Behind chronic fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, depression, hormonal imbalance, and poor eating habits lies a stealthy and swift imposter: stress. We hear so much about the destructive shape changer we call stress these days, it has become a part of daily conversation.
Why am I suddenly craving sugar?
You must be stressed.
Why did you say that?
Oh, I’m stressed.
Why do I feel so tired all the time?
You’re probably stressed.
How are you feeling?
We all seem to nod our heads in understanding when someone shares they are stressed. “Stressed out” is one of the few negative states we openly share, yet it masks the array of emotions that may be arising in response to challenging situations. So… What exactly is stress?
According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS): The term “stress,” as it is currently used, was first defined by Hans Selye in 1936 as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.”
In simpler terms: Stress is our body’s resistance to change. Since constant change is one of the only guarantees in life, it’s no wonder we are all stressed!
Despite this initial definition, stress quickly became an all encompassing term laden with confusion. In fact, AIS quotes one physician in a 1951 issue of the British Medical Journal reporting that, “Stress in addition to being itself, was also the cause of itself, and the result of itself.”
The origin of Hans Selye’s term “stress” was coined in a lab that tested stimuli on animals. Style observed that animals subjected to “noxious physical and emotional stimuli” such as extreme temperatures, sounds, light, and frustration all developed physiological changes. These poor animals suffered. And their adrenals swelled, the tissues in their lymph systems shrunk, and their stomachs developed ulcers. And that’s not all. Over time, these animals developed the same diseases humans experience today: heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Yikes. (source: AIS)
These studies shifted the dialogue about the source of disease. Whereas before illness and disease was linked to pathogens, stress was now identified as a potential underlying cause, quickly shifting the disease paradigm.
In response to the mass confusion about the word “stress,” the term has been reworked and debated over time. Adopted by the modern medical community, WebMD now has a working definition: “Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations — whether they’re real or perceived.”
As modern life becomes more complex and we move further away from living in harmony with nature, we tend to experience more mental threats than physical threats. Our critical and judgmental minds are growing more powerful in this relatively new environment. We experience more psychological and emotional stress today than ever before. Stress has quickly become habitual, even addictive. And our bodies do not know how to handle this new way of living.
Our bodies release cortisol when there is a real or perceived threat in our environment. Cortisol is the “stress hormone” made in the adrenal glands responsible for our fight or flight or freeze response system. Whereas cortisol may have saved our lives when we lived more connected to our animal natures, this stress hormone is now pulsing through our bodies on a daily basis, causing fatigue and anxiety in the short term, and adrenal burnout (among other diseases) in the long run.
So when we catch ourselves saying “I’m stressed out” or a friend points out with compassion “you seem so stressed out,” perhaps we will better understand the implications of what is being said. Rather than stop there, we can take positive action in our lives to reverse this stress and restore equilibrium in our bodies and our minds. We can make these changes and practice as though our life depends on it- because it does!
Our Top Three Ways To Reverse Stress and Balance the Adrenals
1. Relax With Yoga
It is no surprise that yoga is at the top of our list to reverse stress and balance the adrenals. Deep breathing, focusing the mind, tuning into the physical body, and connecting with spirit are all aspects of yoga that promote well-being and dissolve unproductive stress. Plus, yoga ripples out into everything we do preventing and reversing an accumulation of stress and adrenal burnout, cultivating calm and peaceful minds on and off the mat! Our recommendations? If you are feeling overwhelmed and worn out, try restorative or therapeutic yoga. Feeling down and out? Heat up the body and pick up your energy with a flowing vinyasa yoga class or Ashtanga based vinyasa.
2. Nourish Yourself
Yoga and nutrition go hand-in-hand, working together to promote well-being and inner peace. Did you know that you could ward off approximately 60% of unproductive stress in the human body with nutritional support? The Standard American Diet (SAD) creates so much imbalance and unnecessary stress in our bodies, adding to the loads we already carry. Ready to reverse this unnecessary stress and balance your system? Check out these Five Pillars Right Nutrition articles to discover a new way of nourishing yourself that will not disappoint: More is More, The Pleasure of Eating, A Different Kind of Detox, Top 5 Summer Superfoods, and The Five Pillars of Water.
3. Support and Balance Your Whole System with Adaptogenic Herbs
True to their name, adaptogenic herbs help our bodies to adapt. They restore balance in our bodies. Their name comes from their ability to adapt to their surroundings. And they do the same thing for our bodies. Adaptogens help our bodies to adapt and adjust when we are faced with new environments, change & stress.
What’s amazing about these herbs is they have the capacity to restore balance regardless of where we begin. They have been likened to a thermostat for wellness in the body. Regardless of whether you are too hot or too cold, too up or too down, too dry or too oily, these adaptogens will help to bring you back to your ideal, stable state of being.
Humans have been using adaptogenic herbs to alleviate stress, inflammation & disease for thousands of years. They are central to Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Adaptogenic herbs include plants such as Ginseng, Licorice Root, Holy Basil, Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus), and Rhodiola rosea. These non-toxic herbs are non-specific in that they do not alleviate specific symptoms in the body, but instead strengthen the body’s capacity to respond to stress. They are incredible energy boosters and stabilizers.
To learn more about benefits and dosage of each adaptogenic herb, click here.
#GoDeeper with Dr. Frank Lipman.