If you are struggle with food addiction, emotional eating or binge eating, stress can trigger emotions that you may have been regulating with food. Managing stress without food requires that you learn a new set of skills to use when you’re feeling overwhelmed, worn out, or stressed to the max. Managing stress also requires learning to tap into your body’s wisdom to identify the early warning signs and symptoms of stress, a key first step toward handling stress differently. Stress management involves a moment-by-moment mindful awareness that you may not naturally possess but that you can learn.
In this podcast, you will learn:
- What the difference is between stress and burnout.
- Why loneliness can exacerbate stress and shorten your lifespan.
- Key steps you can take to build resilience to stress.
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Hi everybody. This is Dr. Carolyn bringing you episode number 108: Help! I’m stressed to the max and I can’t stop eating. So I’ve talked about stress before, but today we’re going to talk about it in a little different way, and also talk about the impact of loneliness on stress and vice versa and how you can build resistance to become stress proof and change proof. So listen in and I will be telling you more about this important topic.
Hi everybody, Dr. Carolyn here, today I’m going to be talking about something that I’m sure most of us can identify with and that’s stress. The topic today help I’m stressed to the max and I can’t stop eating. Let me say for myself the last few weeks, and the last couple of years have been very stressful and I know for me, part of the stress comes from how I deal with situations. I’m may make them more stressful than they need to be. For example, not being able to ask for help when I need help or postponing it until it’s almost too late is one of the bad habits that I’ve been working on in my life. And I feel like most of us are stressed to the max because of things that are out of our control, which is one of the ways in which stress can really get a hold of us is by throwing things that we really can’t control like a pandemic that last, not a few months, not a year, but it’s going on its third year now. So there’s nothing we can do about the things we can control other than how we react to them.
So I want to give you an example of one of my patients whose name is Virginia and when I saw her, she was a 42 year old woman and owned a very large business. She’s married with two children and both of her children were in college and she felt that her life was pretty good overall with one exception. And you know what that is, she’s struggling with emotional eating with food obsessions and with, by his satisfaction. Now she self-reports that she’s a stress eater and running a large company, leaves her a little time to eat regular meals or to be active. The stress of her work and the financial strain of having two kids in college, which I think many of us know something about have taken their toll on her. Every time something goes wrong at work she finds herself bingeing on junk food or candy or French fries or other foods. Her parents are aging and she’s the oldest in the family and the only woman. And she’s also the only one that lives close to them. So she is heavily involved with their care and this just adds more stress and makes her feel hopeless that she will ever be able to get any of her behaviors under control, get that out of control, eating under control.
So as you know, if you are an emotional eater, if you obsess about food or your body, if you binge or stress eat, stress can trigger a feelings inside of you that you’ve been regulating with food that you use food as a coping mechanism.
So in Virginia’s case above, that shows how you know recurrent acute stress as well as chronic stress can sabotage any efforts you make to resolve your food and body image issues. So acute stress is something that happens, you know, for short period of time. So say one of your, one of your parents gets ill and you have to caretake them, but they recover.
Chronic stress is something that goes on for a longer period of time. And that the perfect example for that would be the quarantine, which has gone on for a long period of time, much longer than we all expected. And we couldn’t prepare for it because we didn’t know what would be involved in it.
So managing stress without using food requires that you learn a new set of skills that many people have never learned before because their food and body image issue started when they were a child and they weren’t taught these skills.
So these skills are what you can use to manage yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed, worn out or stressed to the max. Now, I’m not going go through the list of skills we’ve done other videos and podcasts on that. So if you’re interested in starting to learn skills, which I highly recommend, you might want to check out those past episodes.
Managing stress also requires learning to tap into your body’s wisdom to identify for example, early warning signs and symptoms of stress, which is really the first step to learning how to handle your stress differently. Stress management involves a moment by moment mindful awareness that you may not naturally possessed or never been taught, but it is something you can learn.
Now stress can be difficult to define, because it has so many causes and it’s different for different people. So something that may be stressful for me may not be stressful for you, but you know what stress feels like, and you also probably have experienced how stress can just wear you down physically emotionally, and even spiritually. During the pandemic, for example, new stressors, such as longer work hours, more demands at work fears about getting COVID or fears about your family or friends who may get COVID, losses, you know, either to COVID or other reasons that’s led to higher rates of burnout in many people
Close to 50% of Americans say that they are often or always exhausted due to work. So work is, you know, it is a big stressor and this 50% is a shocking high statistic. And it’s a 32% increase over 20 years ago. What’s more, there’s a significant correlation between loneliness and work exhaustion. So the more people are exhausted, the lonelier, they feel. And I think that the pandemic has also exacerbated this sense of loneliness. Many of us were quarantine at home. Maybe we don’t have family who we live with or family who are close for support and staying alone for long periods of time is something that I would say I’ve never had to do in my entire life and maybe the same is for you. So that sense of loneliness is can really cause a problem.
