Stress and Adrenal Health

New year, new vaccines. Same stress.

 

Ten months of pandemic shutdowns and the ongoing adjustment to working from home is exhausting for everyone. But long before 2020 (and likely long after) fighting through stressful situations and circumstances was and still is a common occurrence. And these emotional and psychological burdens can often manifest themselves as physical problems, harming our immune and endocrine systems.

 

The adrenal glands operate at the frontlines, ensuring the body can still function during extremely stressful situations, and consequently receive the brunt of its negative impacts. Chronic stress could ultimately cause adrenal system failure and lead to hypertension, thyroid dysfunction, obesity, and diminished immune function. 

 

This post is meant to prevent that. The adrenal glands may combat stress the most, but they are also one of the body’s most resilient fighters. And there are small actions we can all do to help support them and the rest of our bodies. 

New year, new vaccines. Same stress.

 

Ten months of pandemic shutdowns and the ongoing adjustment to working from home is exhausting for everyone. But long before 2020 (and likely long after) fighting through stressful situations and circumstances was and still is a common occurrence. And these emotional and psychological burdens can often manifest themselves as physical problems, harming our immune and endocrine systems.

 

The adrenal glands operate at the frontlines, ensuring the body can still function during extremely stressful situations, and consequently receive the brunt of its negative impacts. Chronic stress could ultimately cause adrenal system failure and lead to hypertension, thyroid dysfunction, obesity, and diminished immune function. 

 

This post is meant to prevent that. The adrenal glands may combat stress the most, but they are also one of the body’s most resilient fighters. And there are small actions we can all do to help support them and the rest of our bodies. 

 

What are adrenal glands?

 

The adrenal glands are small triangular-shaped endocrine glands located one on top of each kidney. Perhaps best known for producing their namesake hormone adrenaline (AKA epinephrine), the adrenal glands also secrete norepinephrine, aldosterone, and cortisol. Cortisol and adrenaline function as part of the body’s “fight or flight” response, increasing blood pressure and heart rate during times of stress. 

 

The adrenal glands are also responsible for maintaining homeostasis (the essential state of balance within the body), keeping blood pressure in check, regulating sodium and potassium electrolytes, and facilitating resistance to recurrent infections. They are also part of the HPA or “Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal” Axis. The HPA Axis is a major neuroendocrine feedback system that allows these glands to manage reactions to stress and oversee your immune system, digestion, and even mood. See this adrenal medical guide for more detailed information.

 

Suffice to say, the adrenal glands play a crucial role in your daily health. 

 

And, even though, like other major organs, the adrenal glands are susceptible to serious disorders like Addison’s Disease, Cushing’s Syndrome and the uncommon Adrenal Cancer,

 

I want to instead focus on a more subtle and much more common condition—adrenal fatigue.

 


What is adrenal fatigue?

 

The term “adrenal fatigue” was coined in 1998 by a James L. Wilson, PhD, and further popularized with 2001 release of his book “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome.” Despite the term’s widespread use, however, adrenal fatigue is not a verified medical illness according to the Endocrinology Society. 

 

The theory is that chronic life stressors (like divorce, loss of a loved one, a difficult work or school life) tax the immune system and tire your adrenal glands. This leads to a constant feeling of exhaustion, weakness, sluggishness, illness, and a general lack of enthusiasm or motivation. Sound familiar?

 

Adrenal fatigue may not be considered an official disease, but modern life has definitely been marred by depression, anxiety, and stress—all of which can manifest as physical ailments, increased susceptibility to illness, and a lack of self-care. Stress is a complicated disease brought about by complicated factors, and the body’s constant fight against it does take a toll.

 

The appeal of an adrenal fatigue diagnosis is that it promises a simple solution for a complex issue. Amidst the fast-paced demands of modern work, the hecklers on social media, and the turmoil that has been these last few years, it’s easy to understand why people would want a quick-fix to stress and sleep-deprivation. 

 

But the reality is very different. There is no panacea for adrenal fatigue nor indeed stress in general. 

 

That doesn’t mean, however, that it is incurable. The real anecdote for adrenal health lies with understanding the root causes of your stress, maintaining a practice of self-care, and committing to positive lifestyle changes. 

 

Maintain Adrenal Health

 

Before purchasing an expensive cure-all online to reduce stress and improve adrenal function, consider a personalized plan that nurtures both your body and your mental health. Don’t worry about crafting the perfect plan. Don’t worry about counting calories or buying a bunch of vitamins, or measuring your BMI. In fact, the real goal is to not worry, period.

 

My advice as a practicing chiropractor and overall health enthusiast is to set aside a couple minutes every day to check in and ask yourself these 6 questions: 

 

Did I talk to someone today? 

 

Alleviate stress and anxiety by talking with someone else. Talk to a close coworker about the next assignment. Talk about the latest episode of Bridgerton with your friends. Call up a beloved relative you haven’t spoken to in a while. And don’t be afraid to sit your pet down and have a heart-to-heart with your dog or cat (or iguana). 

 

I’m also including counselors and therapists. Sometimes it’s easier (and often calmer) to talk about our concerns and fears with a neutral party than to discuss them with others close to us.

 

Did I drink lots of water today?

 

Kind of obvious, but in case you haven’t had a few glasses of water today definitely go and do that. And try to keep away from overly processed, sugary and caffeinated foods. 

 

Did I go outside today?

 

It’s no secret that spending time outdoors reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. If you spent the day hunched over your work-from-home office desk, go for a quick walk outside. Sit in the backyard with a good book (or glass of wine) and let your eyes recover from too much screen time. 

 

Did I exercise today?

 

For many, the word “exercise” conjures an image of difficult or lengthy workouts and is itself a source of stress. I simply mean “movement.” Whatever your exercise routine entails (a 40-minute HIIT workout or 10-minute dance session) the point is to work up a little sweat, prevent yourself from sitting all day, and get those endorphins flowing. 

 

Did I get enough sleep last night?

 

There is no shame in taking a nap. A deep sleep cycle allows the body to heal take stock and heal itself. If you’re not getting a restful 6-8 hours of sleep at night, napping could help. If you can’t nap, close your eyes and practice stillness for a bit. In other words, take time to decompress and recover.

 

Am I doing too much?

 

It might be time to take a step back and prioritize what’s important. In the modern world, especially in the United States, assuming more and more responsibility is a sign of initiative. It can make us feel important or needed. But too much is damaging. 

 


The simplest solution to feeling overwhelmed is to do less. If possible, have a conversation with your employer about which tasks should consume the bulk of your attention and which could be postponed. For students, keep track of assignments and schedule the time (way in advance) to work on them before the due date. 

 

And when possible, let go of the unnecessary and unimportant.

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04/14/2022 by diurbully

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