Is work-related stress taking a toll on your weight and your health?

If you are a busy professional woman or business owner feeling like your stressful lifestyle is taking a toll on your weight and your health, you are certainly not alone.

Work-related stress can exact a big price.

A recent study that followed 7,443 working women over nine years found that women who felt they had “little or no control” over their jobs were at double the risk for diabetes than women who were happy with their careers.   (By the way, the same was not true for men.)

Researchers at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto believe that the primary reasons for women’s increased risk comes from disruptions of neuroendocrine and immune system functioning and increased or prolonged cortisol and sympathetic hormone release in reaction to stress; as well as changes in diet and energy expenditure, possibly as coping mechanisms.

In other words, the stress related to feeling a lack of control at work could be impacting your endocrine and immune systems, increasing the level of stress hormones in your body, and leading to stress eating and falling off track with diet and exercise. All of which may be contributing to your risk for diabetes (among other things). No surprise right?

Another study published this year,  reports that working women who reported that they were burnout at work were more likely to report both emotional eating and uncontrolled eating. You probably aren’t surprised by this finding either.

So what’s a busy stressed out working woman to do?

If you aren’t already, it’s time to start taking stress seriously. Overeating, overload, and overwhelm only get better when you address the real issues—in this case the factors driving the stress. One symptom of feeling ineffective is the tendency to throw up your hands and give up with a “there’s nothing I can do about it anyway” sigh. Another is the inclination to back up, take a running start and tell yourself, “I just have to push through this/work harder/not think about it.”

The problem is, with either of these approaches, the stress, burnout, and the feeling of being ineffective—will probably just continue to grow.

In most work-related stress situations (and by the way, this applies to business owners as well as employees) there are things you can’t control. The more you focus on these, the more ineffective and powerless you are likely to feel. Stress eating, insomnia, procrastination and unhappiness often take root here. The challenge is not to unnecessarily feed this part of your brain.

Instead, start by growing what you can do effectively. Begin by acknowledging that you are stressed and that it is having an impact on you. Focus on what you can control, even if it is teeny tiny. Commit to carving out time for acts of self-care and compassion, even if it is only a few daily minutes. Make it a mission to grow your stress management strategies and resources. Invest in a mentor if you can. A fresh pair of eyes and an unattached perspective can see options, ideas, and solutions that a stressed out cortisol-drenched brain can’t easily focus on.

Try not to increase your stress by aiming frustration at yourself. This makes it worse.

Focus on growing self-compassion and invest your energy in creating a change. You may have to take very small steps at first.

But please, oh please, don’t tell yourself that you can’t afford to make the time to do anything at all.

The reality is, you really can’t afford NOT to.

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