Now, stress is a little different from burnout. I want to just give you the World Health Organization’s definition for burnout, which is asyndrome resulting from workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Symptoms of burnout can include exhaustion feelings of being mentally detached from other people, cynicism and reduced personal efficacy. So by cynicism, I mean, you know, all of those sarcastic comments that you just can’t seem to stop making, and you know, the feeling that nothing you do matters can also be part of that. So across all job categories, American workers report higher levels of burnout than ever before. In a 2021 survey by the American Psychological Association, three in five employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress and an astounding 44% reported physical fatigue, which is a 38% increase since 2019. And when we throw in loneliness, that makes things even worse. Now, research by Sarah Pressman at the University of California, Irvine says that loneliness can reduce our lifespan by a whopping 70%. That’s scary. Maybe that would make each of us think twice about continuing to burn the candle at both ends. I’m not sure, but hopefully yes.
Now burnout is a form of stress, but results from chronic stress over a period of time that has not been managed. It’s not something you can cure with the vacation or cutting back on your hours at work or getting more rest. When you get to the burnout phase, it’s pretty hard to come back for that.
Now stress can be caused by not just work issues by and not just negative things like the pandemic, but also by happy occasions, such as birth of a loved one, marriage, falling in love, et cetera. If you’re having a baby, for example, it’s not your first child, your friends may tell, tell you that you shouldn’t feel stressed because you’re an old hand at parenting, but nothing compares to having a new baby in the house and being up at night, not being able to get enough sleep and all of those things. So however, each of the experiences that are stressful for us can have a different, they can present in different ways. Like maybe by the time you have your third child, you’re an older mom, or maybe when you had your first child, you weren’t working and so on and so forth. So there are many, many different reasons why one stressful situation can be different from another.
So let’s go back to other ways at work can be stressful. And that one, I think that hasn’t been, I haven’t mentioned is the fear of failing and that can make us get really stressed and make you want to like overwork, trying to avoid that possibility. And even when you work from home, for example, for myself, I was recently preparing for a series of talks that I’m going to be traveling out of town to end. And I got stuck in that loop that sometimes happens to me as well I need to do this better, but it’s not coming together. What am I going to do? And just stressing myself out about it, even though I’m an experienced speaker, I speak all over the world. But at some point, you know, we are running low on reserves and we get trapped in that vicious cycle of fear of failing, whether it’s stress, you put on yourself or stress, that’s put on you by someone outside of you in your work, like a boss, who’s never satisfied with what you do or you may be in a job where you just don’t have a lot of autonomy and you don’t have much of a say in what you do. All of that is stressful.
So stress can be good though, in the workplace and, you know, in my case with the talk, eventually once I kind of calm myself down, talk myself off the ledge, that stress did enable me to get motivated, to do my, hopefully my best work, but that only works up to a point if you’ve ever competed, for example, in a sports event or had to meet a deadline at work or my speaking situation, I had deadlines I had to make, you know, that this stress can be a strong motivator, falling love, buying a new home, getting married are all examples of causes of stress that are positive, but nevertheless, very stressful.
Now, how do we combat stress? Well, it’s through resilience. So resilience offers us to focus on these different factors. One with the facing your fears, just addressing them, sitting yourself down. Like I had to do with my talks and saying, okay, you know, you’ve done this before, let’s look at what needs to be done, let’s make a list, let’s check it up, et cetera. So showing courage and resilience doesn’t mean that you don’t, you’re not afraid. You just act anyway, you know, at the saying goes, feel afraid, but do it anyway. Another resilience factor is, you know, maybe mirroring resilient behavior that you’ve seen in other people, people you admire, whether it be someone in your family, someone you work with, but in some ways, mirroring that can give you kind of a roadmap that you can use to develop resilience yourself. And social support is the most important and obviously it’s been the one that’s been most lacking for the past few years. If you have someone you can call or go and have coffee with, or just sit and relax with, that will help you to deal with stress and having an entire support network is obviously the best, maybe a combination of friends and family.
