We all know what stress is, but do we know what it does to the body? When stress suddenly hits, your brain goes into fight or flight mode. When this happens, your adrenal glands release epinephrine and cortisol into your body. Epinephrine is also known as adrenaline and it increases your heart rate, constricts blood vessels and dilates air passages. The downside of it is that it can also cause headaches, palpitations and anxiety. Cortisol increases blood sugar and suppresses the immune system. It also converts protein to energy and releases stored sugars to give our bodies fuel to face the task ahead. Both hormones return to normal after the short term stressor is over. Stress also slows down digestion to conserve your energy and your muscles tense up so ensure you are on your toes and ready to fight or run. It would be optimal if we all had temporary stress. The effects are minimal and our bodies are able to handle stress short term. Like life, everything is a balance, some good and some bad.
Now what happens if the stress is chronic and doesn’t go away? This is where we start to have complications in our body. Our little adrenal glands get exhausted by constantly releasing epinephrine and cortisol in response to the stress. When this occurs, the adrenal function is impaired. The adrenals are busy making high levels of cortisol, so it interrupts the regulation of the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. For women this can change and disrupt your menstrual cycle making shorter, longer periods or no period at all. Since your adrenal glands are busy constantly releasing hormones from chronic stress, adrenal fatigue sets in. This can lead to weight gain, digestive issues, fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, mood swings, neck and back pain, tension headaches, migraines and fuzzy thinking. If this continues the adrenal fatigue will turn into adrenal exhaustion and that is where the serious health concerns show up. An adrenal imbalance can also cause osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, depression, infertility, anxiety, arthritis, and many more.
This is just a general introduction to stress and the effects it has with the adrenal glands. There are still many more symptoms that can arise from high stress that affect other parts of your body. Years ago, I had a shingles outbreak when my stress was too high that my body pretty much freaked out. I now have a constant reminder of stabbing back pain when my stress levels rise over what my body can handle. Whatever the symptom is, chronic stress does nothing good for your body and needs to be controlled.
Chinese medicine has their own take on stress and how it affects your body. It focuses on the emotions created along with the physical symptoms that are feeling. When you get stressed you may feel anger, frustration, fear and/or worry. In moderation all emotions are a normal process of the body. When in excess, like chronic stress, your body becomes imbalanced and illness arises. Each of these emotions are attached to an organ and have their own set of symptoms. For example, when anger sets in, it interrupts the liver and its ability to maintain the free flow of qi throughout the body. This causes the qi to be blocked and stagnation occurs leading to neck and back pain. When this happens, the symptoms of chest pain, stifling sensation in the chest, muscle spasms, eye strain and headaches can occur.
Acupuncture can’t take your stress away, but it can help alleviate your symptoms. These energy blockages can be addressed to dissipate the stagnation to relieve pain and allow your energy to flow smoothly again. In terms of Western medicine, acupuncture alleviates stress by releasing endorphins, natural pain killers to relax muscles. Acupuncture also decreases your heart rate, lowers blood pressure and increases blood circulation which can help to flush out cortisol and other toxins.
Now that we know what stress does to your body, how do we lower our stress and prevent adrenal fatigue? If you feel like you are experiencing longer episodes of fatigue, moody, emotionally off, or having difficulty losing weight with proper diet and exercise, then you can get your adrenal glands tested. Some other ways to help your adrenals is to get plenty of rest. Your body needs to relax and heal. Mild to moderate exercise like taking a walk and eating a healthy diet full of leafy green vegetables will also help your body. Take more time for you and appreciate yourself. Reduce stimulants like caffeine and processed sugars and carbohydrates. We all know that exercise, yoga and meditation can help lower stress, but you have to actually do it. Work on deep breathing techniques. Breathe from your belly and diaphragm instead of the shallow breathing that involuntarily occurs with stress. This can help to relax your brain and your muscles. Take time to appreciate the good in your life and environment. Start focusing on the good instead of the negative. Slow down and enjoy the little things. Stress makes life pass us by because people let the obsession over take our bodies and minds. The power of intention and visualization has done wonders for many people. Visualize that you are succeeding. Visualize where you want to be. Start small and work up. Now what do you need to do to get there? Talk to someone, anyone. Sometimes just talking about it and getting it off your chest can make a huge impact. Try to just go with the flow. Let a book or a movie take you away. Get in touch with hobbies and things that you enjoy to do to take your mind off the stress. We know that doing nothing is not making the stress go away. Change what is not working and learn to see what does work for you. Last but not least, don’t ever forget to smile and laugh. That little change will make a huge difference.
Getting your mind and body in a better frame of reference will make a huge difference in your reaction to stress. You can also supplement with adrenal support herbs and vitamins like B complex. Rescue remedy is also an excellent anti stress/anxiety homeopathic resource. I keep my bottle in my purse at all times and I even fly with it. Calm magnesium powder is also very good for relaxing your muscles to help lower stress.
A good thing to know is what your stressors are. Find the triggers. If you know something is going to happen that will stress you out, try preparing your body. Schedule that massage, acupuncture or spa day that you have been putting off.
Here’s a link to take a test to see what stress relievers work best for you.
Just remember that stress affects everyone and we all react differently. Stress is a normal occurrence in life, but it all depends on how you manage it. Try your best to control your stress and don’t let it overcome you. If you feel like you cannot manage your stress, then seek help. There are many resources out there. You just need to ask. Sometimes the hardest part is figuring out what works for you. Just remember that you deserve that me time and you should definitely take advantage of those mental health days.
Be well and keep smiling.