Tag Archives: stress health

5 Things That Lead to Greater Happiness

A happy, healthy life is something to aspire to.  There are a few things that can help to achieve one.

The first thing to keep on the radar is that happiness and health are interrelated as this article from Healthline elaborates on.  Therefore, working on either area as an overarching aim will also influence the other.  Pretty neat! 

Furthermore, setting specific, clear goals that contribute to each area will help ensure attainability.

The simple act of placing focus on the things that provide positive emotion can also play a role in achieving a greater sense of happiness.  Pursuing things that are enjoyable, positive thinking and visualization techniques, and having a sense of purpose are all supportive of finding this focus.

Lowering stress levels can have compelling results that can range from boosting the mood to reducing inflammation in the body.  Interconnected with this is getting sufficient and good quality sleep.  This includes both nightly sleep and other facets of rest such as naps or meditation.

Bursts of physical activity will release endorphins which will then trigger a cascade of biological functions in the body and lead to more uplifting feelings.  Much of this is associated with hormonal related activity in the body which is significant to mental health.  The great news is it doesn’t necessarily need to be higher-level athletic activity.  Although keeping up a motivating fitness regime is fantastic in many ways, even daily walking will get the “happy” hormone cascade going within the body.

Finally, a focus on good, quality nutrition could one of the best things to help achieve a happier, healthier life.  Even business-focused magazines such as Forbes have highlighted the connections between maintaining a healthy diet and positive mental well-being!  Although a specific, individualized dietary structure is a rather specialized area, the focus on a rich variety of vegetables and fruits is the one theme that is salient across all nutritional research. 

To recap, 5 things that lead to greater happiness are:

  • Set specific, clear goals
  • Do things that lead to positive emotion
  • Lower stress & Sleep well
  • Stay physically active
  • Eat well

It is important for overall happiness to strike a balance and not scrutinize over various ebbs and flows, for example, the occasional pleasure food that isn’t necessarily 100% nutritionally optimized, a missed fitness day, or other monkey wrenches that may come into the mix of a good, healthy routine.

Photo by Caju Gomes on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Sources:

Arab, A., Mehrabani, S., Moradi, S., & Amani, R. (2019, Jan). The association between diet and mood: A systematic review of current literature. Psychiatry research271, 428–437.

Blaszczak-Boxe, A.  (2016, Jul 14).  Eating More Fruits & Veggies May Make You Happier.  LiveScience.  Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/55407-eating-more-fruits-veggies-linked-with-life-satisfaction.html.

Bradt, G.  (2015, May 27).  The Secret of Happiness Revealed by Harvard Study.  Forbes.  Retreived from https://www.forbes.com/sites/georgebradt/2015/05/27/the-secret-of-happiness-revealed-by-harvard-study/#25a4c2e26786.

Bridges, F.  (2019, Jan 26).  Healthy Food Makes You Happy:  Research Shows A Healthy Diet Improves Your Mental Health.  Forbes.  Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/francesbridges/2019/01/26/food-makes-you-happy-a-healthy-diet-improves-mental-health/#5ae265f326f8.

Coyle, D.  (2017, Aug 27).  How Being Happier Makes You Healthier.  Healthline.  Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/happiness-and-health.

Głąbska, D., Guzek, D., Groele, B., & Gutkowska, K. (2020, Jan 1). Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mental Health in Adults: A Systematic Review. Nutrients12(1), 115.

Grohol, J.M.  (2018, Jul 8).  The Connection Between Mental & Physical Health.  PsychCentral.  Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-connection-between-mental-physical-health/.

Harvard Medical School (n.d.).  The Happiness-Health Connection.  Harvard Health Publishing.  Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-happiness-health-connection.

Mead, E.  (2019, Nov 21).  6 Benefits of Happiness According to the Research.  PositivePsychology.com.  Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-happiness/.

Siahpush, M, Spittal M, Singh, G.J. (2008, Sep-Oct).  Happiness and Life Satisfaction Prospectively Predict Self-Rated Health, Physical Health, and the Presence of Limiting, Long-Term Health Conditions.  American Journal of Health Promotion, 23(1), 18-26.

Veenhoven, R.  (2019, Aug 14).  Will Healthy Eating Make You Happier?  Research Synthesis Using an Online Findings Archive.  Applied Research in Quality of Life.

Stress and Well-being are Top of Mind in 2020 {ironically, April is Stress Awareness Month}

Are you concerned about your stress and well-being?

Stress and the sense of worry have catapulted.  The various unexpected circumstances and interruptions this year (2020) have led to significant changes in many people’s lives including daily routines.

All of this sheds further light on stress health.  Times that are riddled with unexpected circumstances can present a great opportunity as well.

