Healing Chronic Stress: 14 ways to rebuild your reserves
Up until the Coronavirus pandemic, the predominant culture has been one of maximizing productivity for profit, or for survival for most. Our mainstream society has been set up to burn, not only through the earth's resources, but through each individual's personal reserves, at a destructive nonrenewable rate. This unsustainable cultural/systemic way of being has wreaked havoc on our reserves, predisposing us to weakened immunity and preventable lifestyle diseases rooted in poor diet and unrelenting physical/mental/emotional stress. What the Coronavirus pandemic has brought is a radical wake up call to bring our energy back in, to replenish ourselves, to listen and rebuild our relationship to our bodies and our energetic boundaries, and to reconnect with and care for our loved ones and the earth. What organ(s) have been paying the cost of being in nonstop survival mode? How can we better support their functioning, regeneration and healing?
The key organs involved in initiating and maintaining our stress response are the adrenals, the walnut shaped organs just above our kidneys. When we’re in stress mode, our nervous system tells the adrenals to secrete hormones such as cortisol which suppress functions that aren’t necessary for our immediate survival (like digestion, immunity and libido) in favor of processes enabling us to fight or flee. These fight or flight responses include increased heart rate and blood pressure, increased blood sugar, blood directed towards muscles and away from organs, and heightened senses. Over time, our over-taxed adrenals may either secrete too little or too much cortisol, leading to problems such as anxiety, tendency to catch colds, sleep disturbance, increased allergies, hypoglycemia/blood sugar problems or even infertility on one side of the spectrum; and decreasing attention span, fuzzy thinking, decreased productivity, fatigue, depression and weight problems on the other. Other stress-related conditions include overeating, insomnia, hypertension, headaches, asthma, hay fever, eczema, ulcers, and amenorrhea. As stress continues to wreak havoc on our bodies, accelerated aging, auto-immune conditions and even cancer can occur.
Impact on the Digestive Tract
Cortisol regulates the health of our gastrointestinal tract lining. Chronically elevated cortisol levels could lead to increased stomach acid, disruptions in the delicate lining and imbalances in the gut flora (the bacteria which lives in our gut and helps us to digest and process certain vitamins); abnormal immune reactions to certain foods; and “leaky gut” (when improperly digested food and other microbes enter the bloodstream, wreaking havoc on our detoxification mechanisms). That is how stress can lead to problems such as indigestion, food allergies, inflammation of the colon, and an irritable bowel. Also, since a significant percentage of neurotransmitters are metabolized in the gut, this can result in fatigue, fuzzy thinking, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, etc. The continued exposure to food allergens and improperly metabolized foods further taxes the adrenals. The system is self-perpetuating and our detoxification system is overwhelmed.
Fertility and Hormone Balancing
Pregnenelone is the primary precursor hormone from which all of the steroid hormones are made, including cortisol, DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estradiol and more. If given the choice, the body will prioritize making cortisol from pregnenelone in order to survive, at the expense of making the other hormones. Hence, women, depending on their age, may experience menstrual irregularities, hot flashes or even infertility due to the impacts of the chronic stress response. In addition, the adrenals modulate the efficiency of the thyroid – the organ that regulates overall metabolism. Improving adrenal health may support the healing of many seemingly disparate symptoms.
How to Assess your Adrenal Health
For those who want data, functional medicine doctors can functionally assess adrenal health during a physical exam, and can order inexpensive salivary lab tests to assess cortisol levels along with gut lining health. Tissue mineral analysis also uncovers the possibility of adrenal fatigue. However, your constellation of symptoms are also valid. What can you do on an everyday level to support adrenal healing?
- Walk barefoot on the beach or on the grass. This concept known as “earthing” or grounding, restores the body’s natural electrical state, calms the nervous system, reduces inflammation, and improves circulation. The added sunshine is naturally increases vitamin D levels as well.
- Do something pleasurable every day. Notice one small thing that you are grateful for each day. Use your mind as a powerful healing tool. Relax, breathe slowly and deeply, and think peaceful thoughts. New habits like self-reiki, foot massage/reflexology, or engaging in creative projects can give the nurturing boost you need to successfully self-soothe. Learn more about the concept of vagal tone to nurture your inner healer.
