• Caroline O'Hagan

Stress and "Adrenal fatigue"; how it can make you and your kids sick. Tips to avoid overload!

Updated: Mar 29, 2019

Stress comes in many forms. Family stuff is a fairly obvious source of stress and anxiety and can be hard to avoid. Money stuff seems unending, no matter how much or how little you have, there is always another expense looming. Kids, work, trying to have it all, do all the things, while still having time to enjoy it... Modern life is hard. We live at such a fast pace, especially with smart devices in our faces constantly, social media pumping information at us endlessly, political unrest giving us nightmares about the future of our world, advertising making us want things we don't need, we live in a consumerist society where it has become normal to be highly strung, overloaded, restless and always wanting more...but all these things are gradually contributing to a decline in your health, if you don't take measures to counter the stress you put yourself under - sometimes even without realising it - every day.

For some people, the ability to wind down, switch off, and let the body really rest is a challenge. For some people, the sheer volume of physical activity or thinking they have to do each and every day, makes it chemically difficult for the brain and body to close off and allow restful sleep. People continue on in this way for years and years, and although they may be aware that they don't feel terrific at the time, finding the time to allow the body to heal and de-stress can just be another cause of anxiety, adding to the overall problem.

How can stress make us sick? Let me tell you a story about ancient human. Ancient human had to fight each and every day, for survival. Running away from the sabre-toothed tiger, climbing mountains to find caves for shelter, making sure the fire stays lit in the winter, protecting all the children from predators, feeding the ever growing line of mouths, and so on. Ancient humans body had evolved, adapted, grown to be able to live this way - and of course, at this stage, that was the only way humans had lived, so our incredible nervous system was very tightly linked with the other major functions of our bodies.

We essentially have two states of being, when it comes to our nervous system. I say this in very loose terms, because there are literally millions of processes in the nervous system, taking place every minute of every day, but to illustrate my point, lets just say there are two main states. They are "rest and digest" and "fight or flight". Their names are pretty self explanatory, but lets take a closer look.

In ancient human, they were essentially always in either fight or flight mode, or rest and digest mode, as their primary goal in life was survival; finding food and staying alive.

Imagine running away from a predator, as you clutch the first meal you have had in days, in your arms. In order to operate at optimum levels to survive, ancient human (I think I might call him Arthur just to make it easier) needed every energy reserve he had, in order to outrun what was chasing him, and get back to his family safely with their meal. This involved physical changes to the regular processes in the body, like diverting blood flow to the skeletal muscles for maximum power while running, increasing heart rate, dilating pupils for best vision, and in order for these things to occur, other major processes have to be put on the back burner for a while. Digestion, tissue repair, immune responses to pathogens, bacteria and viruses - you know, basically super important stuff that keeps us alive.

So Arthur has outrun his enemy, he and the fam have eaten their meal, its dark now and electricity is thousands of years from being invented, so pretty much all there is left to do, is to sleep. While our hero sleeps, all those processes that fell by the wayside while he sprinted to safety, get turned back on. His digestion kicks in, his heart rate is returned to normal, tissues and cells can repair themselves, and the immune system can take down any nasties that have found their way in (for Arthur this could well be literal parasites and dangerous bacteria from whatever animal he had devoured - and in early times before fire, this would have even been raw. Ancient human was pretty incredible at survival!).

Now fast forward a few thousand years. Human evolution hasn't been too major over the last few millennia in terms of physiological change, but what has changed is the cause of our stressors, and our ability to switch off and "rest and digest". One of the most common themes running through just about every client I see, is stress. For some, they are having a tough time balancing the demands of their home life with their work life. Others are having to commute, putting in very long days in stressful jobs, and for the most part no-one has enough money to pay for all the things that are expected of us. The pressure is real, the stressors are real, the body's ability to deal with it all is compromised.

In recent years, a title has been given to the body's inability to keep up with all these physical, emotional, mental and spiritual demands - some call it "Adrenal Fatigue", and although this term isn't widely accepted in western medicine, it has become a sort of umbrella term for a collection of symptoms that are basically caused by stress.

What does it mean? It means the poor glands responsible for pumping you full of adrenalin when you are stressed - the adrenals -, are having a hard time keeping up, and the chemical processes that allow your body to cope with all these things are out of whack.

