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Relieving Stress, Preventing Adrenal Burnout

Relieving Stress and Preventing Adrenal Burnout

by Rob Pell

Our modern lifestyle, sped up by computers, often asks us to accomplish more in a day than stress 1is humanly reasonable. Many people’s brains are in hyperdrive from sunrise to sundown, and beyond. The schedule of today’s soccer mom with a job is cram-packed like never before. Insurance company data shows that three-quarters of all doctor’s visits are the result of stress-related ailments and complaints. In contrast, I’ve never heard of an ambulance rushing anyone to the hospital suffering from a “relaxation-attack”

Stress is often defined as “any real or imagined threat, and your body’s response toit.” Stress response, aka the “fight or flight” response, is wired into out genetic code as a survival mechanism. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the face of real danger, it can make super men or women out of us. However we need  to learn how to manage inevitable, ongoing, daily stress – before it manages us.

On top of the kidneys, sit the adrenal glands, about the size of a walnuts. One of their biggest responsibilities is to provide hormones that create changes (sometimes rapid) in physiology when responding to stressful or life-threatening situations It’s ironic that although your adrenal glands are there to help you cope with stress, too much of it causes their function to weaken.

When confronted with serious threats, your brain signals the adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases heart rate and blood pressure, while cortisol releases blood sugar. These chemical responses may have served our ancestors well preparing for a death match with a sabre-toothed tiger, but are simply overpowering and outdated for most of our modern daily needs. Our bodies barely know the difference between a serious immediate threat and  an overdue credit card bill.

The result is that your adrenal glands, faced with chronic low-level stress  become overworked and fatigued from pumping out extra hormones for much longer than was ever intended, from a biological survival standpoint. And the rest of our body simply doesn’t know how to respond to this constant influx of adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenals have not adapted well to modern lifestyles.

Common Factors That Stress The Adrenals:

Chronic overwork, mental or physical

  • Excessive exercise
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Light-cycle disruption (such as working the night shift or often going to sleep late)Chronic pain and inflammation
  • Harboring negative emotions
  • Toxic exposures

Some stress is a normal part of life and may even be considered constructive –  like the excitement of planning for a trip or surprise party or welcoming a new baby into your family. But it still can contribute to adrenal fatigue – emotional balance is the key.

However, constantly responding to chronic stress has been shown to create many major negative effects on our health, which include elevated blood pressure, sleep and digestive disorders, reduced immune function, muscle tension and pain, or anger and emotional imbalances. There are literally dozens, and possibly hundreds, of ways stress can negatively impact health.

Being exposed to chronic stress can cause adrenal burnout. Common symptoms are:

  • You feel tired for no reason, even after a couple of good night’s sleep.
  • You feel rundown or overwhelmed
  • You are constantly irritable and short-tempered with those closest to you
  • You have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness.
  • You crave salty and sweet snacks.
  • You feel more awake, alert and energetic after 6PM than you do all day.
  • Reduced libido

All of the following activities can create the desired stress-reducing, relaxation response instress our bodies. . Practiced daily, they also have a cumulative effect acting as an insurance policy against future stress. 

  • Go for a daily walk or regularly partake in other exercise that you enjoy.
  • Spend time in nature or work in your garden.
  • Practice yoga, tai chi or chi gung.
  • Meditate.
  • Play with a pet.
  • Write in your journal.
  • Listen to music.
  • Get a massage.
  • Soak in a bath or hot tub.

From the perspective of Chinese medicine, there is usually a Yin & Yang component to most high-quality remedies. From that perspective, treating chronic stress or adrenal fatigue has two components.

Stress reduction, and management is the yin component. Relaxing (Yin) herbs  include: Valerian, Chamomile, Passionflower, Hops, Skullcap, Lemon Balm, Lavender and California PoppyLong-term, gradual strengthening and rebuilding (tonifying) adrenal function is the yang component. Tonifying herbs, also known as adaptogens, used for istrengthening adrenal function  include: Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, Cordyceps, Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng), Holy Basil and Schizandra.

In contrast, most western doctors have little understanding of the balance inherent in high-quality healing. They usually only address half of the issue by treating stress exclusively with prescription sedatives (considered very Yin) that have a long list of potential negative side-effects. Long-term use of drugs like Valium, Librium or barbiturates often further depletes energy and motivation and can reduce libido and mental acuity.

The beauty of activities like Tai Chi, Chi Gung and Yoga is that relaxing and strengthening are accomplished simultaneously.