- Sleep by 10pm to maximize the circadian healing time for thyroid and adrenal organs and support the cellular restoration process.
- Exercise regularly, but be gentle with yourself and listen to your body while healing adrenal function. Exercise that is too vigorous during this time may be too taxing to the adrenals and to overall hormone health.
- Minimize chemical stress. Reduce plastic, aluminum and mercury exposure. Drink filtered water, decrease/avoid adrenal stimulants like caffeine and chocolate. Avoid sugar, alcohol, white flour products, GMOs, food additives (nitrates, MSG, autolyzed yeast extract, food coloring, aspartame), hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, fried food, fruit drinks and carbonated drinks (especially diet sodas).
- Keep your blood sugar levels constant – eat within 1 hour of waking, and eat a small meal or snack every 3-4 hours containing fat, protein and complex carbs (ie. vegetables). If you wake during the night, try a relaxing/sleep tea or a small healthy snack before bedtime.
- Avoid foods you are addicted to, foods you suspect an allergy or sensitivity to, foods that make you feel worse or cloud your thinking. Work with your holistic health care provider to find out your food sensitivities, to heal your digestive system, and for advice on how to detoxify.
- That said, eat whole foods – foods such as kelp, cabbage, yam, parsnip, winter squash, sweet potato, pumpkin, kale, leek, scallion, mustard greens, carrots, lychee, cherry, almonds, cashews, walnuts, peas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pine nuts, chicken, lamb, low-toxin/mercury fish. Herbs include chives, garlic, cloves, basil, rosemary, angelica root, parsley, fennel, dill, anise, caraway, carob pod, cumin and cinnamon bark.
- Use quality celtic/himalayan salt. Opt for high quality whole food multivitamins to help you remineralize. Toss your vegetable oils in favor of high quality fats like avocado oil, organic olive oil, coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, fish oil, sesame oil, etc.
- Work with a practitioner to identify the supplements, herbs and/or homeopathics specific to your needs to support adrenal balance. Do you need vitamin C, eleuthero/ginseng root, rhodiola, homeopathic adrenal drops, adrenal glandulars, minerals or tulsi/holy basil tea?
- Meditate and get bodywork regularly to destress, and relearn how to quiet and calm the mind and body. Approaches which promote alignment, relaxation and/or detoxification on physical, emotional and energetic levels are a plus!
- Take a weekly epsom salt bath with your favorite essential oils, or visit a local sauna with mineral hot/cold baths to nurture yourself and reset your nervous system.
- Create healthy boundaries. Stop choosing to over-tire yourself. Just say no. Rest when you’re tired. Notice when you are being hard or negative with yourself. Avoid worrying. Avoid energy suckers. Try EFT/Tapping!
- If you can’t change your work situation, change how you think about it. Do the best you can, practice self-compassion, and find the blessings in your life.
Healing takes time. See your holistic health practitioner to get the support you need to let go of ingrained stress patterns, maximize your nervous system flow and rebuild healthy cells to regain your verve and resilience!
Yours in Health,
Dr. Chris Lipat DC, Reiki Master, Mind-Body Energy Medicine
Find out more about healing from the inside out! See Transformative Healing: the power to change, Vagal Tone: at the Intersection of Chiropractic, Emotions and Nutrition, The Call to Evolve: Letting Go, Making Shifts, Reducing Chronic Inflammation Through Diet, The Total Stress Load Concept: Why Your Body May Not Be Healing Itself, and Rebalancing Through Nutrition and the Healing Crisis.
“9. Adrenal Section,” Question by Question Guide to the NAQ, Dr. D. Weatherby.
“Adrenal Imbalance: The Effects of High Stress and Cortisol Levels,” M. Pick, accessed Dec 14, 2011.
“Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk," Mayo Clinic.
“Cortisol Testing for Adrenal Function,” ZRT Laboratory.
“Decreased Adrenal Function and Hypoglycemia,” J. Connor, LAc, Aug 2004.
“Most Common Cause of Fatigue That is Missed or Misdiagnosed by Doctors,” Dr. J. Mercola, Sep 5, 2009.