In times of great stress or adversity, it͛s always best to keep busy, to plough your anger and your energy into something positive͛. Lee Iacocca – American Businessman

It is impossible to avoid stress in our lives, but how do we know when we are tipping the cart from normal, safe levels to the danger zone of serious health problems and imminent collapse?

Here are some signs that mean you are in enough stress for it to have negative impacts on your body:

Physical symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Constant jaw clenching
  • Grinding teeth
  • Trembling hands and lips
  • Neck and back pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Dizziness and faintness
  • Ringing and popping sounds
  • Sweating excessively
  • Icy cold feet and hands
  • Sweaty feet and hands
  • Problems swallowing
  • Dry mouth
  • Rashes and hives
  • Frequent allergy attacks
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Excessive gas
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Chest pain
  • Racing pulse
  • Frequent urination
  • Diminished sexual interest
  • Cravings for certain foods
  • Increased or decreased appetite

Mental symptoms

  • Stammering, unable to come up with words
  • Panic attacks
  • Constant worrying
  • Feelings of nervousness
  • Anger at the least little thing
  • Feelings of hostility
  • Frustration at your life and things around you
  • Wild mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Restless sleep
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Racing thoughts
  • Problems concentrating
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • General feeling of being overwhelmed
  • Crying spells
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Feelings of failure or being unworthy
  • Overreaction to petty little things
  • Being overly defensive to criticism
  • Being overly suspicious of others
  • Problems sharing
  • Problems communicating

Other warning signs

  • You catch frequent colds and infections
  • Loss of interest in appearance
  • Chronic lateness without caring
  • Mumbled speech
  • More minor accidents
  • Obsessive or compulsive behaviour
  • Reduced productivity at work
  • Difficulty focusing on the job at hand
  • Lying to cover up work that is not completed
  • Withdrawing from society
  • Increased excessive behavior as in gambling, drinking, taking drugs.

How we self-medicate stress with comfort food

If you recognized yourself on the list of symptoms above, the next question is how do you fix it? While we know it is unrealistic to expect that we could eliminate all major stress from our lives, how do we wrestle the stress demon down to manageable size?

If you are like most people, you reach for your comfort foods and drinks, most of them high in sugar and fat.You know you have too many plates spinning above your head. There’s not one that you can allow to crash just now and nobody to take over keeping some of them spinning for you. So you go to your neighborhood pub and order the biggest slab of shepherd’s pie you can find, wash it down with a decidedly non-low carb beer, and you feel better already.

Or maybe you stop at the local fast-food outlet on the way home and order a double burger loaded, a large fries and a half a dozen cookies. And don’t forget the hot fudge sundae for good measure! In fact, a 2011 study at the University of California San Francisco concluded that people facing chronic stress tend to eat more comfort foods that are high in sugar and fat.

Dr. Elissa Epel, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry there, discovered that this tendency, in the long term, dampens down the body’s stress response which is governed by cortisol, a hormone. So we really do feel better, but this is a bad fix.

That’s because the increased amount of cortisol is also linked to increased abdominal fat, and that is very bad for you in the long term. Epel concluded that food is our cheap drug of choice because it makes us feel better for a little while. The researchers discovered that in their study, the women who were the most stressed were most likely to acknowledge they ate to ease their stress. These women had higher levels of abdominal fat, making them at risk in the long term of suffering from cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and gallbladder surgery. What are the preferred comfort foods? It turns out that regardless of the country, there is a similar theme.

People under stress reach for sweet foods such as chocolate or candy bars, desserts, cookies and muffins and fruit. They also reach for what researchers call ͞mixed dishes͟ such as burgers and chips, pizza, casseroles such as Shepherd’s Pie or lasagne, tacos, and fried foods.

Effective Repair

1.Reduce stress by addressing its sources and looking for solutions.

2.Practice mindfulness: live in the moment – start with 10 minutes a day.

3.Increase your physical activity – exercise is a stress reliever.

4.Embrace relaxation techniques. Take up yoga or tai chi or other mind/body exercise.

5.Eat a balanced diet, get sufficient sleep, and avoid tobacco and excessive caffeine and alcohol.

6.You time – take 15 minutes each day to do something specifically for your spirit / soul i.e. reading, gardening, cooking, helping others, walking etc.