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Why are stress and habits so interlinked?

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

If you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, do you find that it’s easy to let the healthier habits fall by the wayside? Do you prefer to reach for comfort foods, binge on Netflix, doom scroll on social media or increase your alcoholic intake to self soothe instead of focusing on self care like sleep, whole foods, movement and mindfulness.

If you think about it, life can be impossible to keep on an even keel each and every day. The challenges of home life, work, family, self care, finances and so on often pile up. Add in unexpected grenades like illness, relationship issues, the loss of a loved one, a sick parent or child and the balance can swing unfavourably overnight. Ultimately this can have a negative effect on stress levels, in turn affecting both our physical and mental health which can lead to chronic stress.

It’s times like these where you can feel frustrated with the lack of control, leading to hopelessness, guilt and feeling more stressed as a result. The vicious cycle continues with the stress contributing to poorer habits. You get the picture, the two really do go hand in hand. For those of you not aware what stress may feel like, here are just some of the symptoms; Nervous or upset tummy, headaches, feeling on edge or anxious, tiredness, lethargy, difficulty concentrating, lack of focus, repeated illness, aches, pains, low energy. The list is extensive and can present differently in each of us, it really is individual.

With stress being deemed as the health epidemic of the twenty-first century by the World Health Organisation it needs to be taken seriously. It is a standard part of our daily lives which is not always bad as stress is an essential adaptation necessary for homeostasis, performance and survival. But it can accumulate into high level stressful episodes or systematic chronic stress which is when it becomes a problem.

Think of your life now or a time in your life where you can relate to the cycle above. Perhaps you are working longer hours, you are back in the office, the rush hour commute is adding to your day, by the time you get home the last thing you think about is taking the time to cook a nourishing dinner? Instead you reach for the ready meal or binge on toast, fly around doing the household chores, tend to the family and fall into bed physically exhausted. Yet you wonder why your brain remains wired and fully switched on due to an inability to relax and wind down with a proper bedtime routine.

Sleep is fitful and broken, breakfast is a coffee on the run, the healthy lunches you had been planning to take to work are nonexistent. You rely on shop bought sandwiches and sugary snacks to get through the day putting your body under more physical stress. It’s not long until these negative habits take over as a result of the stressors which is a common reality of modern day society.

It’s an easy trap to fall into but what helps is to become aware of your stressors and recognise they come in all forms; physical, emotional and chemical. Stressors can be poor diet, lack of movement, insomnia, anger, sadness, grief, workload, alcohol, excess caffeine, sugary snacks to name a few. Stressors are numerous and the issue is that over time, it becomes harder to remain in control of our stress levels and in turn we lose control of our negative habits.

Because of this it is difficult to address habit change until the root cause of your underlying stress is established. So grab a paper and pen and think about the current stressors in your life; are you unhappy at work, do you lack fulfilment or purpose, are you in a toxic relationship, how is your home environment, does the life you live align with your values? Write out any stressors you have because until you find the root cause of your stress, it will be much harder to introduce the new thought processes required for adapting behaviour change such as the introduction of healthier habits.

For those of you feeling stressed right now, try box breathing. This method is used by the US Navy Seals and helps keep you calm in stressful situations. Try this for at least three minutes in one sitting or for maximum benefit try it for five minutes. Be really mindful and still, focus on the breath which will assist you to regain control and come back into the present moment, away from your worries/stress.

Breathe in for 4 seconds

Hold for 4 seconds

Breathe out for 4 seconds

Hold for 4 seconds


I am a mindset & behaviour change coach, I can help if you are currently struggling with life’s challenges especially around stress and habit change. Please contact me or to book your FREE exploratory consultation visit my contact page. I would be so happy to hear from you :)

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