Most all of us have a pretty high level of stress in our lives. As we try to juggle everything in our lives successfully — career, hobbies, spouses, children, finances, and more – it’s no wonder so many of us are stressed to the max. Even the “in-between” stuff like commuting, driving/road rage, waiting in long, annoying lines behind super slow tellers and checkout people, etc. really start to add to the overall stress mix.
The Physiology of Stress
Stress is a deeply ingrained human response. Back in the times of early humans, it served as a very valuable means of keeping humans safe by generating the fight or flight response whenever one was presented with danger. Today, our bodies still have the same fight or flight response our ancestors did even though we very seldom need it to protect our lives. With such a finely tuned stress response system, however, our bodies react as if we are faced with a life-threatening situation, even when the stimulus has nothing to do with personal physical safety.
Whenever we experience stress (physical, psychological, emotional, or other), our body releases chemicals in order to prepare us for fight or flight. These chemicals include adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. At the same time, our respiration and heart rate increase and any blood being used for non-essential processes like digestion is rerouted to our muscles and limbs (I believe this is a contributing factor to why stressed people are chronically constipated to varying degrees).
The difference between modern humans and our ancestors is this: With early humans, after the threat to safety was removed, body physiology returned to a normal state. In today’s world, we’re bombarded with so many stressors that our bodies may function in a state of near perpetual fight or flight response.
Stress and Your Adrenal Glands
Your adrenal glands are ground zero for the fight or flight response. Perched atop your kidneys, the adrenal glands release hormones in response to psychological and physiological cues. Along with generating stress hormones, your adrenal glands maintain metabolic processes, regulate inflammation, and help balance your electrolytes. When daily stressors place your adrenals in a perpetual state of producing hormones to control the fight or flight response, they can eventually begin to work less efficiently. As the adrenals wear out, they may no longer respond appropriately to stress, interfering with their ability to produce the hormones your body needs such as DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen. When this happens, you may begin to exhibit symptoms of adrenal fatigue or adrenal imbalance.
Symptoms of Adrenal Imbalance
Like other glands, your adrenals can exist in a state of hyperfunction (producing excess hormones such as cortisol) or hypofunction (producing too few hormones) as a response to adrenal imbalance.
Hyperfunction symptoms include:
- Poor sleep – difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Feeling a combination of tired and wired at the same time
- Panic attacks
- Poor focus
- PMS and irregular periods
- Poor libido
- Weight gain, particularly in the abdomen
- High blood pressure
- Excessive evening hunger
- Cold intolerance
- Hair loss
Hypofunction symptoms include:
- Trouble waking up in the morning
- Poor sleep
- Poor response to stress
- Conflict avoidance
- Feelings of being overwhelmed
- Brain fog
- Impaired immunity
- Slow healing
- Low sex drive
- Salt, sugar, and carb cravings
- Caffeine addiction
- Low blood pressure
- Dizziness or light headedness
- Cold intolerance
- Hair loss
- Increased hunger
Factors that Aggravate Adrenal Imbalance
Since adrenal imbalance is related to high levels of stress and an impaired stress management system, there are a number of factors that can impair adrenal fatigue. Ironically, many of these things are crutches people use to help alleviate any symptoms of adrenal imbalance they may be experiencing. Factors that heighten adrenal fatigue include:
- Caffeine consumption (including in coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks and cacao)
- A high sugar, high-processed food diet
- Consumption of alcohol
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of exercise
- Environmental toxins
- Birth control pills and other hormonal interventions
- Soy consumption
What to Do About Adrenal Imbalance
If you believe you’re suffering from adrenal imbalance, here’s what you can do.
- Limit or eliminate processed foods.
- Eliminate sugar in all of its forms from your diet.
- Minimize chemicals in your diet by eating healthy, organic plant foods.
- Eliminate soy.
- Eliminate caffeine.
- Minimize foods that contain caffeine, such as cacao, which should be viewed as an occasional treat and is definitely not a daily food.
- Find alternatives to hormonal birth control.
- Minimize alcohol consumption.
- Engage in stress reduction techniques such as meditation or yoga.
- Begin a program of gentle exercise, and don’t forget about your post workout snack!
- Minimize toxins in your environment by switching to natural cleaning and beauty products.
- If you smoke, stop (!).
- Establish a sleep routine.
- Avoid foods that may cause hormonal imbalance such as hormone-fed animal products (meat and dairy).
- Simplify your life as much as possible.
- Take time to truly relax every day – not by vegging out in front of the television, but by lying quietly and breathing deeply for a few minutes.
- Practice breathing exercises whenever you begin to feel stressed. Try slowing your respiration down by making each breath cycle last 10 to 15 seconds. To do this, breathe in slowly through your nose and then breathe out through your mouth, pursing your lips and exhaling very slowly. Do this for four or five breath cycles any time you feel stressed. If you feel a calling to learn a meditation practice, you can check out the Self Realization Fellowship, founded by Paramahansa Yogananda, which teaches the Kriya yoga technique that I personally practice daily.
- Take some time just for you each day.
- Try to spend a little bit of time enjoying the outdoors each day.
The Beauty Detox lifestyle is one that seeks to provide balance. If you feel like you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue, you won’t find a better way to restore your body to balance and good health. Take the time to take good care of yourself!