How Stress Affects Your Adrenal Health and What to do About it
The Key to Well-being
One thing I learned the very hard way during my long and diligent path from chronic illness back to health, is that the body feels like crap when the adrenal glands are not happy and strong. To me, this is the missing link in any discussion about health. That we will detoxify and heal through eating clean and whole foods is obvious; that we might be hurting ourselves even more deeply by not addressing the stress factors in our lives… not so much.
The adrenals are like receptors of anything that is stressful to you, emotionally, mentally and physically. They pick up that which might pass you by consciously, and they never adapt; meaning, even if you feel you are handling a stressful situation well, they might disagree.
The body is always right. YOU are always right. Not your thoughts, and sometimes not even your feelings, YOU.
An example: You have been in a relationship for years, and although you know you are under stress that it is not optimal, you are dealing with it, and you have gotten better at dealing with it. Not feeling as stressed out, angry, frustrated or lost anymore, you are better at living with it—not. You might think you are, but nothing hurts our adrenals more than long-standing low grade stress. It becomes an underlying inflammation, an obstruction. It becomes the subconscious sabotage you might not even be aware of. And it is the key to your healing.
This is why this challenge and process will elevate your health BIG time.
Nothing Hurts the Adrenals like Stress
Nothing hurts the adrenals like stress and underlying unhappiness, not even food. And when the adrenals are fatigued, we’re talking serious trouble—starting with inflammation, insomnia, fungus, constipation or pain, ending in bedridden with chronic fatigue and other very serious conditions.
In short, you will feel like crap. Period.
Nothing hurts your health like weak and low functioning adrenal glands. Literally, it is hard to find anything else that will leave you in a lack-of-health ditch like not nurturing those amazing little glands. Any type of stress, trauma, and fear—BAM!—adrenal shut-down. And although it most often takes years and years of constant adrenal stress to get to the low point of chronic illness, a simple sudden traumatic event in your life can also pull the rug from under you, and your health.
The tricky part is even knowing you are under constant stress; the lingering low-grade kind of stress that kills very slowly. We tend to adjust, to accept, to allow. But when it comes to stress, it’s not a healthy idea.
What are Your Adrenal glands?
Before we look at what is stressing you sick, and how to make positive changes, let’s start with what the adrenal glands actually are.
The adrenal glands are the two small but significant glands that sit on top of your kidneys. They are part of the endocrine system and are involved in producing over 50 hormones that drive almost every bodily function—many of which are essential for life. (No wonder we need to love them!) Keeping this simple, let’s look at some general information about these important but vulnerable glands.
The adrenals are made up of two distinct parts:
- The adrenal cortex: The outer part of the gland, the adrenal cortex produces hormones that are vital to life, such as cortisol (which helps regulate metabolism and helps your body respond to stress) and aldosterone (which helps control blood pressure).
- The adrenal medulla: The inner part of the gland, known as the adrenal medulla, produces non-essential (that is, you don’t need them to live) hormones, such as adrenaline (which helps your body react to stress).
The adrenal glands are best known for secreting the hormone adrenaline, which rapidly prepares your body to spring into action in a stressful situation. This is the most valuable information you can ever learn about the adrenal glands.
They also contribute to a myriad of processes in the body when we are NOT under stress, and our health declines when those functions are no longer running optimally due to adrenal fatigue.
Hormones affect every function, organ and tissue in the body, both directly and indirectly. They react to each other as well as respond to conditions in the body in an intricate and highly sensitive balancing act. The adrenal glands work closely with the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in a system known as the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis—an endocrine gland dance of balance. It is the ‘government’ of the body, and is essential to our health and well-being.
The Top Adrenal Stress Factors
There are many more, but these are the stress factors most of us can relate to.
1. Malfunctioning family and relationships:
The people closest to us can either make us or break us. In a perfect world, that statement would be completely false, as nothing from the outside can break us unless we allow it or them to—but most of us are not there. We rely on nurturing relationships. But the reality is, there are toxic people, and there are those not capable of being supportive and loving. We need to walk away from all that is hurtful to us.
When you are ready to heal your adrenals and life, walk away. Give yourself space to heal away from any behavior that is upsetting to you in any way. The family is tricky, but nothing is worth being sick over. Take a close look at the relationships in your life and start de-cluttering. Start evaluating what is serving you and be picky. YOU deserve it. Your health deserves it. If it doesn’t serve you, walk away.
2. Not living your purpose:
This is a hard one, as living one’s purpose is and can be so many things. I do not believe we have ONE purpose, as in one function or place in this society, I believe we can find many traits and so-called positions, BUT, this is the wisdom to take from this: When you are living your purpose, you feel aligned with what you do; you feel at home where you are, and you feel your days and weeks are filled with purpose and joy. You will feel the pull and excitement in life itself, and enthusiastic about creating and serving. When you are serving you are always living purposely.
