When we live with too much stress, too much drinking, too much sugar, too much caffeine, too much thinking, or too much busy-ness in general, we wreak havoc throughout our bodies and minds, creating extra work for our liver, kidneys, heart and lungs, flooding the body with glucose and stress hormones. Chronic stress ultimately weakens the digestive, circulatory, immune, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems, so pretty much every system and organ of the body is disordered by unhealthy, excessive stress.
The most obvious impact of stress is on the adrenals, which are commonly known for their role in releasing stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline (and dopamine, which is another reason we can get hooked on stress). Be aware that adrenal problems may lead to impotency, infertility, menstrual and hormonal complications. Overworked adrenals also destabilize blood sugar levels (hypo- and hyperglycemia) and the bladder and urinary tract.
Overstimulated adrenals create fear and anxiety by moving us out of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) into the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Through the stress response, functions of the parasympathetic nervous system are down regulated, including the immune system, rest and digest functions, which when chronic, prompt high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, poor digestion, susceptibility to illness, inflammation, panic, restlessness, insomnia, phobias, and nervousness… for starters.
Additionally, when cortisol is created in excess from chronic stress, it reduces the prefrontal cortex of the brain, where we access our intuitive, creative, spiritual, learning, and memory faculties, while retracting the brain’s capacity to the amygdala that hosts survival skills, including run! hide! freeze! fight! This means that under chronic stress, decision-making skills are reduced to mere survival, decreasing any potential for more complex thinking and problem-solving skills. Not only that, but stored cortisol actually kills brain cells and neural pathways while hard-wiring the brain to be more susceptible to stress, literally reducing the size of the brain!
Granted, we need healthy stress to develop strength and resiliency. In healthy doses, stress hormones balance each other out, but with chronic stress, the adrenals inevitably struggle to produce cortisol, resulting in adrenal fatigue, while having a never-ending supply of adrenaline. The result is pure hits of adrenaline without the cooling and anti-inflammatory buffer of cortisol. This is when stress can get ugly: highly irritable, angry, anxious, hot and toxic.
If you identify with this at all start paying attention to how you feel after consuming tobacco, caffeine, large amounts of carbs (especially not weighed down with any plant-proteins), or sugar. Feel the glucose in your blood or in the muscles of the arms and legs to enable you for fighting or fleeing. Can you feel it stored in your muscles when you don’t actually need to run or fight? Feel your blood pump harder, your heart rate speed up, the inability to rest and digest properly. Notice how stress increases the risk of catching viruses. Give awareness to what triggers adrenaline in you and the sensations and thoughts that accompany a stress response when it arises.
The cycle of running on adrenaline creates a roller-coaster of bursts and crashes of energy, both physically and emotionally. This is the explicit body-mind connection! The mood spikes and plummets. The thoughts that accompany the moods, the highs and lows of the blood sugar level, run up and down.
This is exhausting, and exhilarating, and addictive! Creativity can burst in the highs and flood from lows. However, as fatigue inevitably increases, the highs don’t feel as high, and the lows get lower, and longer, and more persistent. Consequent difficulties surmount—apathy, depression, panic, anger, that deplete love, joy, peace, impacting relationships, outlook on life, overall energy level, vision, purpose, creativity, execution… EVERYTHING!
The most obvious step to reduce fear and anxiety is to limit sugars and carbs (remember processed foods), alcohol, and stimulants like caffeine and nicotine, but as we know, this is easier said than done. The most gentle way out of this cycle is to take one step at a time out of consumption that is harming you (but that’s not fast enough, you say?!), and keep in mind, what is harmful to you may not be as harmful to another—focus on yourself to make it through this process:
Reduce caffeine step by step, alcohol one drink at a time, nicotine one cigarette at a time, sweets and simple carbs little by little. Focusing on including healthy consumption habits can aid in reducing cravings for what is harmful. Other habits need to come in to replace old ones. This is essential in changing habits—the moment to moment, day to day focus—in other words, moving away from immediate gratification and extremes. (But I thrive off of extremes, you say?!)
If this weaning off to reduce withdrawal symptoms isn’t possible, then creating a plan to quit altogether will help through the initial stages of withdrawal–and a plan you will need to move through triggers and all of the feelings that surface with withdrawal. Doing so is the key to ultimate freedom: a steady state of equanimity. Embracing the challenge of withdrawal IS possible, and wow, life is so much easier on the other side!
