Stress is the most potent toxin you can remove from your life, yet it often seems like the last thing many of us want to focus on. Of all the endo lifestyle approaches I put off the longest, this was the main one. Why? Probably because I was more stressed than I realized -- and I hated how every “stress-less” advice page told me to meditate. WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT?!?! ;) We’re all so busy we can’t even imagine slowing down. We don't think we can afford it.
I’m here to tell you, you can afford it and it’ll even free up time you didn’t realize you had. Often we’re so wrapped up in inconsequential stresses thinking they’re big, that when we slow down and address them one by one, we realize we have more time, energy, and brain power to address the issues that are really important. And interestingly enough, the same glands that control your stress hormones control your sex hormones, so if you have a hormonal imbalance of any kind you must - absolutely must - address this issue to fully heal
So please read on, and start to really learn about why your mind is feeling frazzled, how that causes hormone imbalances and endo pain, and how to start fixing it.
Distress versus Eustress
The first big thing to understand is that not all stress is bad. Eustress (yoo-stress) is beneficial, while Distress is not. What stress could possibly be beneficial? Think of it like when you put your body through an ordeal and you're stronger for it, like training for a couch to 5k, happily preparing for a major event like a wedding, or even getting to know someone new. All of these may be difficult, extra work, or somewhat uncomfortable, but eustress fuels our feeling of success and achievement. Even getting sick as a kid is good as it stresses your immune system in order to strengthen it.
Amazingly, distress could actually be these same activities, it just depends on your perception of them. If you’re out of shape that 5k might make you insanely upset, wedding planning may make you a nervous-nancy, or meeting new people might turn you into a train wreck of anxiety.
That’s why stress isn’t cast in stone: it’s your perception of the challenge that changes everything.
So what happens when we’re worn so thin that stress becomes a pattern in our lives, and we feel “distressed” over everything from answering emails, driving to work, making food, being on social media, and more? Sickness is what happens. Chronic stress will undermine your health, no question about it. The connection between stress and gut health, hormonal regulation, and energy levels is well‐established in the medical literature. Stress creates hormonal and blood sugar changes, causes the body to excrete nutrients and adversely affects the immune system. As they say, stress kills.
The adrenal glands are directly related because they produce their hormones in response to stress: they are responsible for the fight or flight response. In a stressful situation, they raise your blood pressure, transfer blood from your intestines to your extremities, increase your heart rate, and suppress your immune system. But the adrenals are also the producer of your sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone - which is why it’s important to remember that your adrenals will always prioritize stress hormone creation first. That means the more stress you have, the more imbalanced your sex hormones will become.
Modern Day Stress: It never ends
A stress response is meant to be short‐lived. When primitive woman walked through the forest, sheʹd see a leopard. Her heart rate would increase, her pupils would dilate, her blood would go out of his digestive system and into her arms and legs, she would become more aware and her blood pressure would rise. At that point sheʹd either pick up a stick and try to fight the animal, climb a tree, or run. The physiological changes brought on by the adrenal glands would make the body more efficient at doing either of those things. It is called the fight or flight response, and it’s awesome.
If she survived the ordeal, chances are it would be a while before such a strain was put on the adrenal glands and the rest of her body. She would have an opportunity to relax, eat, sleep, socialize, and her adrenal glands would have a chance to recover. In some anthropological texts of the Hadza people, they were observed to “work” about 4 hours a day procuring food, fixing, mending, etc, and spent the rest of the day socializing over tea with friends, dancing, community bonding, etc. Sounds … luxurious?
Of course being a hunter gatherer isn’t necessarily as romantic as that, but when we look at how humans are supposed to deal with stress (minimally), we can begin to see why we’re so darned frazzles. Many people in modern society do not even have the luxury of a recovery period for their overworked adrenal glands - glands that see every traffic jam, housecleaning endeavor, chore, and job as a proverbial leopard. Day in and out their stress response is stuck on, and so the changes caused by the overproduction of adrenal hormones stay with them as well. The stimulation of the adrenal glands causes a decrease in the immune system function and blood flow to the digestive tract is decreased, which is exactly why stress causes digestive problems.