It is not uncommon for people, in their busy day-to-day, to put stress health on the back burner.  Yet, excess elevated stress levels that are not appropriately dealt with can cause a cascade of other health-related impairments.

…furthermore, making it more challenging to stay healthy.

This includes interference to our immune health, sleep, physical health, mood, and emotional well-being.  More details can be found from sources such as The American Institute of Stress.

An important concept to understand is that not all stress is bad.  Stressors can help to build resilience and, in a sense, make us stronger.  The New York Times recently published a nice write-up on this facet.

Finding ways to focus on how you respond to stressors in the day-to-day can be well worth the while.  Often, it is just about getting started…  pressing that imaginary “begin” button.

Developing a healthy relationship with stress can catalyze improvements in health and well-being as a whole.

If you are one of those people who have put stress health on the back burner OR need a simple format to get started, I have something for you.

In my service business, I have unlocked a 3-day workshop focused on a “keep it simple” approach to addressing stress in your daily lives.

Visit our News and Updates section to learn more.

Photo credit(s): Hello I’m Nik 🎞 on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

5 Ways Good Wellness Helps to Optimize Your Productivity

There are some compelling connections between good wellness and your overall productivity.

Whether you are a business owner, employee, freelancer, or stay-at-home parent, taking these associations into account may be of significant help to reap certain rewards.  Honing in on good wellness in support of personal productivity can be great for the following:

  • Help you to get things done
  • Contribute to meaningful progress towards your goals
  • Ultimately, lead to a more flawless journey from point A to B when it comes to your Achievements, Desired Outcomes, and other areas of Success

Implementers of workplace wellness offerings have been rather keen on this for years.  Studies on these programs have observed improvements in various productivity measures across the workforce population that were enrolled.  Also, positive changes were shown in both people considered healthy and sick, such as those with at least one chronic health condition.

As an individual, a proactive approach to wellness is certainly an area to consider for both personal health outcomes and productivity-related results.

Poorer health may interfere with the ability to function well.  Furthermore, it can result in certain limitations.  Although not all health conditions are within our immediate control, engaging in wellness programs and activities can help to prevent certain impairments in our health and well-being.

5 ways that good health and wellness can influence productivity include the following;

  1. Improved mental clarity and focus.  People who are in good or better health tend to comment that they also feel better mentally.  Also, certain activities and habits, such as physical activity, meditation, getting sufficient sleep, and eating well can help out our internal biochemistry and the brain which can lead to better memory, executive functioning, and overall cognition.
  2. Stress-reduction and reduced burnout.  Wellness can also support people to learn coping mechanisms for when life puts on the pressure, especially considering that many people are juggling to maintain a good balance across priorities.  The American Institute of Stress has been monitoring facets related to the onset of stress, including work-related factors.  High-stress levels may lead to missed days at work, less focus while completing tasks, and a poorer outlook.  Many health-related activities lead to reduced stress levels.
  3. Greater levels of happiness.  Although complex, research suggests that “happy workers” feel more satisfied and are more productive.  The exact path leading to someone’s happiness includes several factors, however, people participating in various health related-activities and wellness programs report a greater sense of well-being including overall happiness and a favorable outlook on life.  Furthermore, more engagement in healthy activities may also reduce loneliness.
  4. Enhanced motivation and well-being.  Health and wellness as a whole is a great area to plan, work for, track, and achieve goals.  The function of this alone can encourage positive motivation which can have a bit of an amplification effect for other aspects of both productivity and positive well-being.
  5. Fewer unplanned interruptions due to illness.  Better immune health can serve as a catalyst to avoid the onset of illnesses or, at least, reduce the severity.  Certain good health practices can help to take a proactive approach to protect and boost the immune system.

Habits such as nourishing the body through good food, taking breaks for physical activity and social time, leaving time for creativity or creative thought, and getting enough quality sleep are all areas that make up “good wellness”.  A more comprehensive list of suggestions is included in a Thrive Global article focused on correlations between well-being and higher performance.

Photo credit(s):  krisna iv on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

References:

American Institute of Stress, The (n.d.).  Workplace Stress.  Retrieved from https://www.stress.org/workplace-stress.

Gubler, T., Larkin, I., and Pierce, L. (2017, Dec 19).  Doing Well by Making Well: The Impact of Corporate Wellness Programs on Employee Productivity.  Management Science, 64(11), 4967-4987.

Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School (2020, Jan 29).  12 Ways to Keep Your Brain Young.  Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/12-ways-to-keep-your-brain-young.

