How to Stress Less

Over time, sustained stress can exhaust the adrenal glands, which can affect all of your body’s major physiological processes.

While we can’t always control the circumstances in our lives, we do have some power when it comes to how those circumstances affect our health.

What are adrenal glands?

We have two adrenal glands consisting of a medulla and a cortex, and each sits atop a kidney.

The medulla triggers the “flight or fight” response and secretes adrenaline. Among other functions, the adrenal cortex secretes cortisol, a hormone that helps the body cope with the effects of stress.

Unfortunately, in our modern world, stress rarely abates. This constant stress prevents the relaxation response, the part of the cycle that helps blood pressure, digestive function, heart rate, and hormone levels return to their normal state.

This constant stress causes sustained cortisol output, which is linked with blood sugar and weight problems, compromised immunity, exhaustion, bone and memory loss, and heart disease.

Support your adrenal health

The adrenal gland burns through vitamin C, so be sure your diet includes plenty of vitamin C foods. Supplement with this vitamin when stressed.

Support your nervous system with B complex vitamins, especially if you’re below quota on foods like leafy greens, egg yolk, fish, and whole grains.

Instead of caffeinated beverages, which increase cortisol levels, enjoy herbal teas containing hawthorn berries and lemongrass to promote energy. If you can’t do without caffeine, green and black teas provide the amino acid l-theanine, which increases the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin and may reduce anxiety.

Real-world strategies

Stress is going to happen, so it makes sense to help your body cope with it in a healthy way. Build a strong foundation for stress support with a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement, and include omega-3 essential fatty acids to promote mental calm.

While we often associate magnesium with bone health, it also plays a critical role in helping to stabilize blood pressure in response to adrenaline: high levels of adrenaline use up magnesium stores. Studies also suggest that magnesium has an antidepressant effect in times of stress, something to consider when your mood is low as well as stressed out.

Herbal healing

Adaptogenic herbs or adaptogens help your body adapt to stress by enhancing energy, improving mental relaxation and clarity, or improving sleep. Add these to your adrenal support strategy:

Ashwagandha helps to counteract many stress-induced biological changes, including changes in blood sugar and cortisol levels; it also supports cognitive function.

Rhodiola rosea increases resistance to biological, chemical, and physical stressors; it also boosts mental and physical performance.

Siberian ginseng increases physical endurance and increases the body’s ability to withstand stressful circumstances.

 

SELECTED SOURCES

 “The Adrenal Glands,” by Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.HopkinsMedicine.org

“Antidepressant-like Activity of Magnesium in the Chronic Mild Stress Model in Rats: Alterations in the NMDA Receptor Subunits,” B. Pochwat et al., Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 3/14

“Constituents of Ocimum sanctum With Antistress Activity” by P. Gupta et al., J Nat Prod, 9/07

“Effects of Caffeine and Stress on Biomarkers of Cardiovascular Disease in Healthy Men and Women with a Family History of Hypertension” by J.M. Bennett et al., Stress Health, 3/13

“Effects of Different Kinds of Couple Interaction on Cortisol and Heart Rate Responses to Stress in Women” by B. Ditzen et al., Psychoneuroendocrinology, 6/07

 “Effects of L-theanine or Caffeine Intake on Changes in Blood Pressure Under Physical and Psychological Stresses” by A. Yoto et al.,  J Physiol Anthropol, 10/12

“The Neuropharmacology of L-theanine(N-ethyl-L-glutamine): A Possible Neuroprotective and Cognitive Enhancing Agent” by P.J. Nathan et al., J Herb Pharmacother, 2006

“Nutrients and Botanicals for Treatment of Stress: Adrenal Fatigue, Neurotransmitter Imbalance, Anxiety, and Restless Sleep” by K.A Head and G.S. Kelly,  Altern Med Rev, 6/09

 “Social Support and Oxytocin Interact to Suppress Cortisol and Subjective Responses to Psychosocial Stress” by M. Heinrichs et al., Biol Psychiatry, 12/03