The stress we are under this year is unbelievable. From COVID-19 to job insecurity to political discord, so many of us are completely overwhelmed and are feeling anxious, jittery, forgetful, and depressed. Almost every health problem can actually be blamed on the result of either chronic, low-intensity stress or short-term, high-intensity stress.
Why do we feel this way?
There are two major sides to the chemistry of stress: neurological and hormonal. The neurological side is the brain and nervous system’s signal to the body that it is stressed, while the hormonal side is the cascade of hormonal signaling systems, also starting in the brain and manifesting primarily in the adrenal glands—the most overlooked but one of the most important glands in the body. Our adrenals actually make dozens of hormones that control virtually every bodily function, including blood pressure, cholesterol, sleep, sugar levels, and mood.
While you may have heard of adrenaline—our immediate stress-response hormone produced by the adrenals—it is the chronic release of the hormone cortisol—also produced by these glands—that is one of the primary factors in our experience of stress. This imbalance in cortisol levels is classically broken into three stages of adrenal fatigue. In stage one, our body raises our cortisol levels to deal with the stress we are under. This can cause a feeling of anxiety. As the stress continues, the adrenals can continue to lose control of our cortisol balance (and other hormones), and cortisol levels start to drop and the feelings of anxiety and/or depression often increase. If the stress increases further or goes on for long periods, cortisol levels can plummet, and generally, the anxiety increases, often resulting in panic attacks.
Adrenal fatigue is the most common reason for chronic stress and anxiety that I see in my patients. Restoring the adrenal function is done with a combination of approaches. Adrenal support may be necessary, depending on how deep a stage the fatigue is. Our adrenal state depends on all our stresses: the emotional, of course, but the chemical and physical as well, which are just as damaging to adrenal function as emotional stress. Chemical stress includes nutrition, digestion, liver function, hormone balance and other chemistry-dependent processes, while physical stress includes aches and pains, traumas, gait and posture (e.g., sitting on the computer all day or using a smartphone for hours).
Cortisol is the hormone responsible in all three scenarios to deal with stress, inflammation, and repair. So in order to restore the adrenal function, we must identify what diminished that function in the first place. If there has been a chronic digestive problem, we must reverse it. If a patient’s shoulder has a chronic injury, we must fix it. Whatever the reason, it must be attended to. Using herbs, enzymes, acupuncture, and a variety of other amazing techniques, both modern and ancient, have helped so many of my patients get their feet back on the ground and back in control of their life.
While we experience our stress mentally, most chronic stress issues are actually not neurologically based, in my opinion. I find more so that in situations of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), or repetitive issues, or those involving a certain situation, such as fear of specific events, like driving, the neurological component becomes critical to success in treatment. In these situations, we employ more fast-acting natural preparations to get the mind out of the pattern and combine that with acupuncture and a variety of emotional release techniques to break the neurological pattern.
The majority of these situations still involve adrenal dysfunction that must be dealt with for a long-term solution. Blood work is often, but not always, helpful in determining these issues. At times, the hormone imbalance is obvious. Other times, due to the nature of what hormones do (dynamically vary to control our bodily functions), it can be difficult to catch the imbalance. In these cases, we use other noninvasive exam techniques to determine the issue. Most people with adrenal dysfunction will have a tight or uncomfortable pain when being pushed about an inch above the umbilical area on their abdomen. This area is the reflex for the adrenal glands; it is supplied by the same nerve root. Some people when stressed or anxious often feel a knot or “butterflies” in this area. This is actually quite specifically diagnostic of adrenal dysfunction. When we feel that hardness or pain in that area, it tells us there is an adrenal issue that needs attention and is almost always present in those with chronic stress and anxiety.
For those tired of feeling chronically stressed or anxious, the good news is there are many ways to break out of it and get back control of your life.
Functional Medicine is All About You.
Wellness is not just the absence of disease, but a daily feeling of health and well-being. Functional medicine provides the body with balance and strength from the inside out by healing the root causes of disease to foster your true vitality.
If you suffer from IBD or other digestion issues, call Pollack Wellness or schedule a 15-minute discovery call today to learn how our functional medicine doctors and holistic services can help you. From enzyme replacement nutrition, to chiropractic care and detoxification services, we have many natural digestion treatment options for you.