Does the following scenario sound familiar? The holiday season is starting and your urgent to-do list has a to-do list. Perhaps family drama is on that list. Definitely end of the year deadlines. Holiday parties add increased sugar and perhaps alcohol to your life which contributes to a lack of well-being and worsened sleep quality. Not this year! Now is the time, pre-holiday whirlwind, to enjoy the season differently this year - with less stress.
Here at Passiflora we are always here to help you find balance, peace, good health and joy in your everyday activities. Steep a cup of our Sanctuary tea (a soothing mix of chamomile, lavender, linden and orange peel) and take a few minutes to read on how you can reduce stress as the autumn turns into winter.
And it all starts with the adrenal glands. Have you heard of the adrenal glands? They are 2 tiny little organs that sit on top of your kidneys and control quite a few actions in your body including your stress response, weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, and immune system. The adrenal glands are really quite incredible in that, as a species, they are our primary survival organs.
Fight or Flight: The Role of the Adrenals
The adrenal glands control our fight or flight mechanism. When we are in danger, or think we are (for example, when you are: worried your boss is going to fire you, worried about money, worried about your kids, your marriage...), the adrenal glands mobilize all of our resources to fight or get away from that danger.
Historically, as humans, the immediate dangers we faced were typically short-lived - such as running away from a saber-toothed tiger that was chasing us. When facing a danger, we pump out a hormone called cortisol, which makes our thinking sharp, gives us energy, and mobilizes our blood sugar to fuel our muscles. We breathe faster, our heart rate goes up, and we shift into high-energy action. Once we are safely out of harm's way, the chemical process resolves and we go back to our normal state. Insulin, another hormone pumped out in the fight or flight response, mops up that extra mobilized blood sugar back into your cells, your breathing and heart rates go back to normal, and all is once again well in your world.
You've probably seen vivid examples of the fight or flight mechanism on the Nature Channel. Think of watching gazelles around a watering hole. They are calmly drinking when along comes a lion. Suddenly the chase is on and there's all kinds of action! Once the lion catches a weak, sick or elderly gazelle, what do the other gazelles do? Go right back to calmly drinking at the watering hole as if nothing happened. This is a clear representation of what our nervous systems do!
The adrenal glands act as shock absorbers to our system - they help us bounce back from life's many stressors. However, when we're under too much stress, or unrelenting stress, eventually the adrenals get tired of working overtime. Then we experience something called adrenal fatigue - we get really tired, can't fight off colds as well, and are less resilient to life's bumps.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
Now imagine if lions were constantly chasing those gazelles. Eventually the gazelles would wear out and collapse. In nature, constant stress is rare. But in the human world - well, we've managed to create all kinds of constant stresses for ourselves! And our health pays the price - first because of adrenal overdrive, and then because of adrenal burnout, or "adrenal fatigue."
One of the many consequences of constant adrenal overdrive, or adrenal fatigue, is that we pump out too much blood sugar and insulin, eventually becoming insulin resistant and gaining weight - especially around our middle. We also get cravings for fat, sugar, and salt (translate: chocolate covered pretzels and ice cream!), the fuel our adrenal system needs to make this whole reaction work each time. Does this sound familiar? Especially around this time of year?
Passiflora's Recommended Natural Treatment to Reduce Adrenal Stress
The most important step for reducing adrenal stress is to stop your body from being in a permanent fight or flight situation. How can we reduce constant stress in our life when our minds are always thinking, the world keeps on spinning and time seems to move faster and faster?
- Make relaxation a way of life. Breathe.
Hmmpph, you snort, sounds good - in theory. Maybe I can take one breath right now, but come on, when do I have time to consciously breathe?
Believe it or not, deep breathing has an immediate, physically calming effect on the nervous system that centers the mind. Set a time, twice a day, to take 5-10 minutes (start with 5 and work your way up to 10 minutes) where you sit with good posture, both feet evenly placed on the ground, eyes closed, hands resting gently in your lap, and take slow deep breaths in and out. To keep your mind focused, count the breaths: 5 counts in, hold for 3, 5 counts out. Set a timer for 5 minutes so you do not have to keep checking the time. When you are finished, note how you feel.
- Practice "Sleep Hygiene".
- Eat slow cooked soups and stews.
Each style of cooking imparts a specific energy to the food and food consumer. Slow cooked foods are grounding, warming and therefore pacifying to the central nervous system. In Ayurvedic terms, they reduce the "vata", or lightness and spaciness which can occur from too much sugar. Keep the crock pot on the counter - in the morning throw some veggies, beans, herbs and tomato sauce in the pot, and when dinner rolls around all you need to boil is a pot of grains to enjoy the soup with. Plus you get the added benefit of a warm, aromatic kitchen and home filled with the love and joy that home cooking provides the soul.
- Keep your blood sugar steady.
As discussed above, pumping out insulin depletes our adrenals (and contributes to mood swings, a lack of peace, and a feeling of airiness). Keep your blood sugar level by enjoying natural sugars found in fruit, cold pressed juices, dried fruits, honey, etc. instead of artificially processed sugar. Natural sugars are countered by fiber which helps to keep your blood sugar steady while appeasing your sweet tooth.
- Cut back on caffeine.
Caffeine keeps your adrenals at high alert, resulting in adrenal fatigue, which in turn causes you to need more caffeine. A self-perpetuating cycle of fatigue! If you are a coffee drinker, enjoy your cup of coffee in the morning or at mid-day. But replace any additional cups of joe with a green or herbal tea. We are stocked with dozens of tea mixes aimed at making you your most vibrant, happy self. For example, replace that second cup of coffee with a cup of Joy tea (a great afternoon tea for happiness and focus) and see how your day improves!
- Be sure to add movement in nature to your routine.
Movement - a walk, a jog, a hike, a stretch, playing with the dog or your children - simultaneously lifts and calms the spirit. So be sure to move for roughly 30 minutes a day, and we recommend to do it outside. Enjoy the outdoors! November and December are glorious months to enjoy the changing sun light, the migrating birds, and to observe the changing plant life. Think it's too cold out? Believe it or not, the more time you spend outdoors, the less the cold will bother you. And c'mon, you're a New Englander! You're not a wimp.
- Support your adrenals through supplements.
A daily food-based multivitamin with B-complex and magnesium, as well as a class of herbs called adaptogens, are the perfect support for adrenal fatigue. Adaptogens are a special category of herbs that specifically support, nourish, heal, and replenish the adrenals - whether you have adrenal overdrive or adrenal fatigue. Some of our favorites for women are Ashwagandha (calming, helps with muscle aches, promotes sleep), Rhodiola (especially if you also have anxiety), and Holy Basil (especially immune boosting). These herbs calm the nervous system and support blood sugar levels. We have adaptogenic herbs here at Passiflora - stop by to talk with us about which to take and how to integrate them into your daily meals.
We also offer MegaFood Adrenal Strength supplements. This food-based supplement is a mix of adaptogens, medicinal mushrooms and amino acids to increase resistance to fatigue, stress and tension while strengthening your immune health.We wish you a joyful, peaceful Thanksgiving and a restful start to the holiday season. This season, recognize and enjoy the feelings of gratitude for the bounty that life gives. And don't forget to thank your adrenals for the hard work they do. As a thank you gift, why not give them some support and down time.