Americans are dealing with more stress than ever these days. According to a January 2013 survey conducted by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, “nearly half (48%) say their current job is a step down from the one they held before the recession hit. A majority (54%) report lower pay in their new job compared to the job they held before being laid off… a full third say their pay has been cut by more than 30% compared to the job they held when the recession hit.” Many jobs have been offshored or eliminated and those that are still here are more stressful and pay less. If you are feeling extreme levels of stress, you may think it’s impossible to create a healthy relationship with food now. Either you are too stressed to eat, or too stressed to stop eating. But the reality is, for someone with food issues, sticking to a healthy eating plan is critical to surviving the stress intact.
These “basic survival” stressors trigger the fight or flight mechanism. One part of you may want to fight and use this “opportunity” to start a new chapter in your life. But the internal saboteur (discussed in the New Year’s article) is trying to get you to flee or shut down. Remember, the internal saboteur is very cunning and finds ways to undo your best efforts. The saboteur is the one telling you that you are too stressed to eat, or that you need extra food for nurturing or to keep your energy up. It is also the part of your psyche that tells you that you are too busy to exercise, or convinces you to keep hitting the snooze alarm in the morning. If you don’t have a job to go to, you may feel like, “why bother getting up?” The saboteur is little by little, dragging you down into the black hole of depression.
In order to fight off the saboteur, you need to get your structure back. Here are a few good ways to do that:
- Stick to a healthy eating plan. Each time you make a positive food choice, you strengthen the healthy, nurturing voice in your mind. And the stronger that voice will be to help you fight the saboteur.
- If you are unemployed, you have to get up at the same time each day, as if you had a job to go to. Staying in bed will make you feel less capable and fuel the depression.
- Make lists of things that you can do to help improve your situation (job searching, networking, creating your dream job). These lists will give you a reason to get up each day and keep you focused on the things you CAN control.
- Keep your exercise regimen. Even a 20 minute walk can clear your mind and lift your mood.
- Take time for social activities-you need friends and family now more than ever.
- Lastly, keep a food and mood journal every day. On the left, write down what you eat and on the right, write down how you are feeling (before or after meals). This will help you see how your mood affects your eating, and quickly shows you how “big” those “little” treats really are. And if you "forget" to write in your journal, chances are you've stepped onto that slippery slope and are giving the saboteur your power. Just start journaling again and you'll get back your control.
The hardest thing to deal with when you are under massive amounts of stress, is the realization that you can’t "fix it" right away. And unfortunately no one else can fix it for you. Getting through stressors like unemployment, underemployment, financial strain, underwater mortgage, credit card debt, or all of the above, are things that can take a long time. And you want the stress to stop-NOW! But it’s not going to be fixed quickly. All you can do is focus on the things you can control, take good care of your health, and not give in to the saboteur. Diving into the black hole of depression is only going to make things worse. You’re running the marathon of your life. Sometimes all you can do is just keep putting one foot in front of the other.