Regardless of what it’s caused by (such as work, school, or personal relationships), stress is something that affects us all. For some, stress can be a minor and infrequent occurrence, while for others it can be a reoccurring, daily problem, resulting in serious mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

The most important thing when it comes to dealing with stress and anxiety is not only identifying the triggers, but also being able to recognize how it affects us. For example, some individuals under stress may want to find some downtime – whether it’s keeping to themselves by finding a quiet room and reading a book, or taking a vacation. This is known as a cooling-off period. For others, dealing with stress isn’t as simple. One of the most common ways that individuals will self-treat their stress is through food – otherwise known as emotional eating. Food isn’t just something we consume to satisfy our hunger. Food can also mean comfort and can help relieve those feelings of anxiousness, sadness and/or loneliness. That being said, emotional eating doesn’t actually solve anything. Not only does the stress remain, but we also tend to feel guilty for eating – especially if we overeat, which is also easy to do when you’re under a lot of stress.

Regardless of how tempted you might be to try and relieve your stress through eating your favourite candy bar, greasy French fries, pint of ice cream or other favourite food item, it’s important that you find other, healthier alternatives to dealing with your stress. The best way to do this is to practice mindful eating; but in order to do that you first need to be aware of what’s happening around you or to you to cause the stress and therefore make you want to eat your emotions away in the first place. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

• Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed out compared to other times?
• Do you eat even when you don’t feel hungry or are already feel full?
• Do you tell yourself that eating will make you feel better?

If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” then there may be a problem. That being said, by answering yes to those questions, you’re also aware of the fact that the problem exists, which is an important step in being able to develop different coping mechanisms. Also remember that emotional hunger is something that tends to come on overwhelmingly suddenly, makes you crave specific comfort foods, doesn’t actually leave you feeling satisfied, and often leads to guilt and shame for overeating – all completely different feelings compared to those of someone with normal eating habits. Once you’ve identified what your triggers might be, comes the hard part: Finding those healthier alternatives. Before you eat, ask yourself why you’re eating. Are you picking up food because you’re upset or because it’s lunch and you know you need to have 3 well-balanced meals every day? Secondly, pay attention to the food choices you make. As mentioned, comfort foods are commonly associated with emotional eating, so always make sure you’re choosing foods that are healthy and nutritious. Failing to follow these steps can eventually result in serious eating disorders. If you suffer from severe stress, anxiety or other mental health issues, never hesitate to reach out for help from a trusted medical professional.