Krause, W. (2017, May 7).  Wellbeing is Correlated to Higher Performance.  Thrive Global.  Retrieved from https://medium.com/thrive-global/why-well-being-has-everything-to-do-with-productivity-bc89ecc09959.

Peiró, J. M., Kozusznik, M. W., Rodríguez-Molina, I., and Tordera, N. (2019).  The Happy-Productive Worker Model and Beyond: Patterns of Wellbeing and Performance at Work. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health16(3), 479.

Raghupathi, W. and Raghupathi, V.  (2018, Mar).  An Empirical Study of Chronic Diseases in the United States:  A Visual Analytics Approach to Public Health.  International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(3), 431.

Nichols, H. (2018, Jan 10).  How to Boost Your Brain.  Medical News Today.  Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320576.php#1.

What Are Superfoods and How Can They Help You

You may be hearing about “new superfoods” this year.

What does this mean and how can you fit this information into a realistic plan for health and wellness?  (Hint, see below for 3 tried and true tips).

Essentially the term “superfood” is not necessarily one that is scientific but may still be relevant to consider with identifying food sources that are packed with nutrients.

“Superfood” is indicative of a food source and the compounds within it that have been linked to certain health benefits or the prevention of adverse health conditions.  Many of these foods are derived from plant-based sources, although not all.

You will likely hear about the power of these foods concerning a range of health topics including, but not limited to the following:

  • weight loss
  • reversing or preventing cognitive impairments and our overall brain health
  • help in mental and emotional wellness, such as conditions like depression
  • overall health of the gut
  • stress reduction

The health benefits from these foods may include reducing excess inflammation and adverse oxidative stress which are two key factors involved in the discussion of chronic health conditions.  This is also a key reason for the emphasis on these “superfoods” when it comes to your health outcomes.

It seems that each year there is a new list of hot topic food options that can apply to your health and wellness but may also be trendy and, therefore, will show up in restaurants or product offerings.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of as an empowered health consumer.

So, what are a few of these “2020 superfoods” that you may be hearing more about this year?

In somewhat of a continuation from recent years past, you will be hearing and learning more about fermented foods, seaweeds and algae, and seeds that are both edible and carry significant nutritional benefits.  Furthermore, food sources that may aid in your digestive health such as those with prebiotics, fiber, or digestive bitters.

A term that you may hear and could be new to you is “nervines” which are adaptogenic herbs supportive of your nervous system or are “neuroprotective”.  Nervines can also influence hormone regulation so can be important in many health-related conditions.  Also, these food sources may be good to include in your health plan for approaches to stress.

One of my all-time favorite companies for herbs, spices, teas, and essential oils is Mountain Rose Herbs.  They break down Understanding Nervines and Adaptogens in their blog.  Furthermore, Healthline, a leading source for consumer information related to health and wellness, also provides an overview of Adaptogenic Herbs.

Then, of course, there are the tried and true options such as berries, avocados, beets, dark leafy greens and microgreens, mushrooms, and fatty fish like salmon or sardines.  An important attribute to many of these foods is the rich pigments (i.e. color) of the food.  In natural foods, color is often indicative of nutrients critical to human health.

So how can you make sense of the term “superfood” used in media and marketing?

According to the leading global consulting firm, Accenture, consumers are changing to be more health-conscious and aware.  Also, the emphasis on personalized approaches to diet and nutrition is growing.

As a health and wellness professional myself, it is an exciting trend to observe.  Yet, it is also one to monitor for quality and overall relevance of the information.  As alluded to above, there is an intersect of science and marketing with the term “superfood”.  However, there are certainly ways to remain clued in and empowered as a health consumer.

In closing, 3 simple, tried and true approaches to include superfoods in your health and wellness are:

  • Eat colorful foods in variety
  • Incorporate nutrient-dense foods into snacking
  • Include herbs and spices in food preparation and cooking

If you simply start with and focus on these 3 tactics, you will undoubtedly be at an advantage when it comes to living most healthful and well.

Photo credit(s):  Ella Olsson on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Prioritizing Your Health and Finances To Get The Most Out of Life

Taking care of yourself, including both health and finances, is a sure-fire way to cultivate various positive aspects of your life.  Financial health is a critical element within self-care.  A positive stance for financial wellness can expand your abilities, contributions, and impact you have on others.

There are a fair amount of psycho- and sociological factors and, often, stigmas around making financial decisions that can be rather entangled.  Regardless, mental, physical, and financial health are inextricably linked.  Therefore, it’s worth placing focus on this area as part of a proactive approach to leading an overall healthful life.

Financial worry can set off a cascade of challenges.

