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How to Change Your Response to Stress


Learning how to handle stress goes a long way toward curbing dysregulated eating. Of course, all stress isn’t created equal, but our responses are generally ingrained and we react unconsciously. In order to manage stressful situations, think about how you react interpersonally, that is, whether you move toward or away from people when stressed. There are two extremes you want to watch out for: Do you close up and push family, friends and co-workers away or do you grab onto and cling to them for dear life? 

Many people cave inward when life starts to spin out of control. My client Shara says of her romantic relationship: “When we’re stressed, neither of us wants to talk. It’s like we need to crawl into our own shell to keep it together. We can go on like that for days or even weeks.” My client Grant does exactly the opposite: “I ask everyone I know what to do and feel a need to be constantly talking about whatever the problem is. I think I need to be reassured that everything will be okay. When I’m mega-stressed, I can’t be alone with my thoughts for five minutes because they overwhelm me.”

To be clear, reflecting inwardly or reaching out to people when you’re stressed are both normal, natural, healthy behaviors. In most situations, you want others’ opinions and to reflect on your own thoughts such as, I’m not sure about taking the promotion but my boss wants an answer tomorrow, our apartment is going condo and we need to decide whether to buy it or not, or I don’t know if I can take care of Mom after her stroke.

If you only rely on others when you’re stressed, you’re going to end up doing what they think is right for you, rather than what’s best for you. Many dysregulated eaters don’t trust themselves enough and constantly turn to others to comfort and regulate them, which reinforces their inability to learn to do these things themselves and become resilient. Also, expecting others to be your main source of comfort and wisdom wears other people out and makes them more likely to refuse you help when you really need it.

If you shut down and push others away when you’re stressed, you’ll overburden yourself. You can’t solve all your problems alone and being able to share your troubles with others gives you insights into yourself and your problems that you’ll miss if you don’t turn to others. Moreover, push people away long enough and they’ll give up on you, which will only add to your sense of aloneness and insecurity.

The goal is to learn to rely on yourself and others when you’re stressed. Do what you can to feel better and seek out others to make whatever you’re going through easier. To learn more about stress and de-stressing, check out my many blogs on the subject.