Kasey Jo Orvidas eating Twix bar with text: stress is the enemy of your self control

Reach Your Goals by Improving Your Self-Control

brain science breathe fight or flight parasympathetic self control stress stress mindset stress relief Apr 02, 2020

Have you ever noticed that when you’re stressed out, your self-control seems to be out with it?

After a stressful week, you might find yourself raiding the pantry late at night, repeatedly saying, “just a little bit more wine,” or thinking a few more pieces of chocolate won’t hurt!⁣

You probably also notice you’re extra fatigued too.⁣

And the end of the day seems to be the worst for your fatigue and self-control. 

Welcome to your human brain!

It’s harder to maintain self-control when you’re stressed, so you tend to make more impulsive decisions. 

Unfortunately, you can’t always avoid stress, and you shouldn’t want to because there are times when you should embrace stress. So instead, you should learn how to reduce stress and increase self-control.  


⁣How Stress Affects the Body


Both stress and self-control require lots of energy, and your brain can only handle so much.⁣

Not to mention, stress and self-control literally initiate opposite changes in your brain and body.⁣

Stress speeds everything up, which was super helpful back in caveman/woman days when we needed to “fight or flee” from threats, but it’s not so helpful when you receive a stressful email⁣.

When your body is stressed, you start to experience symptoms like increased heart rate, nervousness or anxiety, and shallower breathing (this is called a sympathetic nervous system response). 

This response inhibits your prefrontal cortex—the big ol’ lobe behind your forehead responsible for problem-solving, decision-making, and planning.

Under normal circumstances, you would be fine saying “no” to another glass of wine or would at least pause to consider whether the extra wine supports the goals you’re working towards, when you’re stressed, you’re more likely to impulsively say “yes” and drink more than you intended. 


How Self-control Affects the Body


Self-control is the opposite of stress. 

Self-control requires your brain and body to slow down and make deliberate decisions ⁣(aka it taps into your prefrontal cortex).

When you’re effectively exerting self-control, your parasympathetic nervous system is activated. That’s the “rest and digest” or  “pause and plan” response.

Your decision-making when you’re able to leverage self-control is much more deliberate and logical, and you’re more likely to consider your long-term goals. 

So rather than raiding the pantry for anything in sight, you’re more likely to ask yourself whether you’re hungry and if there’s something specific you’re craving. 

Your chances of making a mindful decision that aligns with your goals are much higher. 


How to Increase Self-Control

Want to increase your self-control and reduce your stress ASAP?⁣

All you have to do is breathe!

Take 4-6 breaths per minute for 5 minutes, and bonus points if you can get outdoors to do this.

That’s as simple as inhaling for 5 seconds, holding your breath for 5 seconds, and exhaling for 5 seconds. 

Just 5 minutes of this breathing exercise can decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing to wake up your parasympathetic/pause and plan system (Ng et al., 2016)⁣.

Want more ways to decrease your stress and increase your self-control? Check out our FREE Gratitude for Growth Journal Prompts!

Check out my original post here.


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Email: [email protected]

IG: @coachkaseyjo @kjocoaching 



Ng, C. G., Lai, K. T., Tan, S. B., Sulaiman, A. H., & Zainal, N. Z. (2016). The effect of 5 minutes of mindful breathing to the perception of distress and physiological responses in palliative care cancer patients: A randomized controlled study. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 19(9), 917–924.http://doi.org/10.1089/jpm.2016.0046 

Segerstrom, S. C., & O’Connor, D. B. (2012). Stress, health and illness: Four challenges for the future. Psychology & health, 27(2), 128-140.

Hi, I'm Kasey!

I coach, mentor, write, and teach with one main focus: Build strong bodies and healthy lifestyles, starting with your mindset.


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