- Adrenal Function and Response to Stress
- Impact of Stress
- Individual Response to Stress
- Personalised Health Approach to Stress
- A Personalised Health Consultation
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and are responsible for preparing the body for a challenge or a threat.
This ‘fight or flight’ reaction was once vital to prepare the body physically to run away from predators or adversaries.
In modern society the ‘fight or flight’ response in the body remains and is often inappropriately switched on in our ever demanding, busy and competitive world.
Chronic stimulation of the stress response can occur as the body and brain are constantly exposed to a variety of situations that need interpreting as a threat or not.
Overstimulation of the stress response may be due to many factors including time pressures, multi-tasking, work pressure, excessive exercise, emotional stress - even excess screen time (due to internet use, e-mails, messages and social media updates), plays a role.
During the stress response a cascade of hormones are released, including adrenaline and cortisol, and they have many actions on the body ranging from increasing blood pressure and redirecting blood flow, through to releasing energy stored to supply glucose for anticipated physical movement.
The nervous system also functions in the stress response and the autonomic nervous system can become out of balance.
The autonomic nervous system deals with involuntary actions such as heart and respiratory rate. It involves two parts - the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is stimulated during the ‘fight or flight’ response and the parasympathetic nervous system is involved in ‘rest and digest’.
During chronic stress there may be little time spent in ‘rest and digest’ and the sympathetic nervous system can dominate.
In times of stress it is common to develop negative coping patterns and to seek activities or reach for things that temporarily improve symptoms or feelings.
Examples of this include:
- Overeating or reaching for sugary sweet foods
- Watching too much TV
- Overindulgence or dependence on substances such as drugs, alcohol or cigarettes (and caffeine)
As well as impacting behaviour, stress also brings many physical and psychological signs and symptoms - one of the most common symptoms is the feeling of being ‘tired but wired’.
Racing thoughts, extensive ‘to do’ lists and disturbances to sleep patterns can lead to a feeling of being overwhelmed and exhausted.
Other typical symptoms experienced during stress can include:
- Mood swings and irritability
- High blood pressure
- Menstrual disturbances
- Low libido
- Digestive disturbances
Prolonged stress impacts many other areas of the body and may cause immune system disturbances which can lead to a reduced ability to ward off colds and flu.
Female hormone balance may be disrupted as adrenal hormone production is prioritised and reproduction is ‘put on hold’.
Blood is diverted away from the digestive tract during stress and there may be problems with breaking down food and therefore optimal nutrient absorption. This may impact nutrient status and contribute to deficiencies.
In addition to this, the lining of the gut may become damaged which results in a more permeable gut, sometimes called ‘leaky gut’ or intestinal permeability (6).
The gut lining is a natural barrier and helps in defence against foreign particles, bacteria and viruses.
Each person has their own individual response to stress - for some what may be seen as a challenge may not pose a problem for others.
Take for example a rollercoaster ride at a theme park - thrill seekers will revel in taking a rollercoaster ride and come off ’buzzing’, while other people shy away from going near such activities as they perceive it as a stress, due to how their nervous system responds.
Stress perception may partly be down to personality type and people who are more driven, competitive or ambitious, often called ‘Type A personalities’, seem to be more predisposed to the effects of stress.
Genes inherited from parents and grandparents are also a factor in individual stress responses and certain gene variations have been shown to predispose a person to an exaggerated stress response (9).
With so many factors involved in the development of stress is can be difficult to know where to start.
A combination of approaches may be the best course of action.
Common approaches to stress therapy include:
- Restoring nutrient deficiencies
- Changing eating habits and patterns
- Addressing physical activity levels
- Improving gut health
- Restoring natural circadian secretion of stress hormones
- Rebalancing brain chemicals involved in mood and motivation
- Re-sensitising the body to vital hormones
- Psychological support
- Restoring balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system
These approaches may involve:
- Including stress supportive foods and drinks such as quality protein, camomile and green tea or fresh seafood
- Specific supplements like herbal adaptogens, vitamins, minerals and probiotics
- Gentle exercise - walking in nature, yoga, tai chi
- Counselling, emotional release techniques or behaviour and thought pattern therapies like Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)
A personalised health consultation with an experienced practitioner can help to identify the exact factors playing a role in your stress and health status.
During a one to one consultation a practitioner will take into account important factors such as medical and health history, symptoms, diet, lifestyle and family health history.
This gives a full overview of what has led up to your current health status.
The use of functional tests alongside the consultation allows for more in depth knowledge of your personal health situation and can identify specific stress hormone balance over a 24 hour period, gut functioning, microorganism balance within the gut, predisposing genes, nutrient balance and sex hormone status.
Alongside the full case history, the results from functional tests are used by the experienced practitioner to devise a personalised healthcare plan.
This individual plan is focused on restoring balance, reducing symptoms and enabling you to develop a more appropriate response to stress.
A health retreat that specialises in hormone and gut health function can be an ideal way to tackle stress.
Healthcare experts can help you to take a step back from day to day life, educate and support you on nutrition and lifestyle interventions to ease the impact of stress and give you the tools you need to deal with challenges when you return home.
The next steps
The journey to managing stress and reducing symptoms can be as easy as a few simple steps.
We can support you in one of two ways: