STRESS EATING: RUNNING ON EMPTY

Stress is society’s greatest modern affliction. We have completely lost control of our workdays. A workday used to be dawn to dusk. It used to be from the time you arrived at your workplace until you went home. It used to be 5 days a week. Not anymore. We work constantly, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We work at our jobs, in our homes, at school, in traffic, at the grocery store. We work shopping on the Internet.

When we are resting, we are working: making lists, setting goals, reviewing today, and planning for tomorrow. We are not resting.

We continually increase our workload because work is addicting. We physically experience an increase in adrenalin, and energy and focus that expands our productivity. It’s a rewarding feeling to do a good job at something.

We add more work so we can feel even better. We start multi-tasking: the dishes, and the laundry, and the homework and the science project.

We add more forms of communication: television, radio, email, Internet, regular mail, newspapers, magazines, cell phones, voicemail, text messaging.More lives to keep track of, including people we don’t even know. Pretty soon, there is no time and we are multi-tasking every task, including some that should be enjoyable.

We read while we eat, we talk while we drive, we work on three things at once. Simple pleasures are eroded by a sense of urgency and the need for more adrenalin to keep us going. No time to say, “Hello”, “Goodbye”.

We work this hard because our society sets up overwork as a model of success. “Supermoms”, mandatory overtime, full-time students with full-time jobs.

One day I saw a 40-ish single mom who was working two jobs, going to school full-time and raising her children. She was exhausted, stressed, depressed, gaining weight and forgetting things.

“Why are you doing all of this”, I asked.

“For my kids, so I can get a better job.”

I looked at her without any humor, and replied, “If you live long enough”.

We are operating at a level of INTENSITY that causes DISEASE.

We have lost our ability to play, and live and love. We have lost our ability to experience emotion because we are so busy working. We have lost the ability to relax, and think and be alone with ourselves. We have lost the ability to feel content with our circumstances. We have forgotten how to look at the sky and wonder about the stars.

We have lost the ability to experience emotion when we are under severe chronic stress.

Hard at work and numbed out to everything and everybody.

When it’s time for me to relax and have fun, I often cannot. Unless I eat. Then I relax. The food pours out dopamine and GABA and serotonin and acetylcholine into my parched brain until I am positively serene. Am I relaxing because I’m healthy? Or am I relaxing because the food just drugged me into forgetting what I was doing.

For the five or ten minutes that you are stress-eating, your brain is transported to a lower-stress zone. You give your body, your brain, and everyone else in your life a break from the jagged energy you are projecting.

If you are eating all the time in response to stress, “all the time” is simply a reflection of HOW STRESSED YOU ARE!

Just in case you thought this was only about your own personal stress, there’s more. You can also absorb other people’s stress, particularly if they are close to you. Stressed people have a tendency to pour out their problems in rapid-fire succession, one after another, with great energy and emotion.

Relief from stress is about learning to say no: no to demands, no to internal goals, no to family expectations, no to overzealous work projects. Saying no does not mean quitting your job in a bad economy, nor does it mean walking away from a difficult supervisor and getting fired. Saying no means acknowledging your physical and emotional limits and respecting them.

Relief from stress is about recognizing your body’s signals. When you cannot sleep, and you cannot relax, and you cannot stop thinking about work, you are overworked.

The solution to stress and overwork lies in learning and practicing proper endings. To be able to say this is my workday and I am now off. This is my homework time and it is now over. The day’s work has ended and this is my sleep time. This is my stress, and this is yours and I cannot accept it. These are boundaries, yours, mine, and ours.

The solution for stress is to recognize that for your body, rest is as essential as exercise.

For your brain, quiet is as vital as thinking.

For your spirit, solitude is as healing as company.

The solution to stress is to accept your humanity and all its limitations.

excerpt from Obese From The Heart: A Fat Psychiatrist Discloses ©Sara L. Stein, M.D 2009 http://obesefromtheheart.com

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