The Not So Stressful Ways to Deal With Stress

student with her head in her hand at a study table with many books and papers.

By Sammy Seefeldt, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

Today more than ever we live in a world rampant with anxiety and stress. From the never ending changing health of the world to the day-to-day struggle to excel in work, school, and social life – it is no wonder stress and anxiety are a norm. The American Psychological Association found that 2 in 3 adults (67%) are reported to have increased stress levels over the course of the pandemic.

Stress seems to be something that we will never escape. Clearly, stress affects our mental and social well-being. But how does stress affect our physical well-being, specifically in regards to our eating patterns?

When it comes to responding to stress, most individuals either lose their appetite or turn to food in response to stress. This has to do with the innate physiological response of “fight or flight.” This response is rooted in the result of our ancestors being put in stressful situations. The classic example is being chased by a tiger. Either people immediately run as fast as they can to escape, or freeze or try to hide; some even advance at the tiger. 

Losing your appetite when anxious or stressed is an experience of a fight response where all your body can do is focus on the feeling of anxiety or stress. When people turn to food in this case, they are experiencing a flight response, trying to comfort themselves with food. Whether you lose your appetite or want to eat when stressed, there are ways to combat this. Here are a few ways to help combat your body’s reaction to anxiety and stress.

  1. Identify what is causing the stress: Once you understand what is causing the stress, you can seek help to manage the stressor. This is one of the first steps to understanding if the stress is caused by something that is controllable. 
  2. Schedule eating times: When hunger cues are overshadowed by your body’s response to stress it is hard to provide yourself with proper nutrition. Therefore setting a time for meals or snacks could help mechanically regulate your eating pattern. 
  3. Stick to foods that you easily tolerate. During a time of stress, it is important to stick to foods that do not upset your stomach and are easily tolerable. This allows you to obtain nutrients little by little until your appetite regulates. 
  4. Practice Self-Care!: Meditate, exercise, talk to a friend…anything that helps reduce your stress and anxiety levels. It is easy to get swept up in moments of anxiety and stress. However, it is crucial to make time to do things that are conducive to relieving stress. 

I hope that the next time you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious, possibly leading to a loss in appetite or tendency to overeat, look to these tips. We all experience these things and we all deserve to treat ourselves with care even more so during these times. 

Are you feeling stressed or anxious? Check out these resources offered through UC Davis. https://healthy.ucdavis.edu/mental-emotional/campus-resources

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