adrenal fatigue and stress

Stress and Chronic & Adrenal Fatigue
What’s the Connection?

Understanding stress and our body, how it works and the impact it has on our health, is key to understanding how we recover from our Chronic and Adrenal Fatigue.
Evidence now suggests that you can think about stress as your “Adrenal Switch” – when you “switch-off” stress, you can switch-off your HPA-axis/adrenal dysfunction.
So, first, we need to understand Stress – how it works, and what it does to our body:

1.  In Our 24/7 World, Situations That Cause Us Stress Are Everywhere.
We Can’t Avoid It.

Stress is a subjective response from our mind and body, to a difficult or threatening situation in which we find ourselves.

The statistics of stress make for scary reading – Stress is Everywhere, we can’t avoid it – We can’t hide from it:

  • The World Health Organisation has labeled stress as “The Global Epidemic of the 21st Century”.
  • The American Medical Association (AMA) have estimated that 60% of all human illness and disease is caused by stress.
  • Stress related ailments cost the US $300 billion every year in medical bills and lost productivity, which is $100 billion more than what obesity costs the US. (American Institute of Stress)

In today’s 24/7 always-on world, stressful situations (or stressors) are everywhere.

They come from an ongoing situation, such as a difficult work or home environment, or long term family, health or financial pressures; or a time or work pressure, such as an imminent work deadline.

It could be a psychological stress, such as a persistent worry about losing your job; or it could be an immediate threat or situation, such as a dog chasing you on the street.

It could be the sound of screeching brakes behind you when you are driving or the argument that you’ve just had with your partner or spouse.

Our stress can also be a past stress – a historical trauma something we’ve buried deep in our subconscious.

Perhaps difficulties at school; family breakdown, trauma or illness; or a major life change, such as relationship breakdown or divorce.

2.  Our Body Has an In-Built System that Controls Our Response to Stress

At our body’s biological core, stress is all about control – or more specifically, a lack of control.

Simply put – we feel the effects of stress – that is, our body triggers a physical “stress response” – when our brain decides things are out of control.

When our brain decides things are under control, we don’t feel stress.

So, when our brain senses things are dangerous and out of control, it triggers our stress response to flood our body with hormones, that “supercharge” our body, and so help us fight or escape from, the threatening situation.

Our body’s physiological stress response, is managed by our body’s autonomic nervous system – which is divided into two parts, each with opposite effects.

Our sympathetic nervous system, (I call it our “Stress Engine”) fires up the body in response to perceived threats or dangerous situations, while its opposite partner, the parasympathetic nervous system, (I call our “Relaxation Engine”), calms the body once the danger has passed.

Our HPA-axis is the mechanism that makes this happen – with our autonomic nervous system and HPA-axis highly coordinated and physically interconnected.

It’s this “HPA axis” – the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis – that describes the interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands, that control the release of the stress hormones.

And it’s these stress hormones that supercharge our body, so we can defeat the threat, by optimizing our metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, muscle function and other essential functions,

3. In response to a threat, our body’s Stress Engine takes over

In response to the threatening situation (including the argument that we’ve just had with our partner), our brain’s sympathetic nervous system, (or Stress Engine), then springs into action.

The brain assesses the information and collects the data regarding the threat in the hypothalamus – the part of the brain which regulates many hormonal and neural activities.

The brain’s motor cortex, sends a message down the nerve pathways to muscles, which tighten and tense, preparing for action.

The hypothalamus then sends a signal to the pituitary gland of the brain.

The nerve cells of the pituitary gland get stimulated as soon as they receive the signals from hypothalamus and then produce the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) which commands the adrenal glands to flood the body with a range of stress hormones, which have the effect of preparing the body to face the threat.

4.  Stress hormones are released which cause physiological change to our body

The three primary stress hormones, epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol, over a period of a few seconds, to several hours, then drive a range of significant physiological responses:

  • epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is responsible for supercharging our body;
  • norepinephrine, is responsible for making us more responsive, aroused, awake and focused; and
  • cortisol, helps to maintain fluid balance and blood pressure, by flooding the body with glucose, while inhibiting insulin production and also, narrowing the arteries;

The full effect of these stress hormones, is that your body is now fully prepared to fight (or quickly flee), the immediate physical danger:

  • glucose and fats are released into the bloodstream, to provide extra fuel for your muscles;
  • your breathing is now faster, as your lungs take in extra oxygen to better fuel your muscles;
  • your sight and hearing are now improved, as you become more alert;
  • your heart is beating up to 2-3 times faster than normal and your blood pressure rises;
  • certain arteries narrow, which helps direct blood away from your skin and other organs (that are deemed less important), to your muscles and brain, which have a higher priority function;
  • your blood platelets are now stickier, so clots can form more easily to minimize bleeding from potential injuries;
  • your muscles are more tense and tighter, preparing you to spring into action.;

In addition, body systems not needed for the immediate fight or flight, are restricted, so energy can go where it’s needed, and so stomach and intestines cease operations, repair and growth of body tissues slows and sexual arousal lessens.

There is also an emotional reaction to a stress, which can appear as anxiety and aggression.