Symptoms include - but are not limited to -

ANXIETY - worry, racing thoughts, panic attacks

DISTURBED SLEEP - Unable to get to sleep, unable to stay asleep, crazy disturbing dreams, waking up a lot

PALPITATIONS - racing heart

IRRITABILITY - short fuse, anger, resentment

FATIGUE - have to have a nap in the afternoon, or desperately feel the need to

MUSCLE WEAKNESS - difficulty exercising due to feeling weak

DECREASED APPETITE - leading to weight loss OR

INCREASED CRAVINGS FOR SALTY FOODS - chips, fried foods, junk foods leading to weight gain.

DIGESTIVE ISSUES - Diarrhoea, Constipation, Reflux, bloating, abdominal pain

RELYING ON STIMULANTS - Caffeine, sugar, energy drinks

INCREASE IN CHRONIC HEALTH CONDITIONS - thyroid conditions, heart conditions, cancer and many other issues

INCREASE IN LOW IMMUNITY - colds, flu, infections, allergies

INTERRUPTIONS TO THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE - when trying to conceive, reducing stress is a must.


It's a bit of a catch 22 in a lot of ways, because any one of the things on the list also then become a source of anxiety and stress, so what can we do to reduce this?

Like any naturopathic treatment, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to stress management. Every human is different. We all have fundamentally the same needs - food, water, shelter, safety - but beyond that, we all have a different story to tell. Our sources of stress are different to the next persons. Our reasons for feeling anxious, worrying, and enduring stressful situations are all different, so it is impossible to say what you, the individual, needs. What I can tell you is that there are so many ways you can reduce stress, and even more reasons why you should.

We KNOW that chronic stress is a major factor in the development of chronic disease. Chronic disease can mean the really bad stuff like cancer, heart disease and some neurological disorders, but it can also refer to the illnesses and ailments that people live with every day, like thyroid disease, depression, type II diabetes, and even addictions.

While pretty aggressive treatment is required to rid your body of cancer, and a holistic approach is absolutely necessary in the treatment of any major disease state, the holistic approach applies to every condition there is - with the exception of some genetic disorders. If you continue to live in this state of constant stress and nervous system overstimulation, other conditions can develop that can affect your heart, blood pressure, kidneys, excretory organs, and create issues in other glands that do important hormonal work to keep you functioning well. Its a very delicate balance which is easily disrupted by ongoing issues, so finding a way to reduce the damage is very important.

Holistic treatment means to treat the whole being. Treat the symptoms with herbal medicines, nutritional and mineral supplements, adopt the principles of food as medicine, exercise and move your body, but it also means implementing stress reduction techniques and finding ways to manage the symptoms that you are experiencing as a result of chronic and unending stress.

Yoga, Meditation, listening to relaxing music, taking up hobbies - especially creative ones, which are a very welcome distraction to the brain - spending time in nature, gentle exercise, gardening - all these things are super important for your stress levels.

Taking it one step further, try and reduce the sources of stress in your life. While you may not be able to change jobs, or do much about the overload you have in your life on a daily basis when it comes to family commitments, you can change some other factors that find their way into your psyche. If you consume commercial media and news via tv, radio and internet, you are constantly being exposed to headlines designed to induce a stress response. Media is shaped in such a way that it can invoke worry, sadness, stress and cause emotional upset, often to provoke you to spend money in some form or another.

Watching violent movies or tv shows, playing violent video games, listening to angry music, getting involved in anything that raises your emotions to a level that induces stress is not good for you. On occasion, sure. We all love a good jup-scare every now and then, but when you expose yourself to these things every day, especially if you are already overworked and adrenally fatigued, you are contributing to an already growing problem, and while it might not seem like it right now, these things can cause disruptions to your health in the future.

This is especially important for teenage kids. They are under so much pressure to perform at school - not just for their own sense of achievement, but for the achievement of the school (Hello, NAPLAN!!!), they come home to a mountain of homework, they have sport commitments, extra-curricular activities, social activities, social media interactions, and also want to keep up with the latest media content, that their developing minds are easily shaped, and their bodily processes can adapt almost too well, so that they grow into the kind of adult that just goes along with stress and adrenal fatigue because thats all they know. If you can dial it down while they are young, teach them important steps to take to ensure they can wind down, make sure they get more than adequate sleep - 9 hours at least for teenagers, feed them with healthy and nutritious foods, and supplement with vitamins if necessary, then you might just have a chance at keeping them healthy into adulthood!

It's a lot to take on, on your own. If you know that you need to work through your stress management techniques, and need some help getting your health back on track, you can call Caroline on 0433 280 621 to arrange an appointment, or Book an appointment.

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