In today’s fast-paced world, we are bombarded by things that continually stimulate our stress response. Cell phones, urgent emails, deadlines, environmental toxins, difficult relationships, to do lists, poor nutrition, insomnia, multitasking – they can all send messages of “stress“ and in doing so overwork the adrenal glands.
The adrenals are small glands above the kidneys that play a critical role in survival as well as sense of well being. They are responsible for the production of “flight and fight hormones”, such as cortisol and adrenaline. They respond quickly to a “stressor” or danger, as well as impacting the longevity hormones such as DHEA – which provides the main source of testosterone and estrogen in the body after menopause, acting as our own “hormone replacement”.
When our bodies stay in this constant state of alert, the adrenal gland cannot keep up with the demand and the hormone production declines. Studies show that chronic stress is associated with earlier menopause and andropause (male menopause), increased incidence of cancers, heart disease, hypertension, depression, osteoporosis, diabetes, and dementia as well as negative effects on aging.
The many hormones in our bodies work together like a finely tuned symphony, regulating everything from reproduction to emotions and well-being. Overworked adrenal glands will subsequently affect the functioning and balance of other key hormones in the body. An imbalance or decline in the sex hormones (estrogens, progesterone, testosterone) such as in perimenopause or menopause, adds another “stress” to the system, and combined with compromised adrenal function, leads to an inability of the body to function optimally. Symptoms may include fatigue, disrupted sleep, anxiety, depression, feeling overwhelmed, decreased immunity, reduced tolerance for stress, craving for sweets and salty foods, increased allergies and chemical sensitivities.
The good news is there are things that you can do to optimize your adrenal health. Lifestyle changes and comprehensive treatments from qualified health professionals can restore vitality at any age.
Steps to De-stress Your Adrenals
CHANGE YOUR REACTION – You can’t eliminate stress from your life, but you can change how you react to it. Practice forgiveness, nonjudgmental awareness, and just letting go. If this is hard to do on your own, get professional help.
LEARN THE RELAXATION REPSONSE – This is a simple breathing exercise that can be done anytime, anywhere. The deep calm breathing will slow your heart beat, lower your blood pressure, and relax your muscles, neutralizing your body’s physical and emotional response to stress.
RESTORE YOUR SLEEP – Create good sleep hygiene — turn off the technology, establish early bedtime routines to match your body’s hormone rhythm and avoid alcohol and caffeine.
WATCH WHAT YOU EAT – Sugars, caffeine, refined carbohydrates, and processed food can exacerbate the stress response. Eat vegetables of different colors, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins, which contain essential nutrients that the adrenal glands need.
CREATE SPACE IN YOUR LIFE – If you are overwhelmed by your “to do” list, your adrenals are on constant alert. Give them a break. Set boundaries on your time and make it a priority to spend some time in nature, to connect with your spirit, or to just relax.
EXERCISE – Regular exercise helps stimulate natural chemicals in the brain that make us feel good. Physical activity also decreases the stress effect on the body. Listen to your body to see how much is right for you and gradually build up.
TAKE SUPPLEMENTS – Many herbs and nutrients are useful in restoring the adrenal gland back to optimal functioning. It is best to consult a qualified health professional who is familiar with how and when to use supplements, as some can produce adverse effects if not used correctly.
BALANCE YOUR HORMONES – Hormone imbalance itself is a stress on the body. Balancing your hormone levels will help optimize the function of the adrenal, thyroid and other glands.
FIND YOUR BLISS – Surround yourself with people and activities that nurture and inspire your soul. This releases powerful chemicals in the brain that rejuvenate the body and reduce the stress effect.
By: Dr. Bal Pawa, B Pharm, MD
and Dr. Nishi Dhawan, MD, CCFP
Westcoast Women’s Clinic