The silly season has ended and the New Year has begun. There was plenty of festivities as the weather heated up. Our calendars were filled with social engagements and our quiet days were filled with Christmas shopping and cheeky lunch time gatherings.
Why not… it was Christmas! But have you ever wondered how our body felt about this? Have you seen the new Disney movie called ‘Inside Out’? Well Disney has cleverly created a movie about the emotions we feel and made them into adorable characters as if they lived in our head. Let me add to this theme, the character ‘stress’. Now even though stress is not a definitive emotion, it is definitely something that plays a role not only on our emotions but on our wellbeing. So let’s picture the adult version of ‘Inside Out’, add the character stress and we have an emotional nightmare. Anger is easily triggered, sadness doesn’t get a break, fear is everywhere and well disgust is hanging around like a bad smell. But where is joy? (now if you haven’t seen the movie this might not make any sense to you so let’s get to the facts).
What are my adrenal glands and what do they do?
Adrenal glands are endocrine glands that sit at the top of the kidneys that are chiefly responsible for releasing hormones in response to stress. Adrenal glands are also responsible for releasing our sex hormones which can become out of balance when our stress hormones are taking a front seat.
Two of their most important hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, are responsible for the fight-or-flight response. Adrenaline deals primarily with short-term stress while cortisol is produced as a result of both acute and long-term stress. Our modern lifestyle can cause the adrenals to over-secrete these hormones and eventually become “fatigued” or “exhausted”. Emotional, environmental or physical causes of prolonged stress are disastrous for the adrenals where the adrenals eventually crash, leading to adrenal exhaustion (where the body is unable to maintain adequate adrenal hormone production).
What are symptoms of adrenal fatigue and prolonged stress?
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Thinning skin
- Weight gain
- Depression and anxiety
- Muscle wasting
- Memory loss and the inability to concentrate
- High blood pressure
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Excessive facial hair
- Irritability and mood swings
- Addictions to either sweet or salty foods
- Sensitivity to cold
Top Tips for nourishing your adrenals:
- Deep breathing exercises
Schedule in 10 to 20 diaphragm breaths every morning and every night. Not only will this calm you down, you will become more present in that moment.
- Supplementation and herbal medicine
B vitamins, vitamin C, manganese and magnesium are essential for nourishing the adrenals. Try an Epsom salt bath for extra magnesium.
Adrenal tonics and adaptogenic herbs work really well for anyone under stress, or suffering from adrenal fatigue or people who simply would like to support their adrenals during this festive season. Rhemannia is used as an adrenal restorative, and Siberian ginseng, Withania, and Rhodiola are used for their adaptogenic properties by supporting the body to heal itself.
Getting enough sleep is one of the most important stress management techniques. When we are asleep, our cortisol levels should drop to allow our body to recoup for the following day. This means we should wake up the next day feeling refreshed and ready to go. Unfortunately, cortisol can also be responsible for causing poor sleep, meaning we are unable to get our cortisol back to baseline. For optimal physical and mental health, we need 7.5-8 hrs of restful sleep each night. Perfect sleeping times for cortisol regulation are from 10pm-6am.
Practise a guided relaxation or meditation. Use these techniques to start the day and again at the end of the day to help switch off. You can also use these techniques at any time throughout the day if you’re feeling low on energy, anxious, overwhelmed or stressed.
- Remove the stimulants
Avoid caffeine. If you have adrenal fatigue, the caffeine will be trying to use up energy from stores you do not have. If you have high cortisol levels, the caffeine will further stimulate the stress response. Try and swap your coffee for a Green tea, liquorice, ginseng or rooibos tea for balanced energy levels and antioxidants. Avoid sugary foods. Sugar causes a spike in cortisol levels. Eating regularly and keeping protein intake high will help in reducing sugar cravings.
- A diet consisting of wholesome foods
Follow a whole food diet. Eat fresh and seasonal produce in its whole form. Eat regular meals (don’t let more than 4 hours go between meals) and make sure you always eat breakfast to kick start your metabolism. Say hello to good sources of protein, complex starch, nuts & seeds, low GI fruits (especially berries) and lots and lots of dark greens (they contain great amounts of B vitamins). Say goodbye to heavily processed and refined foods as well as foods containing artificial colours, flavours, additives etc. Many additives (such as some food colours and MSG) are stimulants and will affect mood, stress and energy
- Rest and relaxation
Spend time every day in solitude (away from the phone/IPad/Computer). This is a good time to write in your gratitude journal and be grateful for 5 things, or read that favourite book of yours
Exercise is easily forgotten when busy or stressed. Likewise, if adrenally fatigued it may be hard to find the energy to do regular exercise. However, physical activity can help to reduce some of the detrimental effects of cortisol on the body. It increases the production of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine which help us to feel happy and healthy. Research has found that as little as 30 minutes 4 times a week can be an effective treatment for depression. Learn to love restorative exercise such as yoga/Pilates/qi gong/tai chi at least two times a week. As this has been found to help switch off our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and switch to our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and relaxation).
- Learn how to say NO!
Say no to social arrangements when you’re feeling overwhelmed and instead choose the time to lay low, read, walk or go for a massage. If you can’t go to that party or BBQ then arrange to meet for a walk or yoga class.