Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (or abstaining from the internet), you probably know “wellness” is all the rage. Celeb gurus like Gwyneth Paltrow of Goop, Instagram influencers and bloggers, and even doctors tout the power of mindfulness in reducing stress and increasing overall health. On top of the non-stop stream of wellness content, there are also wellness apps like Headspace created to encourage mental health through meditation.

While it can be hard to sift through all the content (not to mention products) related to wellness, it’s not all snake oil. There’s something to be said about managing stress, which, according to science, can take both a mental and physical toll. In addition to potentially contributing to anxiety and depression, causing heart problems, and affecting the body’s immune response, stress can actually interfere with your body’s hormones and keep you from losing weight — and in some cases even cause weight gain.

A frustrated woman rests at her desk

1. Stress and Fight-or-Flight: The influence of stress on your body is a cascade effect that starts with a release of cortisol. When you are under emotional, physical, or mental pressure, your body pumps out hormones to keep you vigilant in danger and protect you from injury (the so-called “fight-or-flight response”). And that’s a good thing, because it means your body is hard-wired to survive. But after the initial adrenaline wears off, cortisol sticks around in the body, signaling your body to replenish nutrients by eating. That means when you’re under stress — especially chronic stress — your body wants to eat. However, the brain’s signal to the body doesn’t always align with our body’s actual need for food, which can result in weight gain.

2. Stress and Metabolism: More than just causing us to straight-up eat more, stress can also affect how our bodies actually metabolize the food we eat. According to experts, high stress levels have recently been shown to reduce the number of calories our bodies burn. In one study from 2014, women who said they had experienced stress in the last 24 hours burned 104 fewer calories than those who said they were stress-free. Researchers involved in this study said this difference in metabolism could ultimately result in an 11-pound weight gain annually.

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3. Stress and Eating Habits: Have you ever had a hard day, only to go home and “stress eat” sugary or high-calorie foods? You’re definitely not alone — in fact, according to the American Psychological Association, 40 percent of Americans surveyed said they eat mindlessly as a response to troublesome emotions like stress or anxiety, which can obviously contribute to weight gain. Along the same lines, a high-stress, busy lifestyle can contribute to unhealthy eating habits. When you are always on the go, you’re much less likely to prep food ahead of time and much more likely to reach for whatever’s available, even if it might not be a nourishing choice. And even though exercise has been scientifically shown to be highly effective in combating stress, a stressful pace of life isn’t necessarily conducive to working out frequently.

4. Reducing Stress and Increasing Health: Though weight gain or difficulty losing weight are two profound ways stress can impact our lives, reducing stress is definitely not just about appearance. The physical, emotional, and mental effects of stress put our bodies in survival mode, making it difficult for us to function, let alone thrive. If you find that stress is interfering with your everyday life or contributing to ongoing depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns, it’s important to talk to a physician or therapist.

How do you deal with stress? Share your most effective self-care strat with us @BritandCo.

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