Now, some of us lost track of people during the pandemic. Now may be a good time to start reconnecting with people in our lives who have shown us support. We can also train ourselves both mentally, emotionally, and physically. So physically is simple, stay fit. Staying fit is your best resilience factor and I can’t emphasize that enough, whether it’s be taking walks, you know, walking on a trend now going to a yoga class, all of those things improve physical fitness and being physically fit helps everything else work better.
Mental and emotional training is all the stuff that I’ve been talking about for years now. And that is, you know, working on healing, trauma, learning new skills for managing your emotions and so on. And then being more flexible is super important. Resilient people tend to be more flexible in how they think about challenges and how they react to stress. So often I have patients who say, I have to do it this way. This is the way I’ve always done it or I have to do it this way. Or someone else would be mad at me. That’s rigidity, when you have that kind of rigidity, it can cause more stress in your life. Finding meaning and purpose and growing from your experiences can also build resilience. And, you know, we have tons of examples you can look online, Google, resilient, people, people have failed and then succeeded long after, you know, Walt Disney who declared bankruptcy five times, I may be wrong on the number, but I know that he did declare bankruptcy more than once and then became very successful. And there are just so many other people that we can point to, that we can find strength from their stories. These are people who’ve remained resilient during extreme periods of hardship. For example, you know, I think of Simone Biles who had the courage to step away from her Olympic event when she felt that her mental health was in jeopardy, whether you agree with her decision or not, it took a lot of courage to do what she did. So these people who survive and face extreme hardship probably rely heavily on finding meaning in their lives. So meaning in the situation that they’re in. So a breakup, for example, maybe there’s some meaning for you in the breakup.
And then finally fostering optimism maybe difficult for some of us, I’m more of a realistic person, but there is such a thing as realistic optimism and it’s important to remain, to be realistically optimistic, to remain resilient. So realistic optimism, doesn’t say, oh, everything’s always going to be okay. No, it says I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And that’s what I’m going to shoot for. That list is far from an exhausted list of all the things you can do to build resilience. It does give you a place to start. And I liked the term self writing, which is a phrase that, that applies to like, if a boat turns itself, upside down or overturns in the water. Many boats can ride themselves on their own. And that’s sometimes used as a metaphor for getting your own life back on track. Can you be self-writing unless you have a solid support system in place, just trying to push through things and always survive, can negatively impact your relationships, your work, and your overall wellbeing.
So let me be clear about this. We all have to pushed through at times and survive, but many of us feel like we can just make things happen. And I’m one of those people so guilty is charged. So rather than allowing things to happen in my life, I keep pushing, pushing, pushing, and often that leads to breakdown. So just think about allowing things to happen in your life rather than constantly being the driver, the driven person. So, and also think about how you can build resilience so that you can feel good and thrive under whatever circumstances that come your way.
So I have something for you to ponder as your homework. Just imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top, the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the top of the ladder is your best life. The bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. Where do you find yourself? Are you on number two? Are you closer to 10? Which ladder do you personally and professionally feel you stand on at this time and then ask yourself, what can you do to move up the ladder towards your best life? What changes do you need to make? What help do you need to look for, how can you move up the ladder to live your best life? And, you know, Oprah talks about that all the time. So I’m gonna, I’m gonna second Oprah on this. That’s in this new year, hopefully as we move out of the pandemic and we start to recover from all of the changes that have gone on in all of our lives, maybe we can refocus on living our best life rather than just getting.
Okay. I hope this has been helpful. See you next time, Dr. Carolyn signing off
I hope that was helpful to all of you and that you will take it seriously to start working on building more resilience in your life and really addressing, paying attention, becoming more aware of how stress has affected you. Particularly over the last couple of years. Maybe it’s caused you to be more pessimistic, maybe it’s affected your physical health no matter what happens in our lives, the most important thing is how we deal with it and you know, I’m talking from experience. I think most of you know, that I experienced the long haul COVID syndrome over the past two years. And I’ve literally had to dig myself back from being really sick and exhausted. And having numerous other symptoms related to long haul to where I’m today, which is much, much better, you know, six months ago, I wouldn’t be feeling, I wasn’t feeling as good as I am, but I had to work hard to get where I am both physically in terms of restoring my physical fitness. Mentally in terms of not giving up hope that I could go back to having a life that I would value and enjoy and emotionally in terms of the impact of COVID on my ability to manage my emotions, to manage my stress and so on. It’s been difficult. It’s been challenging. It’s been embarrassing, all of those things and more, and yet I am doing it. I hope you all. If you’re not that you will find inspiration in this podcast to start doing it yourself, to start rebuilding your life, to start facing your fears, to start dealing with your stress and building resilience.
So I look forward to talking with you next time. Thanks for listening.