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Stuck at Home, Stressed Out and Overeating?

We all feel the effects of stress—agitated moods, headaches, restlessness, tension in our bodies and sleep disturbances, to name a few. Stress in small doses can actually be useful.  Too much stress though and we become imbalanced.

And now, during the corona virus pandemic, many of us are having difficulty managing our eating. As chronic stress imbalances our body and brain chemistry, it overloads our coping mechanisms and can lead to an exaggerated craving for calm, comfort and soothing, and an emotional appetite.

Even though we can never eliminate stress all together, the goal is to be able to handle stressors in such a way as to enjoy our work and relationships, create time for relaxation and have the resilience to meet life’s challenges, all without overeating.

Even though the pandemic is a stressor outside of our control, there are a few things we can do, in addition to copious hand-washing and social distancing that can help us cope:

  • Allow yourself to feel and express all your emotions during this stressful time.  There’s less chance that you’ll grab food when you’ve released pent up emotions. You can write them in your journal, or share them with a family member or friend.
  • Watch any tendency towards catastrophic thoughts.  You know, those thoughts that say “We’ll never get through this” or “I’m sure someone I care about is going to get sick and die.”  Work on reframing these self-defeating thoughts with more positive, uplifting outcome thoughts.
  • Look for the positives.  Can you see any benefits or learning opportunities provided by this stressor?  Has it made you stronger or more resilient?  More empathic?  Has it allowed for more time with loved ones, even the furry ones? If you can’t see any positives, and just feel fearful and resentful, that’s okay; you’re still processing the stressor and will get to the positives when you’re ready.
  • Try to take a longer-term perspective. Remind yourself regularly that this pandemic will not last forever Most likely, this stressor will be significantly reduced in six months to a year, and hopefully sooner. Keep in mind that your feelings and acceptance level are going to change with time.
  • Shift your focus. Take some time to reflect on all the wonderful things in your life. Start with all the folks on the front lines treating patients, working in law enforcement, and at essential businesses like markets and pharmacies. And don’t forget the things you take for granted, such as the air you breathe (behind your mask), running water, a roof over your head and food to eat. Making a gratitude list daily helps take your mind off the things you can’t change.
  • Adjust your expectations. Life constantly requires us to shift and adapt. Just when the economy was doing better-than-ever, the pandemic hit and thousands are sick and dying and millions are out of work. With each new change, we have to create a new “now”, adjust our expectations, and get on with our lives.

I know, easier said than done.

Reducing and managing stress is a process. Trying to reduce it all at once only adds more stress. Relax, take a deep breath and applaud yourself for your willingness to make small changes.

Posted by Julie M Simon, MA, MBA, MFT, psychotherapist and life coach, certified personal trainer, founder and director of The 12 Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program and author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual and When Food Is Comfort. If you have a question or topic you’d like to see addressed in this blog, go to https://overeatingrecovery.com.

Image courtesy of Marcus Aurelius, pixels.net

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