Supporting Your Body during Times of Chronic Stress
Your adrenal glands are two tiny clusters of cells that sit on top of each kidney. Tiny but mighty, these endocrine organs actually produce over 40 different types of hormones that are essential for your body. Adrenaline and cortisol are the primary hormones produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress as part of the flight or fight response. These hormones help to provide the physical energy and mental acuity required for you to handle stressful situations as they arise. However, with chronic stress, you can easily become over stimulated and your adrenal system itself can become stressed. This is known as adrenal fatigue and it occurs when your body becomes weary from too much emotional, physical or mental strain.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include a spike in energy at the wrong times such as just before bedtime. Other symptoms include: insomnia, depression, anxiousness, weight gain, indigestion, difficulty losing weight and an increase in abdominal fat.
How to Nourish Your Adrenals
In order to nourish your adrenal glands back into good working order, the first thing to do is to slow everything down and to re-examine your sleep patterns, exercise, nutrition and supplement intake. When the hectic business of life takes hold, one or more of these above items can get thrown out of whack which can bring you down the road of chronic health issues.
Slow Things Down
So what exactly does this mean? To be blunt, it means exactly what it says. When your stress seems to be spiraling out of control, it may be time to say no to commitments, reschedule dates and create boundaries in order to take some time to rest. This is not selfish; this is essential. Chronic stress can wreak havoc on all aspects of your health increasing your risk for cancer, heart disease, obesity as well as immune and reproductive system dysfunction.
The addition of a regular meditation practice into your daily life can help you to manage your stress better. It can be as little as 5 minutes each day, at your desk where you simply close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths. It does not matter if you are bombarded by nagging thoughts that do not seem to leave your mind during this process. Let the thoughts appear as they wish without judgment. This is called mindfulness meditation.
Avoid Caffeine and Processed foods
When you have a lot on your plate, there is an urge to consume stimulants in order to stay alert and productive. The problem is that caffeine creates a vicious cycle of dependence and forces your adrenals to work even harder. This is similar for processed foods which contain chemicals such as trans-fat, salt and refined sugar. These foods do not contain the nutrition that your body needs to handle chronic bouts of stress and may actually take more energy (that you do not have) to be digested and eliminated from your body. When you are stressed, the best approach is to eat and drink as clean as possible. Focus on whole foods including, vegetables, fruit, whole grains and lean protein sources that are prepared simply with the herbs and spices you enjoy.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Restorative sleep is essential for your adrenal glands to function well. When your sleep is compromised, chronic fatigue, increased colds and flus, and anxiety may set in. Turn off your devices and keep them out of your bedroom. Use a to-do list to scribble any thoughts that come into your mind as you try to wind down from your day. Use black-out curtains to ensure that your room is completely dark so that melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep can send you off into a peaceful slumber.
Holy Basil is a herb with a long history of use for adrenal fatigue. A member of the mint family and a native herb to the tropical areas of Asia, you may see Holy Basil on the health food store shelves as Tulsi. It calms your body’s stress response by lowering cortisol levels thereby inducing relaxation. According to a 2014 study from the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, holy basil can positively impact your body’s physical, metabolic and psychological stress response.
Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera is known as the Ayurvedic version of Chinese ginseng. It is an adaptogen which means when taken regularly, it can help your body favorably adapt to stress. In a small study of 75 subjects, where half the participants received psychotherapy and half received an ashwaghanda extract, the group that received the ashwaghanda had 25% less anxiety and experienced more energy and vitality after the 12 week period than the psychotherapy group.