I’m sure all of you know that stress can be a big part of your health – especially for maintaining weight. The problem lies within our neuroendocrine system, or the brain-to-body connection. The hormones released when we're stressed include adrenalin (instant energy), corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) and cortisol. While high levels of adrenalin and CRH decrease appetite at first, the effects usually don't last long. Cortisol, however, works on it's own time. Its job is to help us replenish our body after the stress has passed, and it hangs around a lot longer. Essentially, cortisol increases your appetite and convinces you to eat more. I never really believed that high levels of stress could affect ones weight. However, my mind was changed a year ago, right after I graduated from Lamar University. Here’s my story.
During my last year of college I was in the best shape of my life. During the fall semesters of my sophomore through senior year, I participated in the Lamar marching band as part of the color guard team. Attending two-hour long rehearsals five times a week led me to have really sculpted arms and be pretty toned, overall. There was no need to hit the gym, I just hit the field! As spring semester approached, I was surprisingly able to keep the weight off, even with the late night snacks and coffee to keep me awake while I pulled all-nighters studying for finals and writing papers.
May 18, 2013 came around and I proudly walked across that stage and shook Jimmy Simmons’ hand to the sounds of my family and my friends in the Lamar band shouting my name and clapping. Four years of hard work, tears and memories I’ll never forget all wrapped up into that degree that I held in my hands. I was happy to be out, but I was sure going to miss it.
I was feeling great after graduation, taking time to relax and enjoy myself and be around family that had come in from all over the country. However, exactly a week after graduation, one phone call that I received from my mother at 2 AM would only be the start to a downhill spin to my summer.
With the added stress of moving out on my own and trying to find a post-grad job, I was now finding myself driving back and forth to St. Elizabeth in Beaumont and MD Anderson in Houston supporting two people whom I loved very much through emergency room visits, CT scans, surgeries, consultation appointments, chemotherapy treatments and a final "congratulations, you're now in complete remission" appointment.
Thankfully, these two people are now doing great despite their health scares. However, it wasn’t easy seeing these two people I loved so much go through what they had to. Both were very limited to what they could do in their process of treatment and recovery and in turn that sometimes sparked anger, blame, tears, etc. In five-six months’ time I gained around 15-20 pounds, which I will admit I'm still in the process of trying to get rid of. A lot of it was stress eating (Blue Bell, anyone?) and it was just hard to eat healthy when you were constantly on the go. When you’ve been stuck in waiting rooms all day with only the granola bar from your purse in your stomach, a Wendy's burger and fries always sounded really good when you finally got out of there – quick, cheap and delicious. On top of that, I was losing a lot of sleep and I can honestly say that I was always feeling a little depressed - my bank account was slowly dwindling because in the midst of all of this, I had no time to job search.
I know my story sounds very negative, but there were some positive occurrences that happened during it that I learned a lot from. Here are some things that helped me (during and after) and some things that I wish I would have done to help me through that time. I hope this will benefit you if you’re going through a tough, stressful time.
1. Have a support system. I wouldn’t have been able to go through any of the above without the support of my mother and my great aunt. Daily phone calls, visits and encouraging text messages are what got me through it. In turn, it was even more important that I was there for my loved ones who were trying to cope with their health. Be sure to be there with them every step of the way. They might want you to back off sometimes but that's okay, give them equal amounts of space and support.
2. Find time to work out and eat healthy. Remember Cutler’s blog about group fitness? You can easily combine numbers 1 & 2 here. Find that support group and hit the gym! Have someone to slap you on the hand when you want that second serving of chocolate cake. ;)
3. Rethink your situation. What is dragging me down and how can I fix it? I found this quote from an article about coping with stress that I LOVE from Richard Blonna: “Each of us has this duffel bag filled with negative thoughts, mental images and dialogue. We have two options: we can let that duffel bag drag us down or we can just drop it or put it away. It’s the idea of accepting that this baggage does exist. We can’t eliminate it, but [you] don’t have to let it stop [you] in [your] tracks.”
4. RELAX. Do something you love! In moderation, of course. Beautiful day? Go swimming! Sale at Target? Swipe that credit card! As Donna and Tom say, “Treat yo self!”
5. And finally: Release. What I’m about to tell you may sound crazy, but I’ve done it and it helps so much! My experience was that I went out to an open field with a friend and you know what we did? We screamed at the top of our lungs. We just let out any tension or anger we may have had built up and you know what? It was the greatest feeling ever! Is that a little too silly for you? Come to +BEYOND and have a go at our punching bag! Be careful though, we don’t want you hurting yourself!
My hope with this blog was to share my personal testimony on something that is such a crucial part of living a healthy lifestyle. I had never experienced extreme stress until what happened last year and I will be happy if I never have to go through an equivalent of that ever again. I hope that this was able to help some of you and if it did please leave a comment below! Remember: a healthy you is a happy you!
And always remember – your staff here at +BEYOND are always more than happy to make your day a little brighter, too!
These are recent photos of myself and the two people mentioned in the above blog, my boyfriend and my grandmother. Two of my best friends and in great spirits now!