Little glands with lots of power

by Expat Life

by Karina Stewart

The last months weren’t easy, right? The ever changing news, uncertainty about the future and the constant feeling of anxiety have taken a toll to the point where even the strongest amongst us feel stressed and exhausted. Meditation and breathing exercises can help but what if they don’t seem to calm your nerves anymore? Then stress overload can take us to adrenal burnout. You have probably heard about it: in short, the adrenal glands, which sit just above the kidneys, are hormone producers. As well as secreting hormones like oestrogen’s and testosterone, they are also the production house for the stress response hormones, adrenalin and cortisol.  

Under normal stress conditions, the adrenal glands in a healthy individual are able to adequately regulate hormone secretions. However, with severe or prolonged stress, the adrenals can take a beating. Essentially, what happens is that the adrenal glands go into overdrive, trying to keep up with the body’s need for adrenalin. Eventually, this wears the adrenals down and they become under active. It may begin with mild symptoms of adrenal fatigue, but over time can lead to severely debilitating adrenal burnout. 

Adrenal burnout is a syndrome rather than a disease. It is a combination of different symptoms that can vary from person to person. Some of these symptoms include:

∙ Constant fatigue that is not relieved by rest

∙ Insomnia

∙ Low blood pressure and/or blood sugar levels

∙ Back and joint pain

∙ Decreased immunity – susceptibility to colds, flus, infections

∙ Emotional symptoms such as apathy, despair, anxiety and irritability 

Excessive stress is the main cause. In normal times that would include working too much, sleeping too little and the constant demands of a high stress lifestyle. But with everything that is going on around us, our adrenals are also compromised. Although it can affect anybody, those most at risk are Type A personalities who are seen as highly productive and highly successful; the sort of people who burn the midnight oil, never switch off their phone, stay awake until the kids to come home late at night, answer emails on Sundays, take care of a relative and cram their day with an endless list of ‘to do’s’. Pushing limits is natural for Type A personalities, and they often find it difficult to slow down and stop ‘doing’. 

People with adrenal imbalance often reach for stimulants like caffeine and sugar to ‘keep them going’. This can further damage the adrenals, so this temporary energy boost only aggravates the problem. 

Adrenal burnout is not something that can be fixed with a few good night’s sleep. It is a deep imbalance of the body’s energy producing system, and rest alone is not enough to restore balance. The good news is that you are not alone and that there are ways to recover. First, you need to consider both the physical and emotional aspects. Adrenal burnout is a lifestyle illness fuelled by cultural values and a personal psychological disposition; a lifestyle approach is needed to deal with it. Diet is very important, as the body’s nutritional needs increase under stress. Things like excessive carbs and stimulants and insufficient protein can further stress the adrenals. Nutritional supplements may be required, and holistic healing therapies can help to restore both your physical and emotional condition. 

It is also important to address the emotional and psychological issues and stressors. It has been said that if you want something different, you need to do things differently. In the case of adrenal imbalance, this is not only true for your recovery but also for your ongoing health. And now skip the cappuccino and make yourself a nice cup of Mulberry tea, which is high in naturally occurring ‘GABA’, a neurotransmitter that slows down the impulses on the nervous system, calms us down and promotes sleep. 

Now isn’t that already a good start? 

Karina Stewart, a Princeton Graduate and Master of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (MATCM), is together with her husband John and founder of Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary and Holistic Spa on Koh Samui.

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