How to Know You’re Stressed
Not a week goes by when a client doesn’t tell me a story about their overeating without adding, “I was stressed, and I didn’t even know it.” This is a common problem for many of us in this culture, being out of touch with feeling stressed and only finding out we were after the fact, often when we’ve eaten to try to reduce it. The problem is two-fold, being poorly connected to ourselves emotionally and physically and not respecting the signals we send ourselves when we’re stressed.
A client and I were talking about this very issue. She’s a busy mother with a part-time job she does at home and raising two children pretty much alone because her husband travels so much. While we were discussing the difference between being busy (which she enjoys) and stressed (which she, of course, doesn’t), I started thinking about how any of us can recognize one from the other.
She and I agreed that busy is a neutral feeling occurring when you have enough time and energies for tasks and no major impediments: visit Dad at the nursing home, help the kids with their homework, fill out grad school applications, go to the gym, etc. When you’re busy, you’re ticking off tasks and feeling a sense of pride in getting them done.
On the other hand, when you’re stressed, you feel tenseness in your body, might get a headache, or feel an unpleasant tension between what you want to get done and what you think “needs” to. Stress is both a mental and physical pressure. Your thoughts often race, and you might feel your heart beating faster. Anxiety courses through your body. Okay, I’m pretty sure this sounds familiar, so you know what I’m talking about.
When you’re well connected to your body, you feel these sensations and recognize that you’re stressed and need to pay attention. Then you can decide how to de-stress: either change how you feel inside by taking a break, deep breathing, closing your eyes and doing neck rolls, etc. or consider how you can change your activities in order to be less tense about them. Maybe you postpone a task to another day or do everything on your to-do list but not as well as you’d like.
Most people are so used to stress that they simply assume it’s a given which it is on occasion. But even then, it’s not healthy for your body and it’s telling you something. The goal is to recognize when you’re feeling stressed in the moment, not three Snickers bars after the fact and take intentional action to reduce stress. One strategy is to ask yourself periodically how you’re feeling; another is to think ahead to what stresses you and plan accordingly. Just one more way to find success on the road to “normal” eating.