In many people, it can lead to chronic stress which, furthermore, can impair sleep, lead to greater levels of anxiety or states of depression, may influence self-esteem, and could trigger less healthful behaviors.  Furthermore, psychological distress and negative emotions may indirectly contribute to increased inflammation in the body, higher blood pressure, and the onset of other chronic health conditions.

Financial stress could even inhibit seeking out appropriate care in the first place.  According to the American Psychological Association, the cost of health care is a leading concern and cause for stress (2019).

Essentially, financial stress can be disruptive in nature.  However, there are facets that can help the mental-emotional relationship to finances.  Like any other aspect of life and goal-setting, expectations should be realistic.  It may also be beneficial to take self-inventory for how you make decisions.

One review of five studies suggested that “affective decision-makers” may be more likely to avoid making decisions related to financial matters.  This was due, in part, to the perception that decisions related to finances are very analytical in nature.  Affective thinking has lent towards having a distinct sense of feeling or emotion present when making decisions.  Affective decision-makers may have considered financial decisions “cold” in nature and, therefore, less relatable.  Furthermore, the complexities of financial products and instruments could have been intimidating (Park and Sela, 2017).

It is not to assume that affective thinking is inefficient and absolutely leads to a less proactive approach to finances, but it could be important to understand where you fall on the spectrum in case this is a mediating factor.

Ignoring your finances can create more money problems and increase the resulting stress.  Acknowledging and accepting any negative feelings you may have about dealing with your money is a critical step.

Other areas that studies have shown to be influential include the following:

  • one’s social environment and/or level of emotional support
  • relationships and social standings within communities
  • previous experiences with financial stressors

According to Gallup-Sharecare, five essential elements of well-being include:

  • sense of purpose, including within a career path
  • social relationships
  • financial security
  • relationship to community
  • physical health

Furthermore, they have defined “financial” as managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.

Like with any big challenge, breaking out small, actionable steps and a clear timeline can be beneficial.  Working with appropriate professionals, including both those with financial expertise and emotional health resources (or therapeutic options), can help to refine your perspective and address any blocks in the mindset.

As experts will point out, this area is complex and laced with emotional drivers.  There is also a difference between knowing what to do and understanding how to do it.

Not all support options have to cost an arm and a leg.

Many cities and towns have finance-related programs through their city/public affairs divisions or library systems.  Meanwhile, a hack to mental health is seeing a psychologist in training who will be under supervision but have more nominal fees.

Although exact financial circumstances will vary from person to person.  Taking steps to ensure financial behaviors are healthful can help to reduce mental fog from financial stress and, therefore, lead to a greater level of productivity.  It can help you move forward and feel more positive about what’s to come in life.

Photo credit(s):  Fabian Blank on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

References:

American Psychological Association (Nov, 2019).  Stress in America 2019.  Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2019/stress-america-2019.pdf.

American Psychological Association (2015, Feb 4).  Stress in America, Paying with our Health.  Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2014/stress-report.pdf.

Connolly, M. and Slade, M. (2019, May 7).  The United States of Stress 2019, Special Report.  Everyday Health.  Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/wellness/united-states-of-stress/.

Gallup-Sharecare Well-being Index (2017).  State of American Well-being, 2017 State Well-being Rankings.  Retrieved from https://wellbeingindex.sharecare.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Gallup-Sharecare-State-of-American-Well-Being_2017-State-Rankings_FINAL.pdf.

Park, J.J. and Sela, A. (2018, Aug).  Not My Type:  Why Affective Decision Makers Are Reluctant to Make Financial Decisions.  Journal of Consumer Research, 45(2), 298-319.

Sturgeon, J.A., et al.  (2016).  The Psychosocial Context of Financial Stress:  Implications for Inflammation and Psychological Health.  Psychosomatic Medicine, 78(2), 134-143.

The best, research-backed approaches to stress for better weight loss

Stress-related weight gain is a real thing and plagues many people.  We know from research that there are associations between chronic stress and the body holding on to that stubborn weight, particularly in the place we want it the least….  Our belly!

Researchers in specialized areas of health and science, such as neurobiology, have observed overlaps between psychological stress and factors associated with body weight, including appetite and energy regulation.  They have also observed the effect of psychological stress on various cognitive processes such as executive function and self-regulation.

Psychological and/or psychosocial stress, as it could be categorized, that may result from work, relationships, life balance, and finances have all been assessed in association with eating behaviors.

Furthermore, studies have established various connections between stress-induced eating patterns, such as the tendency to turn to “comfort food” or impulsive over eating.  Each of which could lead to an increase in visceral fat.

Excess visceral fat is something we are looking to avoid! 