The opposite would be to never feel in place, or happy with what you do, or the way you live. Always having a longing for something different, or something more. Have you ever felt “Is this all there is?” A typical sign of not living your purpose. That being said, there are no straight lines, and following your intuition will lead you towards YOU, even though the road might be bumpy with valuable lessons and gems along the way.
3. Abusing the body with food:
While emotional stress is far more damaging when it comes to the adrenals, food may be the most obvious factor in adrenal health. The reason food is critical to the health of the adrenal glands is the role of nutrition in supporting the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol, which play critical functions in the body.
When it comes to food, anything acidic not only harms the adrenals but every gland and organ in your body. The adrenals are most hurt by eating animal products, especially meat. The adrenaline, the trauma and emotional stress handed down from factory-farmed animals are detrimental. Alcohol, coffee and other drugs stimulate the adrenals and stress the entire body, and can be very toxic to adrenal health. Same with salt, a toxic stimulant.
(On the flip side, foods and herbs that support the adrenal glands include foods high in calcium, magnesium, and vitamins C, E and B-complex, as well as coconut oil, ashwagandha, ginger, licorice root, and plenty of water.)
4. Lack of boundaries:
I know this one well, and I bet you do too. Boundaries. We so want to please and make sure everyone else is OK. It can be for all the right AND wrong reasons. Putting ourselves on the back burner, not saying NO when no is the right word for what we feel. Not standing up for how we feel or what we truly want. This is nothing but old programming that we learned back in early childhood. The difference between pleasing and serving is huge, and sadly, our society raises children to become pleasers.
When it comes to setting boundaries, this is the time YOU have been waiting for—because your adrenals are calling you. Setting boundaries means saying no to what is not serving you so that you can say more yes to what does. Make space and room for yourself. It is OK to be alone, to pull back and indulge in self-care. It is OK to skip a party, a meeting or a gathering, and even say no to a vacation or trip.
5. Lack of self-love:
I believe this is the underlying cause of all illnesses: the lack of self-love. How easy it sounds and how narcissistic to some, but this is a great test. If you feel loving yourself is self-absorbed or the likes, you NEED this more than anything. It is a sign you believe taking care of YOU is egoistic. I have been there. Growing up, many of us are taught this, that taking care of US is nothing but egocentric. Hence, we develop adrenal burn out. We chase everything outside of us that we falsely believe will lead to that inner calm and content—and chase life like it will lead to a reward, and that we will finally be good enough. But it never comes, until you finally realize you are good enough just from being you. You are good enough just for being alive. Realizing that will reset your entire inner stress level.
The Top Adrenal Stress Symptoms
Low adrenals will lead to a myriad of symptoms. As they are involved in so many processes, they will throw you into a limbo when not feeling great. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Blood sugar issues
- Belly fat
- Low cortisol levels
- Lower back pain and sciatica
- Shortness of breath
- Salt cravings
A Simple Exercise to Start Clearing Stress from Your Life
Gift yourself a hands-on journal—an old fashion pen and paper one. Sit quietly with your journal and write out the situations that stressed you in any way today. Do you see a pattern? Are there people patterns, situation patterns or feeling patterns? For example: Did you get angry, irritated, overwhelmed, stressed, shy, anxious, sad, mad, etc.
We all tend to have a pattern, and when you find yours, this is what I recommend you do:
In your mind, go back to where you first felt this emotion. Look for an event or situation that would be typical of this emotion, then find the first time. Now, sit with that, and release it. Give yourself permission to let it go, to no longer carry it with you. Let the whole situation dissolve. See yourself leaving it behind as if it was a place or a thing. Walk away, stronger, FREE from that pattern.
This will take some practice, but it is well worth the work. You will begin to re-write a part of what is underlying your stress, and therefore, to heal your adrenal glands. Eventually, you will find there is nothing left to forgive, once you are no longer emotionally attached to your past, and are no longer holding yourself accountable for every situation that resembles what triggered your pattern. Makes sense?
Embrace a Stress-less and Healthy Life!
Sing a little louder, walk longer, aim higher and dance more often.
Smile wider, laugh louder, invest more truthfully and love unconditionally.
Step out of any false belief that you are less than magnificent and stay humble for the opportunities that unfolds in front of you.
We often care too much, about outcomes, about others, and about our own lack of abilities. Care a little less about the things that matter the least.
Nothing is standing between you and your ability to just not give a damn.
Care less about what is none of your business, and care more about your own health and freedom.
That is the gateway to you being a better, healthier YOU.
**This article (How Stress Affects Your Adrenal Health and What to do About it) was originally published at Upliftconnect and is re-posted here with permission.**