The concept of stress is being thrown around like a beach ball these days. But what is stress, really? This month let’s cover what stress really is and how your body uses your adrenal glands to keep your body in balance when stress comes knocking.
- Your adrenal glands release hormones that allow you to run or fight
When was the last time you were scared? Not scared like, “I’m scared I won’t get the job” or “I’m scared my kid might be failing math”. The kind of scared that makes your heart pound and your palms sweat and your stomach signal that if you don’t find a bathroom in the next 3 minutes you might need to change your underwear.
Those are your body’s signals that you are stressed. Your brain has told your body that there is danger afoot. Your blood supply got diverted from your digestive tract to your muscles and heart so you could either run or fight. The pupils of your eyes even dilate to allow for better peripheral vision.
We have two glands that sit on top of our kidneys called the adrenal glands. They release hormones to help us run or fight if the need arises. In these modern times, they release the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, even if we are running late to work or are worried about our children or our health. There is an outer section called the adrenal cortex which is where the term corticosteroids come from and it regulates metabolism and electrolytes (minerals). The inner section contains nerve centers that connect with the brain and the part of the nervous system that puts us into action, called the sympathetic nervous system.
- Symptoms of Adrenal problems might be fatigue, brain fog, depression, anxiety, dizzy with standing up, sleep issues, frequent illness and an inability to handle stressful situations.
There is a book called, Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers. It’s a great book and I recommend you add it to your reading list. One important point in this book is that when a pack of zebras is being chased by a predatory animal their brain tells them to run like hell, and they do, but only for a few yards. That is how long it typically takes for the predatory animal to catch the weakest or slowest zebra and the rest of the herd can continue eating or drinking peacefully since the danger has passed. The way we live our lives these days is so high pressured that our bodies get the impression that we need to run or fight constantly. This continual release of stress hormones causes our adrenal glands to overwork and end up not functioning well. Then we end up being constantly tired and in a state of brain fog. Other symptoms of adrenal fatigue are depression, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, dizzy when standing up, susceptibility to illness and inability to handle stress.
- Stress can happen without our awareness of it
We have become so used to our stressful lives that we don’t even realize how stressed we are. We can go through our day running out the door because we are, once again, late for work. Pick the slowest lane and end up behind the refuse truck on garbage day. Just to find an urgent phone call needs our attention the moment we get there. A multitude of demands happen throughout our day only to be stuck in rush hour traffic on our way home where we have to figure out what to cook for dinner, do we have the right ingredients, having to actually cook, make sure all homework is done, the dishes are dealt with and the laundry is done before you finally go to bed a few hours after you intended. Then you get up and do it again… and again… and again! Our cortisol levels can increase 200-300% and we think it’s just a normal day.
- Poor functioning adrenal glands can recover
Our bodies are brilliant. With some awareness, care and good nutrition our adrenal glands can return to hearty healthy functional organs. Stay tuned for the next two articles on how to test stress hormones and my anti-stress protocol for adrenal recovery.