Stress can also impact hormonal activity, such as cortisol the primary hormone involved with stress response, which may set off a cascade that influences body weight as well.  Cortisol also influences blood sugar regulation, mood, motivations, and even fear.  It is relevant when chronic stress is considered and can trigger the process that leads to weight gain.

A stressful event also prompts the release of glucose in which the body can convert to quick, readily available energy (for example, if the need to quickly run away from something frightening presented itself).  However, if elevated stress levels are either initiated when they are, perhaps, less necessary or end up being prolonged (i.e. chronic), it can lead to a release of glucose when it’s not needed for that type of use.  Then, the storage of energy can be created in the form of body fat.  This is something that has been observed when elevated stress levels have resulted from psychological sources.

The connection between stress and inflammation levels has been thoroughly reviewed.  Furthermore, this can contribute to the onset of many adverse health conditions.  The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) summarizes this HERE.

Needless to say, there are a lot of things that excess stress levels can impact, including how our bodies manage weight.

Although researchers are still trying to nail down exactly who is most affected by these dynamics and why so, certain people may be at greater risk.

This study in Obesity suggests that women who are caregivers in tougher situations, such as caring for an autistic child, may have a higher likelihood of facing challenges with their weight as influenced by chronically elevated stress levels.  This was observed to be especially applicable when the participant demonstrated a higher likelihood for more impulsive risk-taking behavior in the past.

The researchers in the study mentioned above pointed out that although MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) could be a good start to proactively manage harmful stress levels, that the framework would likely be enhanced for better outcomes in weight loss with an added focus on eating mindfully.  This was recommended to retrain the behavioral dynamic between reward-related eating as a coping mechanism for circumstances such as experiencing chronic stress.

Mindful eating is further supported by a systematic review in Current Obesity Reports, while another review in Nutrition Research Reviews highlighted mindfulness as a potentially viable strategy to address emotional eating which could influence weight management.  Essentially what a review article implies is that across a body of evidence, the solution has demonstrated favorable results and is, therefore, considered more valid.

The researchers behind this article in The Journal of Behavioral Medicine explored stress and weight gain in women shortly after the birth of their first child.  The rationale to take a deeper dive in this area was related to the shift in the available time, energy, and motivation for self-care that can occur with a new mother as well as the relationship between the health of the mother to that of the child.  They suggested that stress management should be integrated into lifestyle health approaches for a longer-term post-childbirth, but that this type of resource is not widely available.  Also, they included mind-body approaches as a potential avenue to consider due to the whole systems perspective as well as joining supportive networks.

Another population of interest is people that are coping with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) which is sort of a unique category of stress because it arises from events that are considered acute vs chronic or recurring but may result in longer-term effects that then make the stress response chronic.

Prevalence of overweight and obesity has been monitored in individuals with PTSD.  Studies have been a little bit fragmented, but, as a systematic review published in Harvard Review of Psychiatry reported, PTSD may lead to higher BMI, a standardized measure of weight status, particularly in women.  Review articles published before this one also had similar conclusions.

This study in the JAMA Psychiatry (Journal of American Medicine) looked specifically at women with PTSD.  The researchers mentioned previous studies where decreased physical activity, increased consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages, and generally dysregulated food intake was noted in people with PTSD.  Furthermore, internal dysregulation, such as neuroendocrine function, cortisol levels, and impact on other biochemical activity, has been observed.  Unfortunately, no specific method of treatment was suggested in their discussion.

It is important to point out that BMI can a bit subjective as a measure of weight status, but has been a standard for several years and is a measurement used across many studies.  Studies that have included other measures, such as waist circumference (WC) and/or waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), could be more telling.

Other emerging research is looking at various interrelationships between certain biochemical factors associated with post-traumatic stress, such as inflammatory markers or neuroendocrine activation.  It is possible that internal responses to this sort of stress could be the primary reason that individuals with PTSD have a greater risk for the onset of obesity.

Many of the articles detailing these studies indicated support for greater emphasis on healthcare provider knowledge and the ability to address stress management in consideration for patient’s health.  Therefore, it may be a good idea to include this on the list of topics of discussion when you meet with healthcare providers.

It is unclear why the emphasis in many of the research studies has been on such refined or specific populations, such as women in a specific time frame of life or circumstance, and that other groups have not been as thoroughly reviewed.

However, what is clear that a key recurring theme in the research is “chronic stress” which can influence mental well-being, hormone regulation, immune health, and inflammation levels.  Furthermore, this can present challenges to the endocrine system as a whole.  Also, when paired with other factors that may also lead to weight gain or the various metabolic diseases related to obesity, the association between chronic stress and weight status, is usually strengthened.

