OK so we all experience stress here and there but stress is becoming a major health hazard with people working and eating on a 24 hour schedule. Have you ever felt as though you have been pushed too far and cannot get it together? As though you are turning the ignition key but the engine will just not turn over? Won’t start?
Our stress response is the body’s dash board – that jittery feeling of adrenaline rushing through your body is a bit like – ‘the oil light is flashing’ – DANGER!
Everything has limits. This is a law of nature and sounds sort of common-sensey but our post or tech revolutionary world is full of overwhelming sources of stress that we cannot necessarily control. Prolonged exposure will create stress related symptoms including feeling dizzy, flat, depressed, anxious, weak, disorganised, unable to sleep or sleeping too much.
This constellation of symptoms has become known as Adrenal Depletion or even more alarming Adrenal Exhaustion. It has also been called ‘Burn Out’. It is real. It is serious and it is often diagnosed as Depression or Anxiety. You know it is happening when you are turning your body’s ‘key’ so to speak, but nothing is happening.
Our Adrenal System is a kind of GPS for our body. It is a system of glands that has a close relationship with our nervous and perceptual system so it is able to martial a response to situations – as they arise. However our Adrenal System was not designed to be constantly activated as is the case when we are experiencing high levels of adrenal activation for days and weeks on end. We are simply not designed to be on high alert for prolonged periods and we will use up and deplete our body’s capacity to respond. If this has occurred we will need to do intensive rebuilding in the form of resting and providing nutrition, that is, herbal support.
The parasympathetic nervous system goes in to “rest and digest” status when the body needs to rebuild, repair, restore and replenish following the depletion that occurs when the “fight or flight” response is activated. Over a longer period of time, exposure to low level stress – the effects of perfectionistic thinking or pushing yourself to maintain a peak level of achievement – is cummulative and can continue activating the “fight-flight” response. This in turn has a damaging effect on our health creating an imbalance of excess yang and insufficient yin. Both TCM and Western Herbal Medicine restores balance in physical and psychological systems to create health.
The Body’s Stress Response
The hormone noradrenaline is released in the brain as a consequence of sympathetic nervous system stimulation. Noradrenaline causes an increase in the rate and strength of our heartbeat and increased blood supply to muscles and a constriction of blood vessels and decreased blood supply to internal organs such as the digestive system, skin and kidneys. I also find that people I have worked with who are suffering from symptoms of simple and complex trauma experience sometimes almost constant adrenal system response activation.
The body and gland system is a fairly impressive pharmacy and the adrenal glands produce more ‘stress hormones’, adrenaline and noradrenaline however their effects last 5 to 10 times longer. This also causes blood sugar levels to increase, enable muscles to burn through sugar faster and increase muscle strength. Initially our cognitive capacities are simulated as is cellular activities as the speed of our body’s functioning – increases.
Prolonged exposure to adrenaline will result in heart palpitations, high blood pressure, panic attacks precipitated by hyper-sensitive adrenal activity, leading to adrenal depletion, chronic fatigue and burn out.
Nervous System Imbalance
Eating when the sympathetic nervous system is active results in food not being adequately digested. Eating when calm, with others, to music – actually supports digestive function. Poorly digested food means we are not receiving adequate nutrition and produce more waste. Reduced nutrition combined with higher cellular demand quickly results in depleting the body’s stores.
Liver function is very important in breaking down and converting food into units easily used by the body. Increased toxins congest the liver and so reduce its ability to process foods, hormones and other toxins taken in the normal course of modern life. A congested liver contributes to feeling low energy, sluggish, difficulty waking, dull headaches and irritability or anger. It is not just a myth!
Stress causes us to become more acidic, which uses up our minerals. Low mineral levels limit the rate of essential biochemical reactions in the body. This reduces our ability to function normally and makes us tired and achy.
Overstressed women may not ovulate, which leads to lower progesterone levels. In turn this can cause a variety of problems, including a shorter time between periods.
Restore the Adrenal System Function
- Licorice is excellent to restore the Adrenal Glands however it is contraindicated in people with high blood pressure. It also has a diuretic effect reducing potassium levels. Boost these with a banana or two per day
- Vitamin C is used up faster in times of stress, but less so when vitamin B5 is added. 1,000 mg of vitamin C three times a day and a B-complex high in B3 and B5 once or twice a day are beneficial.
- Borage has antidepressant and anti-inflammatory effects in addition to increasing energy levels and immunity.
- Withania is a very effective adaptogen, increases endurance and stamina with respect to the stress response.
- Rehmannia is a trophorestorative for the Adrenal System, repairs and restores adrenal function over 4-6 months.
Restore Thyroid Function
- Kelp is important because of its iodine content.
- Bladderwrack has a particularly special affinity for the thyroid.
- Zinc can also be important as its activity in the body is reduced when the thyroid is underactive.
- For the nervous system:
- B vitamins
- Herbs such as valerian, hops, passion flower, vervain, lemon balm and catnip to assist with improving quality of sleep. These herbs can cause a relaxed and drowsy state, so it is best to take these before bed to feed the nervous system while you sleep.
- Increase vegetable intake, drink vegetable broths or greens drinks and use mineral supplements.
- Overall impact of increased vegetable intake is centering and calming.
- Organic vegetables are preferred due to their higher mineral levels.