The stressors of modern life might be considered greater than those of our primitive predecessors 20,000 years ago. Seemingly simple daily responsibilities like having a job, maintaining a home, being in a relationship or just dealing with life's ups and downs can become major contributors to stress.
With no relief from daily and unexpected stressors, being chronically stressed becomes a normal state. And though most people can certainly identify when they're feeling stressed, a lot of people aren't aware what's actually going on in their body when it happens.
Meet The Adrenals
You have two adrenal glands, one on top of each of your kidneys, and your brain reacts to stress through them. The middle portion of the adrenal gland secretes the hormone epinephrine, better known as adrenaline. The outer portion of the gland secretes cortisol. These two hormones determine how you will react to stress.
Adrenaline is the hormone that prepares you for confrontation. In the face of a perceived danger or stressor, your pulse quickens, your reflexes become heightened and your mental functions more acute. These adrenaline-driven changes significantly increase your chances of survival in a real emergency.
Daily life exposes us to many potentially adrenaline-inducing scenarios. Many people actually seem to thrive on this constant, fast-paced obstacle course, but our bodies aren't meant to be in this state, and excessive adrenaline secretion can have a negative effect on the system.
Cortisol, the other adrenal hormone, allocates resources in the body to where they're most needed. Normally, cortisol secretion follows a changing rhythm that influences digestive function, immune function, general maintenance, and hormone balance throughout the day.
Under stressful conditions, cortisol secretion is elevated to shift resources toward dealing with the stressor. If stress is chronic, cortisol secretion is sustained and normal functions are placed on hold. It's the classic "burning both ends of the candle" situation, with resulting insomnia, fatigue, high blood pressure, anxiety, mental fatigue, weight gain, stress intolerance, and eventual collapse.
Your Adrenals Need A Nap
Dysfunctional cortisol secretion, or adrenal fatigue, describes the symptoms of a person who continues to run on high adrenaline but has depleted their cortisol stores, causing a severe imbalance in the system. Signs of adrenal fatigue include a complete lack of energy and the desire to sleep too much. Exhaustion doesn't get better with rest, and you can expect other symptoms like depression, low blood pressure and low pulse.
The difference between simple stress and adrenal fatigue, is that with stress, these symptoms would return back to normal as the stress wanes. With adrenal fatigue, the problem is no longer stress, it's a lack of cortisol, so it's difficult to get the body back into balance.
But I Love Adrenaline!
Why are so many of us addicted to adrenaline? Well, in small doses, it provides a shot of excitement; a heart-pumping, thrilling feeling that is noticeably different from our body's steady, normal balance. This interruption from the regular routine of life can seem appealing, and it's easy to slip into a routine of stress-induced "highs," without realizing that we are headed for a crash.
What Do I Do?
To avoid the point of adrenal fatigue and bring balance back to your body, it is important to stay below the stress threshold. This requires a bit of self-monitoring and a lot of honesty about where your stress level is. Practice being aware of the moment that you're in, and avoiding situations that make you feel negative or stressed out. Your body's natural stress compass is there to guide you. Avoid media gossip that might lead you to stress about things you cannot change and instead channel your energy toward things that motivate you in a healthy way.
1. Practice breathing techniques, meditation, yoga or Pilates.
Even just stretching can help. Whatever you're doing, as mentioned above, try to stay in the moment.
2. Get regular exercise.
Regular exercise reduces cortisol. This will help ensure your body doesn't get to the point of adrenal fatigue.
3. Maintain normal sleep patterns.
Without sleep, your body won't heal well. It's vital that you get plenty of sleep on a regular schedule if you want to avoid throwing your body out of whack.
4. Reach out to friends and family.
Talk to someone you trust about what is stressing you out and come up with strategies to address it.
5. Identify the source of your stress and deal with it.
If you don't address the stress that is underlying your symptoms, there is no hope for recovery. Figure out what is stressing you and come up with a plan for getting rid of it or, at least, learning to live with it.
6. Balance your adrenals with herbal adaptogens.
Some natural treatments exist that can help you keep your adrenals healthy. Adaptogens are herbal substances that provide a balancing effect on all systems of the body, without druglike side effects. This includes restoration of normal immune function and balancing adrenal function. Adaptogens allow the body to focus on healing, even in the face of stress. All of the herbs defined as adaptogens have been used by humans for thousands of years and are safe and effective.
Ashwagandha (say it with feeling, Ash-wa-GAND-ha!) is one of the best adaptogens for balancing hormones and reducing the detrimental effects of stress. Native to India, ashwagandha is revered for its ability to balance, energize, rejuvenate and revitalize. When combined with other herbs for balancing adrenal function and natural substances for improving mental focus, the benefits are extraordinary!