There is also a dynamic between what is referred to as “obesity stigma” and the definition of one’s identity.  This topic could be a follow-up article all in itself, but there is supportive evidence to suggest that finding ways to reduce stigmas associated with overweight or obese weight statuses could be meaningful for both reducing psychological stress and better approaches to weight loss.

So, how can we reduce chronic stress for better weight loss or management?

Essentially, when we are looking at impacts of stress, there is a range of interactions across cognitive functions, physiology, biochemistry, and our behaviors.  Therefore, approaches that consider these interacting facets have the most support.

Self-care is widely mentioned across both literature and major health advising sources, such as The Mayo Clinic.  Self-care is a combination of daily activities and behaviors in support of overall health and well-being as well as favorable mental and emotional engagements.

Two areas within self-care that may be worth dedicated consideration are 1) sleep and 2) physical activity.  Adverse stress is thought to be disruptive to the patterns associated with each of these areas and they are also relevant to effective weight management.

Keeping tabs on factors that may be influencing physiology and biochemistry is another integrated strategy worth placing focus.  Our bodies are biochemical and although we may not feel the effects of imbalances, we may have inadvertently set ourselves up to ignore them or don’t realize what might be an indicator of a problem.  These imbalances can essentially hack our ability to keep excess weight off and could be influencing our mental well-being as well.  Therefore, creating a vicious cycle that may be challenging to escape from.

Oxidative stress, for example, is a different kind of stress but is ever so important to consider in a weight management approach.  Again, the research is consistently emerging in this area and there is evidence to suggest that certain levels of oxidative stress may be good for us.  For this discussion, I’m referring to adverse oxidative stress levels.

The association between adverse oxidative stress and obesity has been observed across both human studies of epidemiological (meaning patterns of disease) and clinical nature as well as animal studies, as highlighted in this journal article.  In a nutshell, it is thought that adverse oxidative stress could trigger extra adipose tissue, i.e. part of what we are looking at when we discuss “belly fat”, and influence other underlying factors associated to obesity, such as chronic inflammation or impaired mitochondrial function which would influence our body’s ability to produce and regulate energy.

The health of the microbiome is another aspect.  The composition of the gut microbiota is influenced by both bodyweight itself and dietary factors.  It is also responsive to psychological stress.  It is relevant because we have come to understand just how many physiological functions are influenced by the health of the microbiome including stress response, body weight, and eating behaviors.  An important subset point here is to also monitor the intake of sugar which could go back to that “comfort food” discussion above.

Monitoring cortisol levels may be another thing worth the while.  Essentially the approach here is to determine whether or not what is happening with cortisol in the body also places someone in a higher risk category.  As discussed in a more scientific language in a Current Obesity Reports journal article, certain patterns of cortisol may lead to more abdominal obesity which is more tightly linked to metabolic and cardiovascular diseases.

It is important to recognize that much of this research is ongoing, however, what is clear, is that dietary factors do play a role.  A dietary approach rich in nutrients and relevant compounds paired with low intake of inflammatory foods could help both your weight and stress levels.

Working with a health professional can also be helpful versus going at stress management on your own.  Qualified health professionals can help with internal factors, such as those mentioned above, and to help identify the source(s) and, if possible, type of stress.

A few questions you might ask yourself include:

  • “Is your psychological stress mostly chronic mild stress related to daily life?”
  • “Are there specific social circumstances leading to your stress and what kind of social position are they putting you into?”
  • “Have you experienced a traumatic event and, if so, when in your life did this occur?”

There is also such as thing as “perceived stress” which, in a nutshell, is an indicator of how the person psychologically responds to stress or how they interpret how much stress they are under versus simply quantifying the stress as a dose alone and applying it generically across individuals.  To bring further context to this, some people will find circumstances more or less stressful while others may not even find those same circumstances stressful at all.

Practicing approaches involving mindfulness AND eating mindfully could be one of the best research-backed solutions for both stress and behavior associated with eating patterns.  Although more studies are needed which include the approaches within weight management programs, studies have shown that these practices increase internal awareness.

The current direction of the research is compelling since stress-induced eating patterns can be harder to remedy.  This is, in part, because often they are reducing psychological stress for the person engaging in the patterns.  Therefore, it may take a more integrated, comprehensive approach including a focus on both the mindset and behavior to make changes happen.  This is where mindfulness related practices, including the framework of mindful eating, serve to make the most impact.  Also, as this article details, the approach is less focused on rules to eating which may be cumbersome for people.  Instead, it is much centered on sensational factors, such as enjoyment.

A transcript from Duke Integrative Medicine provides a popular mindful eating exercise with a raisin while this article from Mindful provides 6 other tactics for those who may not be as into the raisin exercise.