5.  After the Stress has Passed, our Relaxation Engine Returns Our Body to Calm and Balance

After the stressful situation has passed, (we’ve resolved the argument with our partner), our body’s autonomic nervous system is designed to then activate our parasympathetic nervous system (our Relaxation Engine) which decreases metabolic activity, increases energy conservation and relaxation, and returns the body to balance.

When activated, the parasympathetic nervous system releases acetycholine (Ach), a neurological agent, which has the effect of reducing our heart rate, ventilation and blood pressure, and increases our intestinal and glandular activity and relax our muscles.

This process is also where our body cells regenerate, grow and recover.

6.  HOWEVER, Our 24/7 Lifestyle Means We are Always Under Stress and Our Stress Engine NEVER Switches Off

Today’s 24/7, always-on, iPhone-connected lifestyle, means that our body is always under stress.

So, our Stress Engine NEVER switches off, and so our parasympathetic nervous system (Relaxation Engine) never gets the chance to switch-off the flow of dangerous stress chemicals throughout our body.

7.  SO, These Dangerous Stress Chemicals Continue to Flow Through Our Bodies for Months, or Even Years

This situation, where our bodies remain under long term stress, called chronic stress.

So it’s this chronic stress, with these dangerous stress chemicals flowing through our bodies for months, years or longer – that seriously damages our body.

8. Researchers Believe that the Constant Activation of Our HPA-Axis, Causes Serious Health Problems, Including our HPA-Axis Dysfunction

It’s the constant activation of our HPA-axis, that researchers believe is the cause of our adrenal imbalance and dysfunction, and the resulting adrenal fatigue symptoms we suffer.

It’s this damage that causes the problems that we call Chronic and Adrenal Fatigue, HPA-axis/adrenal dysfunction.

9. Researchers Have Also Proved that Long Term Exposure to these Stress Chemicals Causes Other Serious and Fatal Illness

While we are all aware of the immediate symptoms of stress, common with Chronic and Adrenal Fatigue, there are many more serious health risks.

Researchers have now linked long term exposure to the stress chemicals epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol, to serious and fatal long term illness, such as:
cardio vascular disease including heart attack and stroke; autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and colitis; neurological diseases including Parkinson’s Disease and multiple sclerosis; severe psychological illnesses such as anxiety and depression; and even some cancers.

9. Because can’t avoid stress, how can we live & work with stress, without the health risks?

Because we can’t avoid stress, we need a solution that allows us to live and work in a stressful environment, without the damaging, serious, long term health risks caused by exposure to chronic stress.

10.  We need a solution where we can control our body’s response to a stressful situation

We need a solution that allows us, at any time, to control our body’s response to a stressful situation and to the symptoms of stress when we feel them.

We need to be able to:

  1.   switch-off our “Stress Engine” and stop the effects of the dangerous stress chemicals in our body, and switch-on our body’s “Relaxation Engine” and the flow of the neurotransmitters that encourage the relaxation and healing process.
  2.   relieve the symptoms of stress that we feel, and switch-on calm, when we’re feeling tense and frustrated; switch on energy when we are exhausted; switch on sleep, when our mind is still spinning; and switch-on concentration when our brain feels scrambled.
  3.   repair the damage done to our body by past stress, but more importantly, to defend and protect our body against the effects of future stress.

11. Harvard Medical School Researchers discovered we can control & switch-on our Relaxation Engine

Landmark research from, Dr Herbert Benson, of Harvard medical School, showed that it was possible to elicit a “relaxation response” in patients and activate the “parasympathetic nervous system”, calming the body and restoring it to balance.

He did this by taking the patients through a special series of deep relaxation techniques.

Further research into this relaxation response (our Relaxation Switch), has shown that through variations in the deep relaxation techniques, that specific benefits can be achieved by relieving specific symptoms of stress that we feel.

Almost like a “box of pills” solution – to give us calm, energy/focus or sleep, when we need it most.

12.  Research also shows we can repair damage done by past stress & protect against the effects of future stress

Further research has shown that we can both repair the damage done by past stress and defend ourselves against the effects of future stress – we do this through the “4 Building Blocks of Stress Defence”

Building Block 1 – Meditation

Doing meditation at different times of the day (with a technique designed to activate your Relaxation Engine), will give you different benefits:

  • with meditation to start the day, you will feel refreshed and focused, throughout the day; and to help relieve the symptoms of tiredness that we all feel during the afternoon;
  • using meditation to wind down at the end of a stressful day, ensures that you will sleep better and feel more rested to start the next day.

Building Block 2 – Exercise

In addition to the physical benefits that exercise provides, exercise is proven to reduce the stress we feel and to burn off the high levels of cortisol in our body.

Building Block 3 – Nutrition

Eating the wrong foods, can actually increase our levels of stress, or impact the effect that stress has on our bodies, while we actually reduce our levels of stress, and prevent future stress, by eating a healthier, more balanced diet.

Building Block 4 – Sleep

Sleep helps our body and mind recover for the next day, and helps our brain to function properly.

Better sleep improves our physical health, and helps us with weight problems and diabetes and also helps our immune system to keep us healthy.

Feeling overwhelmed & can’t escape the stress?

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