We mainly talk about the stress caused by work pressure, personal issues, or chronic disease. But there are other elements at play when it comes to stress. For example…in your experience, have there been times when you constantly feel tired but can’t explain why? You feel overwhelmed by stressful situations that you used to be able to handle more easily and find yourself lacking in the energy you may have enjoyed once upon a time? Have you ever struggled to get out of your bed in the mornings even after having slept for long hours? If this sounds familiar to you, there is a chance that you are suffering from something called ‘Adrenal stress” or “Adrenal Fatigue.” Put in layman terms…it may be the case that your adrenal glands may be underperforming. All that chronic stress you’ve been masterfully coping with in your life without complaint? Your adrenal glands have been responsible for supporting you and sustaining that level of vigilance. And they are showing signs of strain.
Is this a death sentence? No. But it is a sign of imbalance. Chronic stress is a part of life. But if left unchecked and unassuaged for too long, eventually it can lead to hormonal depletion, exhaustion, and…yes…adrenal fatigue.
To understand the above, we need to understand how health and metabolism are being affected by hormones. One of the glands that play an important role in metabolism is the adrenal cortex. The adrenal cortex gland releases hormones which are vital for biological function. To be more specific, there are two parts which release hormones- Adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla. Adrenal cortex hormones regulate sodium levels, salt, and balances blood volume which directly affects blood pressure.
Another hormone (Cortisol) regulates metabolic rate of carbohydrate, proteins, and fat. It also regulates immune responses and responsible for suppressing inflammatory reactions. So it is a potent anti-inflammatory. Finally, the adrenal glands are best known for secreting the hormone adrenaline, which rapidly prepares your body for action in a stressful situation.
When you are stressed, the hormones of the adrenal medulla are released after the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated. The adrenal medulla helps you deal with physical and emotional stress. You want these responses to happen. Evolutionarily, it’s part of why we have survived so long as a species. If you encounter a stressful situation, you want your body to fire up stress hormones to feed you energy and adrenaline. You WANT to be able to run from a potential threat or beat it back. The problems come in when you have that relatively high level of stress…but then don’t actually end up using that extra energy in the form of movement.
Let’s break this down. During times of stress, there are actual physiological changes that happen in our bodies. Most of them are helpful for our survival (such as in the situation described above). BUT – if we continue to experience stress and we don’t actually end up running from our perceived threat or beating it back…those stress hormones increase our blood sugar (again…in an effort to give us energy) which then requires insulin to bring it back down. In the short term, it feels like an energy crash. In the long term, it can lead to weight gain. When the adrenal glands are overworked, the body prepares itself by storing fat. We crave food, indulge in binge eating and we gain weight.
Adrenal imbalance causes a number of issues, including the abdominal fat deposition.When we have long term stress, both insulin and cortisol remain elevated in the blood, and the extra glucose is stored as fat–mostly in the abdomen. Studies suggest that fat cells have receptors for the stress hormone cortisol, and there are more of these receptors in our abdominal fat cells than anywhere else in our bodies. Moreover, belly fat is an active tissue, which responds to the stress by depositing more fat. This cycle can not end until a step is taken to tackle the root cause of stress.
So…How can we Break the cycle of adrenal stress?
- Go easy on Food:Eating small and frequent meals helps cortisol balance the blood sugar and take off some stress. Cortisol counterbalances the action of insulin. Under stress when cortisol levels are elevated, it results in a perpetual need for insulin. Eventually, our bodies can develop resistance to it…hence the name “insulin resistance.” In other words, our body can become less sensitive to insulin, forcing it to produce more for the same effect. If it stops to work altogether…THAT keeps glucose levels high in the blood.
- Time to eat: Our body has circadian rhythms which work closely with cortisol which is highest in the morning and gradually declines throughout the day. When we eat we elevate our cortisol, so it is best to start heavy with breakfast and go light post evening. Heavy evening meals are the prime reason for expanding waistline. The Higher waistline is associated with metabolic and lifestyle disease.
- Unplug: Give time to yourself. Unplug means a disconnect from cell phones, laptops, work, any digital devices. Take out sometime which you spend only with your thoughts. It makes you realize your priorities and your goals better.
- Good night sleep: As this gland also controls our circadian rhymes, it is responsible for our sleep cycle. Good 8 hours’ sleep will make you take fewer calories through the day. Lack of sleep also makes one drowsy and ends in low energy levels creating stress. Maintain same sleeping hours for the body to regenerate.
- Workout: Exercise is the best remedy to reduce stress by releasing pent up energy. As stated earlier…the whole reason our bodies respond to stress by producing more cortisol is so that we have energy available to spend. Having more energy isn’t a bad thing if you actually use
But…all that being said…The best way to reduce stress levels is to have Fun! Having fun and laughing should become one of your top priorities in life as it has multiple benefits one of the main being, it relieves you of your stress.
So in looking at your day, today…ask yourself: what is one thing you can do for your body to help support your adrenal glands? Then ask yourself…how can you set aside some time for fun as you do that?