See, even the simple act of worrying makes your adrenal glands work. If you worry a lot about little problems, you do as much damage to your adrenal glands as someone who really has a lot of big problems to stress about. That’s why you may have as much stress worrying about your 9-5 job as a wartime refugee. #truth. There’s an old saying that “worry is interest paid on money you havenʹt yet borrowed.” Itʹs the amount of worry, not necessarily the size of the problem, that stresses your adrenal glands.
Even hanging on to anxiety over past situations is stressful. Think,how many times a day do you torture yourself with “I should have done that differently”? Thought has power! Worry gives you allllllll of the physiologic responses of the cavewoman facing the leopard because your adrenal glands simply donʹt know the difference between imagined danger and real danger. Think about it: have you ever “daydreamed” scary thoughts, perhaps about dying or being attacked, or something else along these lines? What you notice when you “come-to” is that your heart rate is up, your breath caught in your lungs, it’s as if these things were really happening! You can see, then, how just the thought of stressors made the adrenal glands start producing their hormones. It’s that simple.
When your adrenals are then under siege for, like, ever, they will fail to meet the demands placed upon them. The entire system has run out of nutrients, energy, stamina, and clear communication links. During this stage, a person can develop a variety of symptoms including fatigue, digestive problems, obesity, depression, dizziness, fainting, allergies and many other problems. Perhaps this is the point she develops that degenerative illness, autoimmune, chronic something-or-other, maybe even, ummm, endometriosis.
People in this burn out stage frequently crave coffee, sugar, and salt. Sugar and caffeine stimulate the adrenal glands when they’re tired, so tired they can no longer stimulate themselves. Itʹs as if your adrenal glands are two donkeys towing a cart up a mountain, and sugar or caffeine is the proverbial whip you use to get the donkeys to keep moving. What they need is nourishment and a rest period at the top of the mountain, but if they don’t get it, the body keeps craving the stimulants. Sodium is regulated by the adrenals as well, so when your adrenals are overworked your sodium tissue levels can plummet, making you crave salty foods.
Helping the Adrenals
To effectively heal the adrenal glands and bring the hormonal system back into balance, you must eliminate reframe how you perceive stress. This is the trick-or-treat of the issue. It’s not ENDING stress - which there will always be something to stress - it’s reframing how you respond to it.
Stress in itself isn’t bad if it’s seen as either positive, or even neutral. That’s why the idea of training for a marathon - a very high stress event - will fire some people up but might nearly kill someone else with worry and anxiety. That’s also why you may be able to handle that work commute in traffic better than you think, if you start to re-frame how you perceive it. Situations are not always controllable, but stress is.
Work is a big issue for many, one that you may not be able to change for now. If you canʹt change your work situation, then improve your diet and get plenty of rest [BTW rest does not equal endless internet/phone scrolling]. Change how you think about your job situation, or any challenging situation you can’t (yet) change for that matter. Focus on the positive: You do have a job, you do eat regular meals - much of the world doesn’t. Just do the best you can and think of the things you canʹt control in positive terms. To quote the great teacher and spiritual advisor, Yogi Babaganoush, ʺChill out man.ʺ Think to yourself, ʺWhat could be good about this situation?ʺ Then take a minute to really look for positive answers. Seriously, they’re there.
It’s also really important to know that the adrenals cope with stressors that are not just emotional. This is the kind of stress most people think of when “stress” is mentioned, but there are many different kinds of stress. Emotional, physical and chemical stress all affect the body the same way. Your adrenal glands do not know the difference between an IRS audit, that same saber toothed tiger, excessive sugar consumption, or that chemical-laden lotion you slather on everyday.
That’s why even if you can’t deal with the emotional aspects of things right away, you can change lifestyle habits to help your adrenals function better right now. Environmental pollution, food additives, sugar, alcohol and caffeine contribute stress to your adrenal glands. Try to remove these stresses from your diet, beauty, and cleaning routines—effortlessly and without putting yourself under pressure.
While under stress, it is hard to be diligent in keeping additives and refined sugar out of the diet, but being diligent in this regard can help calm you down more than you realize. Eating sugar, caffeine, and reducing calories are things that are especially stressful to the adrenal glands, which work to maintain your blood sugar level. Eating sugar causes a temporary increase in blood sugar, which soon drops. Skipping meals also causes the blood sugar to drop - which is why if you’re a chronic breakfast skipper I will absolutely hound you to change this habit. The adrenal glands then have to work to increase the blood sugar. Hypoadrenia and hypoglycemia usually exist together.
