A Thousand Stressors, One Response

Some of us play it tough. We are work horses, but we won’t let you see us sweat. We’ve got a heavy dose of pride pushing us, and a whole lot of passion – for our children, for our work, for healthful living, for all the people who depend on us. So we zip our lips, cover up any of our struggles, and power through. We are masters of multi-tasking, and we thrive on accomplishment. Nothing is more satisfying than checking off a task from our list, and we monitor that list fiercely, because that list helps keep the many wheels of our lives running smoothly. That is, until our health begins to change. And we begin to feel tired. And maybe irritable. Aches and pains become more and more commonplace. A little high blood pressure here, a little insomnia there. The results of a recent lab report comes up abnormal (which stresses us out). And the zest for life dwindles. And it becomes all about completing tasks and just getting through the day, and the next day, and the next… 
Others of us keep it plain and simple. We’re stressed and we know it, and we’re not afraid to show it. We’re losing our minds and we proclaim it daily. The whole family knows we’re not right. It’s clear we’re tense and our hormones have gone haywire. The doctor diagnosed us with anxiety disorder, or put us on anti-depressants, or suggested bi-polar meds. We’re not happy about the meds, but we’ll take it, because let’s face it, we can’t really function normally anymore. So we’re not pushing it, not shooting for our dreams, not aiming for any big goals. Forget the exercise – the pain and the fatigue are too great. And work? No, that feels like a impossibility right now. We’ve chosen time off – to get rebalanced and healthy again. But in this time off of work, at home, on meds, going to the doctors and therapists, we’re not really getting rebalanced. And we certainly don’t feel any healthier. We’re kind of just stuck. Not growing. Not moving forward. And it seems like we’re actually getting worse. And nothing is helping our brains or our bodies…
As a functional medicine practitioner and a board certified acupuncturist, having practiced now for almost 15 years, I am trained and experienced at determing the root causes of symptoms; at connecting seemingly disparate dots to form a cohesive picture of one’s health. The fabric of our bodily systems are tightly and inextricably interwoven, from the obvious connective tissues and musculoskeletal parts, down to the hormonal pathways and cellular processes. From the foods we eat to the thoughts we feel, from our gut to our liver, from our brains to our hormones – everything is connected. And everyone is stressed. And chronic stress coupled with negative responses to our stressors is the speediest road to depression, anxiety, dysfunction, disease, and ultimately, death. That’s why recognizing our stressors is so important. And having the right perspective and knowledge to take positive and effective action in correcting the damaging effects of those chronic stressors on our health is an absolute imperative for a healthy, joyful, long life.
I like to joke that I am an expert in stress. Not an expert AT stressing – although admittedly, I have in the past stressed quite "well" and do still stress out in my weaker moments. But rather, I consider myself an expert in stress in that I have a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the multitudinous causes and effects of stress, such as:
– The many sources of stress in 21st century life on earth and in America (terrorism, healthcare reform, financial strain, marital discord, raising children, handling social media, chronic pain, inadequate rest, workplace conflict and pressure, and so on…)
-The ways in which people respond to stress (isolation, anger, internalization, emotional eating, exercise, meditation, prayer)
-The ways people unnecessarily and often non-consciously stress themselves out (through negative thought habits; lack of forgiveness and grace; never learning backbone, resilience and grit; repeatedly making poor food choices; making mountains out of molehills; etc)
-The many sources of dietary stress (trans fats, gluten, excess sugar, nutritional deficiencies, high-fructose corn syrup, food allergies and sensitivities)
-And especially, the very real, scientifically-measurable ways that these thousands of stressors adversely affect our bodies and brains
A thousand stressors, one biochemical response. No matter what the source of stress is, the body responds the same. Whether it be unfounded worries battering your brain about impending your retirement account or job security, or a bear chasing you at a campsite, or a fight with your spouse, or a tift with your coworker, or a bacterial infection, or a hidden food allergy, or your elderly parent’s declining health, or your child’s challenging behavior; or exposure to toxic mold – no matter the type or source of stress, your body’s response is the same. It will:
1) Trigger the sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight response, resulting in the release of the neurotransmitter adrenaline from the medulla of the adrenal glands.
2) Trigger the HPA-axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), resulting in the production and release of the stress hormones cortisol and DHEA from the cortex of the adrenal glands.
ADRENAL GLANDS. Involved in the stress response. Releases neurotransmitters and hormones in response to stress. Have a lot of stress? Then you’ll have a lot of cortisol coursing throughout your body. A lot of stress for a long time? Then your adrenal glands will keep pumping out cortisol at higher and higher levels at the expense of creating other vital hormones like progesterone and estrogen. A lot of stress from multiple sources for a months or even years? (like working full time and raising children and feeling to tired or busy to exercise or cook healthful meals and then coming down with an infection and then trying to get better and then taking on a new project and then going on vacation to relax but it turns out to be a lot of work and then when you come back from vacation your work has piled up and your kids have book reports due that first week back and then you get a call from your relative about a major family issue and then…. and then…) AND THEN… YOUR ADRENAL GLANDS RUN OUT OF STEAM AND IT CAN NO LONGER PRODUCE CORTISOL AND DHEA IN RESPONSE TO LIFE’S STRESSORS AND YOU GO INTO ADRENAL EXHAUSTION AND YOUR CORTISOL LEVELS PLUMMET ALONG WITH ALL YOUR OTHER HORMONES INCLUDING YOUR THYROID AND SEX HORMONES ESTROGEN AND PROGESTERONE AND TESTOSTERONE. NOT TO MENTION YOUR BLOOD SUGAR GETS OUT OF WACK (because cortisol is a glucocorticosteroid that regulates glucose, which is your blood sugar) AND YOU PUT ON THE KIND OF STUBBORN FAT AROUND YOUR MID SECTION THAT JUST WON’T RESPOND TO DIET AND EXERCISE AND YOU END UP WITH MANY OR ALL OF THE SYMPTOMS OF ADRENAL EXHAUSTION:
Fat
Fatigued
Depressed
Anxious
Hormone Imbalance
Gut Problems
Insomnia
Low Libido
Allergies
(to name a few…)
Functional Medicine Testing for Adrenal Gland Exhaustion is the best way to quite literally measure your levels of stress and its impact on your health. With 4 saliva samples taken in just one day, we can determine where your stress hormones fall in the spectrum of adrenal exhaustion, from stage 1 where your cortisol levels are high and actively responding to stress, to stage 3, where your cortisol and DHEA levels have crashed from chronic stress and all your other hormones have been compromised in that decline as well. With a salivary adrenal stress test, we have science-based laboratory metrics to assess your stress and dysfunction. From there, we can mitigate the stress and correct your adrenal dysfunction – along with balancing out your hormones – with a 3-6 month supplement treatment program, along with dietary and lifestyle recommendations, so that your re-balancing and healing lasts you a lifetime. 
Don’t sit idly by, hoping your medications or just time and chance will do the trick. Take comfort and positive action knowing that adrenal exhaustion affects virtually all of us, in varying degrees, but it can be treated. It MUST be treated. It’s the core system of all your other bodily systems when it comes to stress and your health. Make getting well of the utmost priority for yourself, and for your family. I always say, our health is not our own – its or spouse’s and our children’s and family’s to share. How well we function, how stable and cheerful and productive and vibrant we are – affects those we love tremendously. Be a brilliant light during your time on earth. Keep the hope. And ACT on it.