the news, for the most part, is quite negative and can contribute to stress.  Instead, try taking a relaxing bath before bed.  If taking a bath isn’t your thing, try meditation or a relaxation hypnosis recording.  If you are still having difficulty getting good, quality restful sleep, try taking Valerian before bedtime, however, always consult with your health care provider or physician before taking any supplements.

Time to exhale
So, now that we’ve had this discussion about stress, it’s OK to take a nice, deep breath, exhale all that stress, kick back, relax, and unwind.

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  1. 5 Comment(s)

  2. By Cathi | Reply

    Thank you for your post. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Becoming more self-aware of ALL the ways that stress impacts ones life from a holistic perspective is the first step towards empowerment and reducing stress. None of us can fix something that we cannot see. Self-awareness is the key, and then utilizing all your good suggestions for supporting the body are essential.

    Physical Symptoms Of Severe Stress

  3. By Paramjit | Reply

    Great article. It captures the essence of how stress affects weight gain.I would like to add meditation as another way to reduce stress levels. The unfortunate thing about stress is that we learn to live with it and do not realize what it is doing to our health.

  4. By sharifitness | Reply

    Thank you for your comment. I did mention meditation in the article as a way of relieving stress. Mind/body/health are all connected.

  5. By Sheri | Reply

    Shari, I know the stress and feel the frustration it gives me and I struggle. I have been focusing on trying to do the little things but financial contraints make me feel helpless when it comes buying groceries. It’s like I don’t know how to shop to insure that the grocery money lasts until the next pay. Today I set out to work in some exercise despite pain, and what I don’t understand is everyone says exercise gives you energy. At what point? Today I walked fifteen minutes at work and like every time was ready to have a nap in within an hour. Sorry, this is just my frustration. Your article is great, and I know it’s true, it’s getting from here to there. Here is almost 350 and ther is at 200 down, and it’s a journey that’s gone on far too long. I keep telling myself i will win but today the mind says “Really?”

  6. By sharifitness | Reply

    I thank you for sharing your struggles. I too have felt the stress and frustration of financial constraints. It builds on your stress levels which drains you of your energy physically, mentally and emotionally. In the past, I had allowed finances to be a limiting factor which had held me back from believing I can achieve. I know how some people can put down the importance of keeping a positive mindset, but it really is very important. Reading and listening to self-improvement books, audio, video has really helped me re-frame negative thoughts, feelings (stress, frustration, anger, sadness, envy, etc.) and helped me to refocus my mind from “I Can’t” to “How Can I”? That has helped clear the clutter out of my mind and has enabled me to realize possibilities I wouldn’t have imagined.

    Hang in there. Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t have. I HIGHLY recommend you get this DVD. It really has helped me get through some stressful times —>


  1. 3 Trackback(s)

  2. Nov 7, 2010: The Health Benefits of Sleep |
  3. Apr 5, 2011: Snippets | BodynSoil
  4. Oct 18, 2012: Coping with Stress |

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