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Don’t let stress wreck your life or your health

Here’s the situation: My roommates are all gone for the weekend and I am left with a ton of work to do as graduation is quickly approaching. Conveniently, I have a six-pack of Corona Light in the refrigerator and a large cheese pizza with pineapple and extra cheese on the way.

Now don’t get me wrong; pizza and beer are not the enemies here. Everything is good in moderation, but, considering the pressure I am under right now in my personal and professional lives, moderation is the last thing on my mind when extra cheese is on the way.

Unconscious of the situation at hand, I dive into my Papa John’s delivery. As I pick at the pile of cheese on the edge of my plate I began brainstorming ideas for next week’s column. Making note of a few options, I pop the cap off another Corona Light. As the top lands on a tile in my kitchen, red flags start popping up in my mind. Something isn’t right. I have never been known to clear a six-pack on my own, let alone a six-pack and a pizza! Defeated, I lean against the counter, as if surrendering to the situation. Stress — I didn’t even see it coming. With so much going on, it crept right up on me, and now I am left uncomfortably full and, to be quite honest, a little drunk.

I’m amazed at the irrational things we do when our stress levels rise. For me, it was pizza and beer. For some it’s cigarettes, cheesecake or maybe shopping. Dangerous when taken to the extreme, these types of stress relievers seem to be the answer for so many stressed-out students.

Regardless of how you choose to relieve it, stress can be dangerous. Therefore, eliminating stress and stressful situations in your life is ideal. Stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, ADH and aldosterone can be extremely toxic to your arteries and cardiovascular system and are often related to weight gain.

Weight gain is often linked to stress through cortisol, a hormone that usually helps your body burn fat and carbohydrates. However, when stress levels are too high, excess cortisol is released. This not only leads to an increase in appetite, but can also cause an excess release of insulin, and, as Nutrition Science News explains, “insulin is a fat-storage hormone that overrides the stress signal from adrenaline to burn fat. The excess release of insulin gives the body the message to store fat in the abdomen.” Not only is stress fattening and a danger to our cardiovascular system, we make matters even worse when we deal with stress the wrong way.

Let’s face it, for students today, there will always be finals, feuds and family situations, which means there will always be stress. Knowing this is the first step in eliminating stress and the mess that accompanies it.

First, try to recognize and identify the negative methods you may have already developed in dealing with stress in your life. For example, a common stress reliever that most of us can identify with is food. During times of high stress, sugary foods are often our first choice because they provide immediate gratification. Unlike protein and fat, the sugar/carbohydrate metabolism process starts the second it touches your tongue. It is because of this immediate gratification that we can’t quite get enough of those Double Stuf Oreos. I mean, we all have those moments when we’re cruising through a bag of Doritos completely oblivious to the fact we’re licking our fingertips for any crumbs. It is in these frantic binging sessions that you have to come up for air and ask yourself if you’re eating because you’re hungry or if you’re simply stressing about how you’re going to get enough money for your TECO bill this month. In a single moment of self-evaluation, you may be able to save yourself from hundreds of unnecessary calories.

It is negative stress-relieving behaviors like this that have to be reversed. Stress has to be relieved in positive ways. If brushed aside or ignored, one way or another, it will fight to get your attention. Whether it piles up around your waistline or camps out in your arteries, stress will linger as long as you allow it to.

Rather than investing in extra calories to relieve the stress in your life, think about taking a jog or a walk, writing in a journal, taking a power nap (15-20 minutes), reading a book, taking a bubble bath, lifting weights, doing yoga, calling a friend or investing in a massage. If it just never seems to pass, think about heading over to the counseling center once in a while for some one-on-one with a counselor.

Whatever you do, don’t let stress drive your life. Grab the wheel and create your own path.