Furthermore, mind-body practices emphasize a whole-systems perspective honing in on the various interconnections between mental, physical, emotional, social, and physiological.  The emphasis on each of these aspects to health has the potential to decrease stress and improve outcomes associated with weight simultaneously.  Yoga, meditation, and therapies such as acupuncture are common to mind-body medicine.

Actively practicing relaxation may be a viable way to intervene on the tendency for stress-induced eating that is not healthful.  It is thought that relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation and meditation, could mediate reward pathways, emotional facets, and habits related to coping mechanisms.

Other tips from the research include 1) practicing realistic avoidance, 2) joining a supportive network (even if online), and 3) integrating the approaches as a long-term strategy (versus assuming something will be a quick fix).

To recap, research-backed approaches to stress which can help with weight loss are:

  • Consistent self-care
  • A check-up with a health professional
  • Addressing factors associated with health physiology and biochemistry
  • Appropriate nutrition
  • Behavioral- & mindset-based interventions, such as those that focus on mindfulness
  • Realistic avoidance
  • Relaxation
  • Social activity and/or supportive networks
  • Considering it for the long-haul

Photo by Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Sources:

Duke Integrative Medicine.  (n.d.). Mindful Eating Exercise.  Retrieved from https://www.dukeintegrativemedicine.org/dukeimprogramsblog/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/08/Mindful-Eating-Transcript.pdf.

Dunn, C., et al.  (2018, Mar).  Mindfulness Approaches and Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and Weight Regain.  Current Obesity Reports, 7(1), 37-49.

How Do Stress and Inflammation Contribute to Chronic Disease?  (n.d.)  The Institute for Functional Medicine.  Retrieved from http://bit.ly/Stress-ChronicDisease (shortened link).

Huberty, J., et al.  (2017, Feb).  Exploring the Need for Interventions to Manage Weight and Stress During Interconception.  Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 40(1), 145-158.

Kubzansky, L.D., Bordelois, P., & Jun, H.J.  (2014, Jan).  The Weight of Traumatic Stress:  A Prospective Study of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms and Weight Status in Women.  JAMA Psychiatry, 71(1), 44-51.

Manna, P. & Jain, S.K.  (2015, Dec 1).  Obesity, Oxidative Stress, Adipose Tissue Dysfunction, and the Associated Health Risks:  Causes and Therapeutic Strategies.  Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders 13(10), 423-444.

Masih, T., Dimmock, J.A., Epel, E.S., & Guelfi, K.J.  (2017, Nov 1).  Stress-induced Eating and the Relaxation Response as a Potential Antidote:  A Review and Hypothesis.  Appetite, 118, 136-143.

Masodkar, K., Johnson, J., & Peterson, M.J.  (2016, Jan 7).  A Review of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Obesity:  Exploring the Link.  The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 18(1).

Mason, A.E., et al.  (2018, Mar 22).  Chronic Stress and Impulsive Risk-Taking Predict Increases in Visceral Fat over 18 Months.  Obesity, 26, 869-876.

Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan.  (n.d.). Stress Management:  Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation.  Retrieved from https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2225.

Nelson, J.B.  (2017, Aug).  Mindful Eating:  The Art of Presence While You Eat.  Diabetes Spectrum:  a publication of the American Diabetes Association, 30(3), 171-174.

Phillips, A.C.  (2013).  Perceived Stress.  In: Gellman M.D., Turner J.R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine. Springer, New York, NY.

Razzoili, M. & Bartolomucci, A.  (2016, Jul).  The Dichotomous Effect of Chronic Stress on Obesity.  Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, 27(7), 504-515.

Savini, I., Catani, M. V., Evangelista, D., Gasperi, V., & Avigliano, L. (2013, May). Obesity-Associated Oxidative Stress: Strategies Finalized to Improve Redox State.  International Journal of Molecular Sciences14(5), 10497–10538.

Suliman, S., et al.  (2016, Jul-Aug).  Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Overweight, and Obesity:  A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.  Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 24(4), 271-293.

Tenk, J., et al.  (2018, Sep).  Perceived Stress Correlates with Visceral Obesity and Lipid Parameters of the Metabolic Syndrome:  A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.  Psychoneuroendocrinology, 95, 63-73.

Tomiyama, J.A.  (2019).  Stress and Obesity.  Annual Review of Psychology, 70, 5.1-5.16.

van der Valk, E.S., Savas, M., & van Rossum, E.F.C.  (2018, Apr 16).  Stress and Obesity:  Are There More Susceptible Individuals?  Current Obesity Reports, 7(2), 193-202.

