By Jenny Fowler, First Mile Care, DPP Coach

This year is like no other in recent memory. And, all too often, you find yourself reaching for that bag of potato chips or that second glass of chardonnay.

First Mile Care Coach Irazema Garcia wrote a few months ago on the deadly connection between stress and diabetes. As a certified holistic nutrition consultant and wellness coach as well as a National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) coach, I help DPP participants determine strategies to break the link between stress and unhealthy eating habits that can lead to prediabetes. I recently gave a presentation on stress-relieving activities as part of the First Mile Care DPP webinar series on “Diabetes Prevention in Action.”

Read on for some tips on calming activities that can reduce stress and help you avoid nervous eating.

How stress affects you

You have two different parts of your nervous system, the parasympathetic and the sympathetic. Your body moves between the two systems. When you’re calm, the parasympathetic nervous system is in control and allows your body to do necessary maintenance and repair. But when you get into a situation that produces stress, your adrenaline kicks in and your heart rate increases and your blood pressure rises. That’s your sympathetic nervous system taking over.

When you experience acute, temporary stress in a “fight or flight” mode, it suppresses your appetite temporarily. But if the stress is chronic and ongoing, it causes a release of cortisol which, in turn, affects your appetite and causes you to want to eat even if you’re not really hungry. Your body is programmed to want more food when you’re experiencing ongoing stress and high levels of adrenaline. Your body is designed to have that acute response to stress for survival, but it becomes a health issue when the stress is chronic.

How stress affects your food choices

 So, you’re feeling stressed out, and you want to eat even though you’re not especially hungry. Do you crunch on a celery stalk? Probably not. Your body wants foods that are high in fat and sugar and quick carbohydrates. There’s a reason we call those “comfort foods,” as those foods help dampen that stress response. When you’re in that “fight or flight” mode, your body wants extra glucose for quick energy to deal with the adrenaline boost. And so you automatically veer toward something sugary.

If you’re experiencing long periods of high stress, your body is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. To help your body get back into the parasympathetic nervous system, you need to figure out how to calm yourself with stress-relieving activities.

Identifying your stress-busters

 Has the COVID-19 pandemic caused you to discover the pleasure in baking sourdough bread? Have you created a “COVID garden” on your apartment balcony? Whether it’s playing with a yo-yo or watching “Escape to the Chateau DIY,” it’s important to identify enjoyable activities that cause you to relax and free your mind of negative thoughts and energy.

Stress-relievers aren’t the same for everyone. An amateur chef may find a creative outlet in preparing elaborate meals for family and friends, while someone who dislikes cooking will find serving even a simple meal as high-stress an experience as Thanksgiving dinner. Jogging may be a stress-buster for one person but a stress-inducer for someone who is only doing it under doctor’s orders.

Some common stress-relieving activities include:

Be careful about screen-related activities or using electronics. These can be more numbing than calming and may engage the brain in such a way that it triggers stress or excitement. Stress-relieving activities should be calming, leaving you feeling more grounded afterwards.

Write down your top stress-busters

Create a list of your top stress-busters. Keep it somewhere you’ll see it, like on your fridge or mirror, and decorate it or use colored paper or stickers to make it “pop.” The next time you reach for the freezer door handle, looking for that comforting tub of ice cream, you’ll see the list of activities instead. And be sure to move the list around, so that you don’t get so accustomed to seeing it in one spot that you become blind to it.

Watch my presentation on stress-relieving activities in our recent webinar and then make your own list!

To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take our prediabetes risk test and get started today!