You’ve probably heard of the adrenal glands and their correlation to stress. Your adrenal glands are two tiny glands that sit on top of the kidneys. They are part of the overall endocrine system that produces hormones to regulate the body. The adrenal glands produce three very important hormones: adrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone.
Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, prepares the body to spring into action during stressful or life-threatening situations. Cortisol helps regulate metabolism and assists the body in responding to stress, while aldosterone helps control blood pressure. When the adrenal glands are not functioning properly, many symptoms of dysregulation begin to show up, and can be implications for serious health concerns.
Stress plays a key role in how our bodies thrive and survive, and certain levels of stress are not only healthy but necessary for our well-being. Excessive stress can indeed cause body breakdown over time contributing to what’s called “adrenal fatigue”. BUT the adrenal glands do not really become fatigued, instead they are over-worked as they respond to the brain signals trying to manage your stress. Imagine this: you have 30 tabs open on your browser, and your computer begins to run slower or erratically as the fan tries to cool down all the activity. THAT IS STRESS, and when you don’t tend to it, or reboot the system, problems continue to accumulate.
Chronic stress is a consistent sense of feeling pressured and overwhelmed over a long period of time. The potential symptoms include:
- Aches and Pains
- Insomnia or sleepiness
- A change in social behavior, such as staying in often
- Low energy
- Unfocused or cloudy thinking
- Change in appetite
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Change in emotional responses to others
- Emotional withdrawal
Dr. Elissa Epel discusses some of these techniques on a recent episode of the Huberman Lab podcast. In this podcast she explains stress intervention tools using “top-down” techniques (e.g., radical acceptance, mindfulness, reframing), body-based methods (e.g., breathwork) including the Wim Hof Breath Method, exercise, meditation, body scans, and environmental shifts proven to help people cease unhealthy rumination patterns. She also mentions how stress can positively impact psychology and sense of purpose, how stress affects cellular aging, how our narratives of stressful events impact our mood and biology, and how to effectively reframe stress, providing a wide range of tools shown to be effective in reducing stress and improving various aspects of our health.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) provides some of the best options available to battle chronic stress and acupuncture is one of the tools of the TCM practitioner. Studies have shown acupuncture treatments actually stimulate the relaxation areas of the nervous system, also known as the parasympathetic nervous system. When the parasympathetic nervous system is switched on, it helps to regulate the heart rate, improve digestion and balance sleep cycles. Many people who get regular acupuncture treatments actually fall asleep once the needles have been inserted.
It’s unrealistic to think that you can live in a constant stress-free state. That’s just not going to happen. The goal is to be able to successfully manage your stress and move through that stress state back into a state of calm. This prepares you for the next time you become stressed out.
The cycle will continue – it’s how you regulate your nervous system that counts. Allow yourself to move through the cycle and your own experiences without getting stuck.
Through acupuncture treatments and the toolkit for coaching the unconscious mind, I can help you learn how to regulate your nervous system, support your adrenal glands and better control your stress response, which will support your long term health goals.