The past couple of years have been some of the most stressful I’ve ever endured. I’m so grateful that I learned long ago that the most important time to care for myself is during periods of high stress. I’ve learned so much about how stress impacts the body. I know now how damaging constant stress can be to the adrenal glands and importance of healing them naturally.
Correlation Between Stress and Your Adrenal Glands
I’m sure you are familiar with stress — it’s a constant element in women’s busy lives. You can probably even name how you feel when you’re stressed. But do you know what’s really going on in your body when it’s under a constant barrage of stressful input? You may not understand your body’s physiological response to stress, the ways in which the stress we face today goes far beyond the kind of stress we faced as we evolved, and how stress can deplete your energy and health.
When faced with a stressful situation, our bodies rely on the adrenal glands sitting atop our kidneys to monitor our “fight or flight” response. In our ancestors, the stress response evolved from short-term events — crises that came and went. If they had to run from a predator, for example, healthy adrenal glands responded by releasing adrenaline, which makes us more alert and focused; cortisol, which converts protein to energy and releases stored sugar; and glycogen, which gives the body the fuel it needs to respond quickly.
In concert, the adrenal response rapidly increases our heart and respiratory rates and blood pressure while releasing energy, tensing our muscles, sharpening our senses, and slowing our digestion so we are primed to escape or fight back, whichever is needed. When the threat is gone, the body returns to normal — quickly with respect to adrenaline levels, less quickly with respect to cortisol.
Perceived Stress vs. Real Threat: Your Body Doesn’t Know the Difference
That adrenal response is essential when a true threat is present. But in today’s society, women are inundated with stress that isn’t life-threatening, but never lets up. And our adrenals can’t tell the difference between this kind of stress and a real threat to survival. Chronic stress can make the pendulum swing too far in either direction: the adrenals will either overproduce cortisol, causing insomnia and anxiety; or they won’t be able to accommodate the constant demand, which can cause fatigue, depression, fuzzy thinking, weight gain, mood issues, and cravings.
Sometimes, cortisol is so low women simply aren’t able to keep up with the demands of daily life. And when your adrenals are constantly producing cortisol, they can’t attend to their broader role in hormonal regulation: the same resources they use to make hormones like estrogen are required to make cortisol. Even worse, cortisol can damage healthy tissue, leading women down a short path to adrenal exhaustion and, potentially, more serious long-term health concerns.
Permission to Nurture Yourself: Granted!
The best way to counteract the hormonal imbalance stress can create is to take care of yourself. If, like many women, you spend a lot of your time taking care of everyone else, it’s more important than ever to make time for yourself. Do something to care for your body, your mind and your soul — like getting a massage, a reiki treatment, even taking a nap or hot bath.
There are many ways to replenish adrenal health naturally. Check the adrenal health section for more articles to help you get started. I can’t remove stress from your life, but one thing I can promise is that when you begin to heal your adrenal glands, you’ll see results on every physical and emotional level. Your whole body will thank you for it!