While the holidays run in “the most wonderful time of the year” they also tend to bring the “most stressful time of year.” Stress comes in many forms – the kind you feel before an important event (heart racing, fidgety, butterflies in your stomach” – aka Acute Stress. While unpleasant at the time of onset, this type of stress can be quite beneficial as it often helps you to be more alert, focused and ready to take on the challenge ahead of you.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, tends to linger beyond a single event and this type of stress can have a negative effect on your health.
Stress and your Adrenal System
Your adrenal glands are small hormone organs that sit just atop of your kidney. They are responsible for regulating blood pressure, metabolism, immune function, hormone control and your reactions to stress. Under moments of stress, your brain sends a signal to the adrenal gland to produce stress hormones (cortisol), which initially suppresses inflammation, alters blood sugar and pressure, controls the sleep/wake cycle and provides you with an added boost of energy. This is the normal reaction when your stress response is healthy.
This type of “flight or fight response” is necessary to prime your body to either face the challenge or run to safety. The challenge here is whether the stress response can be real or imagined.
This is where “fight-or-flight” could harm rather than serve you. Maybe you’re afraid of flying, but have to travel by airplane for a business trip or perhaps you want to approach a stranger for a date. In those situations, the adrenal response didn’t really serve you.
When continuous stress sticks around beyond its potential usefulness, your adrenals can become burned out by over-secreting stress hormones like cortisol, much like leaving an engine running on idle eventually drains the gas tank – your adrenals become drained – which leads to an underachieved reaction to stress at a cellular level.
Many life incidents can trigger stress. The death of a loved one, losing a job, loneliness, or relationship problems. Long term chronic stress can lead to what is known as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome:
- Muscle pain
- High blood pressure
- A weakened immune system
- Heart disease
Natural Ways to Keep your Adrenals Healthy
- Focus on Healing Foods. The Cellular Healing Diet provides the key nutrients you need to support adrenal health, including healthy fats, clean proteins, and a low carb focus to lower blood sugar levels and effectively manage stress. This high fat, moderate protein diet has been shown to reduce nutritional sources of stress to the adrenal glands.
- Supercharge Your Sleep. Sleep and cortisol go hand in hand. Sleeplessness will only add to your stress the following day and tap your adrenal glands. To recover from adrenal fatigue, it’s recommended to go to bed no later than 10:00 p.m. and sleep in until 9:00 a.m. whenever possible. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, consider using natural sleep support, like CALM by Systemic Formulas or GLYCINE
- Exercise Is Essential. Exercise is a known relief for stress but take note: over-exercise or working out too long can create mood imbalances and lead to additional stress on your adrenals. The alternative is known as HIT (or high-intensity training) According to Alan Christianson, ND, in The Adrenal Rest Diet, HIIT can be especially helpful for adrenal health. It’s best to do a 6-12 min workout first thing in the morning to optimize your adrenal response. If you have never done HIT workout I suggest you google “MaxT3” and start with the light version as 12 min can challenge even an Olympic athletes
- Center Yourself. Stress is a part of everyday life, and while it’s nearly impossible to eliminate, you can decrease your body’s reaction to stress over time. We aren’t supposed to always be “on,” and this constant business is the main drain to your adrenals. Get into the habit of finding a distressing activity and do it daily, again best in the morning. That might include prayer, meditation, deep breathing, yoga, simply or spending time in nature/silence.
- Take the right nutrients. The following have been found to be extremely helpful in recharging the adrenal glands
- Licorice Root: works synergistically with cortisol to help regulate hormone rhythm and improve overall energy
- Curcumin: Several randomized clinical studies have shown this compound found within turmeric to be adreno-protective as well as stabilizing mood and offering a generalized sense of wellbeing.
- Vitamin C: Of all the basic vitamins, C is the most critical for normal adrenal function. The more cortisol your adrenal glands produce, the more vitamin C they require to recover.
- Vitamin D: Low levels of D3 (Less than 30ng/dl) have been linked to cortisol overproduction, exacerbating adrenal fatigue.
- B-Complex: Adrenal stress and elevated cortisol deplete B vitamins, which are responsible for energy production and oxygenation of red blood cells. The majority of the fatigue associated with stress is due to B-vitamin wasting. Supplementing can help you gain victory over the constant sense of being drained by stress. Magnesium: A natural calming agent which has also been shown to be indirectly related to cortisol production, i.e. low Mg = High Cortisol = high stress.
- Chiropractic Care Anyone? The adrenal glands are controlled via the sympathetic nervous system as it exits the Thoracic 10, 11 and 12 as well as Lumbar 1 segments of your spinal column and the parasympathetic system via the vagus nerve. These nerves are commonly compressed due to small shifts in the vertebral alignment as a result of tightened spinal muscles due to adrenal fatigue/stress response. Chiropractic care not only reduces muscle tension directly but also optimizes the function of these nerve roots to ensure there is proper brain to organ connection – which can normalize adrenal function simply by resetting the sympathetic/parasympathetic tone. Adrenal fatigue is usually due to overstimulated sympathetics and under-stimulated parasympathetics – i.e. the gas pedal is pushed to the floor (sympathetics) and the brake pedal is broken (parasympathetics).