Warren, J.M., Smith, N., & Ashwell, M.  (2017, Dec).  A Structured Literature Review on the Role of Mindfulness, Mindful Eating and Intuitive Eating in Changing Eating Behaviors:  Effectiveness and Associated Potential Mechanisms.  Nutrition Research Reviews, 30(2), 272-283.

Willard, C.  (2019, Jan 17).  6 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating.  Mindful.  Retrieved from https://www.mindful.org/6-ways-practice-mindful-eating/.

Your health and stress: What you can do

It’s not uncommon to have some awareness of the impact of stress on health, yet not really know what to do about it.

There are, in fact, several things we can do within our daily lives to reduce stress and, therefore, create a more balanced and well life.  It is also intriguing that there are some favorable outcomes from certain levels of stress which I’ll highlight further in this post.

I do want to point out that when I’m talking about reducing stress, I am referring to “adverse” stress.  In layman’s terms, this could be considered the “bad” stress.

Self-care is one of the most basic approaches to stress management.

Yep, it’s actually rather simple.  Take care of yourself in a holistic manner and you can pretty much bet on less physical, mental, and emotional stress.

What does that mean???

At a base level, I am talking about healthfulness in terms of food and diet, physical activity, conditioning the mind, relationships, spiritual or connection to purpose, and engagement with finances.  Some people may recognize this as the dimensions of wellness.

Thinking more comprehensively is when we get to pull it all together in a way that brings us balance despite the various ebbs and flows we will encounter.  Furthermore, recognizing that this will take a proactive approach to how we go about life and respond to circumstances as they arise.

For a few examples of specific self-care practices, be sure to check out this article from Very Well Mind, 5 Self-Care Practices for Every Area of Your Life.

Bottomline; prioritize the care of your health and overall wellness to also reduce the likelihood of heightened, chronic adverse stress.

If you are looking for a therapeutically oriented approach with notable evidence to back it up, then Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is likely for you.  This may also fall under Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

The term mindfulness may seem a little elusive.  I have seen it explained as anything from “relaxing the mind” to something such as “openness to experience with grounding in the body” which can likely have a wild range of interpretations for meaning.

A textbook definition hones in on self-awareness and recognition for how one responds to circumstances while in the specific moment(s) in which they arise.

In research, which mostly falls under Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in fields such as psychology,  we have observed that certain shifts in the mindset paired with an emphasis on practicing self-compassion have been positively correlated to stress reduction.  Studies have also shown compelling information with regards to a reduction in feelings of “burn out”.

Furthermore, the reduction of adverse stress in our daily lives has been considered with regards to the quality of life factors, such as productivity, health outcomes, leisure and social interactions, and certain socio-economic aspects.

Meanwhile, meditation practices have been around for centuries and are often relied upon for the management of stress.  In fact, if you run a web search on mindfulness or self-care for that matter, many of the results for exercises to complete will include meditation as a suggestion.

With a significant emphasis on breathwork, meditative practices are considered mind-body therapies.  Breathing practices can help disengage the brain from negative responses, such as mind racing, and bring a greater sense of focus.

Furthermore, there is a connection with breathing patterns to the nervous system.  Approaches considerate of this, such as meditation exercises, are thought to relax the nervous system.  This can help bring the body out of a heightened response state and, therefore, reduce excess stress response as well as other respective adverse effects such as consequences to the immune system.

Studies of brain mechanisms and meditation are emerging, but we are seeing much more integration of meditation into both professional and social settings centered on wellness or well-being and certain clinical care settings.

Finally, a somewhat unique, emerging option is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).  Admittedly, when I first started hearing hype about this approach, I was a bit skeptic.  However, when I finally did the research, I found it compelling.  The approach is of particular interest when chronic emotional stress or feelings of anxiety are present.  This Healthline article, What is EFT Tapping, provides a succinct overview.

Now on to the benefits of a little stress!

There is such a thing as “good” stress.  Eustress is the type that energizes us, such as that the comes from various exhilarating experiences.

Also, moderate levels of stress, in our day-to-day lives can actually help us to build resilience, which is the ability to overcome obstacles.  This article in Time, How Some Stress Can Actually Be Good For You, talks to a few experts in psychology about this.  They also point out benefits to motivation, social bonding, and the recognition of purpose in life.

Knowledge of this fact alone can actually be empowering in itself.  It can help us put into perspective how we respond to things and, when things feel a little out of hand, the methodologies detailed above can come in handy!

Want to learn a little more about what to actually do in your life AND come away with a personalized action plan???  Consider joining us for a virtual workshop.  Sign up HERE.

Photo credit:  Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.