Itís no secret that we live in a stress-filled society and often lead stressful lives. And while we can rationalize it as ďjust a part of life,Ē our bodies tell the tale. In fact, if youíve heard it said that you canít fool Mother Nature, itís true because there are natural biochemical responses to stress. Period.
Pioneering stress researcher Hans Selye, M. D. notes a consistent pattern of responses to stress in three primary stages: the alarm reaction, the stage of resistance and the stage of exhaustion. Initially, the bodyís biochemistry tends to react to stress in an orderly fashion. Stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (part of the autonomic nervous system) activates the secretion of hormones from endocrine glands and constricts both the blood vessels and the involuntary muscles of the body. When the endocrine glands are stimulated, then heart rate, glucose metabolism and oxygen consumption increase. Likewise, the pituitary gland responds by releasing a variety of hormones throughout the body, and that influences the defensive and adaptive mechanisms.
The adrenal glands are responsible for the production of and distribution of at least 50 hormones, including epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). These hormones are released in direct response to the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response to stress or physical threats. The adrenal cortex, the outer layer of the adrenal gland, is responsible for the production of corticosteroids (also called adrenal steroids), including cortisol. Under conditions of stress, high amounts of cortisol are releasedóand chronic stress eventually depletes the bodyís resources and its ability to adapt.
Obviously, today when weíre under stress, we donít run or fight, yet we have adrenaline coursing through our blood system. This is what leads to a number of stress-related outcomes including anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart problems, insomnia and adrenal fatigue.
The difficulty with adrenal fatigue is that it is often overlooked, but the effects can greatly interfere with life and health. Some of the effects include: fatigue, mental fogginess and struggling with memory; moodiness; hormonal imbalance or depletion; dizziness or light-headedness when standing suddenly; compromised immunity, strong cravings for sugar, salt and unhealthy fats; continual muscle tension leading to unhealthy blood pressure levels; and an inability to relax completely.
There are some steps to take to manage adrenal fatigue, however. Eating a healthy diet and avoiding sugar, sugar substitutes, junk foods, alcohol and stimulants is a good starting point. Youíll also want to make sure your diet includes enough vitamin B12, vitamin B5, and the entire B-complex vitamin spectrum as well as enough vitamin C and magnesium. Additionally, lifestyle changes that include regular exercise and getting enough sleep can help to diminish the effects of too much cortisol resulting from incessant stress.
There are other stress-busting tactics that may help, such as unplugging from stressful situations when possible, removing from your schedule any unnecessary activities that drain you and finding productive ways to unwind.
One thingís for sure: you donít want to be a victim of 21st century stress syndrome.