by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
We’re all familiar with stress — it’s a constant element in women’s busy lives. But what we aren’t so familiar with is the body’s response to stress and the ways in which the stress we face today goes far beyond the kind of stress we faced as we evolved — and ends up depleting our energy and health.
When faced with a stressful situation, our bodies rely on the adrenal glands sitting atop our kidneys to monitor our “fight or flight” response. For the most part, our stress response evolved from short-term events — crises that came and went. If we had to run from a predator, for example, our healthy adrenal glands responded by releasing adrenaline, which makes us more alert and focused, and cortisol, which converts protein to energy and releases our stored sugar, glycogen, so our bodies have the fuel needed to respond quickly. In concert, the adrenal response rapidly increases our heart and respiratory rates and blood pressure while releasing energy, tensing our muscles, sharpening our senses, and slowing our digestion so we are primed to escape or fight back, whichever is needed. When the threat is gone, the body returns to normal — quickly with respect to adrenaline levels, less quickly with respect to cortisol.
Permission to nurture yourself: Granted!
Stress can help create hormonal imbalance. Nurturing self-care can help restore that balance. If, like many women, you spend a lot of your time taking care of everyone else, it’s more important than ever to make time for yourself. Do something to care for your body, your mind and your soul — like getting a massage, a reiki treatment, even taking a nap or hot bath.
But in today’s society, women are inundated with stress — stress that doesn’t let up. And when chronic stress repeatedly forces the adrenal glands to sustain high levels of cortisol, two things happen: first, the adrenals can’t attend to their broader role in hormonal regulation because the same resources they use to make hormones like estrogen are required to make cortisol, and second, cortisol starts to damage healthy tissues. Eventually, adrenal fatigue sets in, and many women experience symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, insomnia, fuzzy thinking, depression, cravings and mood swings. Once the adrenals become depleted, it can lead to adrenal exhaustion and much more serious health concerns.
There are many ways to replenish adrenal health naturally. One thing I can promise you is that when you heal your adrenal glands, you’ll see results on every physical and emotional level, and your whole body will thank you for it!