Think about it: inner peace and simple contentment are rebellion. Lifting above the rat-race, seeking immediate gratification, the purpose of pleasure, “hustling,” doing what every other unhealthy person is doing, are ALL an act of rebellion against the money made off of our illness. Making art or talking about the society that sickens us while engaging in lifestyles that merely keep us ill isn’t shifting our experience of reality for the greater good.
Yin and restorative yoga can feel incredible for the fatigued and exhausted, and for those revved up on stress hormones (ie. is it challenging to do nothing?) restorative yoga may feel close to impossible, and yet, it works wonders in both cases. If resting into yin postures feels impossible, try running/dancing/Vinyasa before a restorative practice (or a Yin Yang class).
A simple practice of diaphragmatic breathing signals the PNS, reducing anxiety and stimulating the immune system that is impaired with high stress levels. This can be practiced at anytime, or doubled with Viparita Karani, which is simply lying with your legs up against the wall and expanding the breath into the belly on the inhales. Remaining present for ten minutes in this posture equals an hour of deep sleep and is highly effective for adrenal restoration, amongst a long list of other health benefits.
Supplementing with adaptogens, such as ashwagandha, rhodiola rosea, and ginseng (rather than ginseng soaked in liquids that have sugars), provide amazing support and benefits that are easily felt. Licorice and dandelion root are powerhouses for the kidneys and adrenals as well, and can be taken as capsules or simply steeped for tea. Magnesium, Vitamin C, E, and B-Complex are depleted with chronic stress and potentially harmful consumption, along with a serious reduction in healthy gut bacteria, so ensuring a diet high in these vitamins and pre- and probiotics can help take off the edge of stress and reduce its damage.
Anything that releases stress hormones, like stressful situations and relationships, needs to be identified. Let’s continue as we did with anger, to guide awareness and consciously change our behavior, communication, and relationships to create more ease and flow, and therefore less stress.
Answer these questions, either mentally or by writing your answers down:
👉🏼 Whom or what do you feel fearful of or stressed out by?
👉🏼 What happened? (begin with one specific scenario)
👉🏼 Were you dishonest in the moment in any way, either by saying something you didn’t mean, exaggerating the truth, or withholding the truth altogether?
👉🏼 How would you handle that situation differently now?
👉🏼 How can that scenario teach you how to express yourself more honestly and optimally in the future?
You can apply these questions to any situations that you feel fearful or stressed out about, and look for the common threads in your relationships and the scenarios you tend to be in and how you handle them.
How honest were you, really? If you weren’t, why not? For example, did you want the person’s approval; did you want to keep the peace, or did you not feel afraid in the moment but only later in reflection?
This is just a learning process! Too many of us have trauma in our histories, either from childhood or from events in adulthood, and this can shape how we interact with people and life, by either responding with anger (fight), being extremely anxious or fearful (flight), or not being able to really feel in the moment (freeze). There is also a fawn response, which is about people-pleasing, to keep the peace. If trauma is impacting decisions and behavior (consciously or not), toning the adrenals is vital.
When we run on stress hormones, we literally run on fumes. The body can only keep that up for so long, which ultimately leads to burnout. This may actually come from a need to prove ourselves in ways we think others expect or want from us, to be driven by values that don’t support our health, and the lack of respect for rest, introspection, peace and quiet.
The most fundamental element to nourishing the adrenals, then, is to allow time for deep restoration (in body and mind), and from that quiet place deep within, feeling our life’s purpose that motivates us. When that higher purpose is felt, and action falls into place from that purpose, inspiration and motivation are natural. Action is easeful. Life flows. And trust is felt in how life unfolds, exactly as it is, allowing pure acceptance.
Vision of the bigger picture sheds light on each moment, each action, each interaction.
This is the ultimate key to resolving stress and fear. Fear will never go away, but when it arises, it makes sense and is met with simple courage that supports action necessary to fulfill our purpose in life, to ourselves, our communities, the planet.
I struggled with stress disorders that led to different forms of self-medicating. I’ve wondered how much time and suffering I could have saved myself if I would have been able to trust and allow more support on the great journey of transformation. This has inspired me to run the Holistic Liberation Program that aids people out of harmful consumption patterns that stem from chronic stress. Schedule a call with me for more information, or in the meantime, stay in touch in the Facebook group.