And - of course - meditation, awareness, and mindfulness are incredibly helpful in controlling distress. They don’t help with the situation, just how you perceive it and your body’s response to the stress.
There’s no easy pill or supplement to take to heal the adrenals… that would be too easy ;) Instead healing these powerful yet sensitive glands takes a whole body approach
Sleep, seriously: Try to get to bed so that you can be asleep by 10. Sleeping is the time your body has to detox and recover, so if you’re not sleeping well, your body will elevate cortisol production - thus more stress on your adrenals. If you think you’re a night owl and are scowling at me, chances are your adrenals are being overworked and learning to calm yourself in the evening may be one of the biggest things you do to help your adrenals recover.
Meditation or Simply Learning How to Breathe: Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, or simple deep breathing exercises can help you bring stress under control. Remember, most of the damage done by stress is not due to any external factors, but rather how your mind interprets those factors. Meditation and other techniques help to reduce the harm of stress by quieting the mind. However, sometimes just learning how to breathe correctly will help immediately calm the stress response alone! If meditation isn’t your cup of tea, check out www.healendo.com/breathe to learn a bit more about how to actually breeeeathe.
Hobbies: Meditation and Yoga may be a little ʺNew Ageʺ for some people, which is why hobbies are a great alternative! Most hobbies are relaxing… or they should be. Here your mind has to focus on a simple task rather than on sources of stress. Sometimes allowing yourself a mental escape is all you need to accomplish mundane tasks that previously stressed you out. Plus, remembering something you actually enjoy doing (besides pretending you like to “work” or “accomplish”) will start to heal your soul in numerous ways.
Correct exercise or movement: Moderate aerobic exercise is good, but make sure it doesn’t force your body to overdo it. “Moderate” is exercise that uses large muscles repetitively and is mild enough that you can carry on a normal conversation during the activity. Anaerobic (exercising so hard that you can’t carry on a normal conversation) exercise can be stressful and should be limited while the adrenal glands are recovering. I can’t say enough good things about the simple art of walking, or swimming under a summer sun.
Sunshine Therapy: Go outside, no sunscreen, as little clothes as possible! No need to burn, just go inside by the time your skin starts to turn slightly pink. Your ability to stay out longer will increase as your therapy increases. If you’re fair skinned, all you need is 20 min/day of midday sun. Take some time to relax :)
Diet: There are many types of stress. Chemical, physical, thermal, and mental stresses can all cause harm to the body. Stress is cumulative. A stressful job situation is compounded by a poor diet. Avoid chemical additives and sugar, refined carbohydrates and modern, industrial oils. Eat plenty of fresh foods and make sure that you get enough protein. At mealtime relax and focus on enjoying your food; donʹt eat on the run. Balancing your minerals will also offer your body immense relief.
No stimulants: like your vacation shouldn’t be full of conference calls, nor should your adrenals be full of stimulants while they’re healing. This is tough to hear for those dealing with chronic adrenal related fatigue, but it’s really important to remember. Stimulants include caffeine, sugar, cigarettes, and certain drugs (anything that gives you false energy), and should be avoided. If you can’t make yourself stop right now, discuss how you’re going to cut back with your support people in your life.
Chemical Stress/toxin exposure: remove all harmful toxins from your home, car, and beauty routine. There are 80,000 chemical compounds sold to us to put in or around ourselves, but fewer than 10% have ever been tested for their effects on human health. These toxic compounds stress our bodies just as much as large public speaking engagement. Remember, stress is stress. Try to clean up your household chemical usage bit by bit, as to not stress yourself even more. Focus on body products, laundry, cleaning products, dish soap, and yard chemicals.
And stop saying “stress”: Yes, after I said it 1,000 times, stop saying it from here on out. When you call something a stress (or refer to situations as crazy, insane, awful, etc), it immediately provokes a stress response. Instead, start to substitute different words, such as dealing with a challenge or issue. This allows you to approach situations with more objectivity.