Fight or Flight—5 Ways to Manage Your Adrenals
Throughout the years of my Ayurvedic practice, I find many people struggling with a lack of energy, creativity and overall fatigue. What most people don’t realize is that they are most likely suffering from adrenal exhaustion. When one thinks of adrenal glands, stress may come to mind. Rightly so, as the adrenal glands are best known for secreting the hormone adrenaline, which rapidly prepares your body to spring into action in a stressful situation. But the adrenal glands contribute to your health, even at times when your body isn’t under extreme stress. In fact, they release hormones that are essential for you to live, and when drained, the result can lead to various imbalances.
So what are the adrenal glands exactly? They are two triangular-shaped organs that sit on the top of your kidneys. They are made up of two distinct parts. One part is the adrenal cortex or the outer part of the gland, which produces hormones that are vital to life such as aldosterone (which helps control blood pressure) and cortisol (which helps regulate the body’s response to stress and the metabolism). The other part is known as the adrenal medulla. This is the inner part of the gland, which produces the other hormones such as adrenaline (which helps your body react to stress).
The adrenal glands have a multifunctional role in the endocrine system. The two very different parts of these glands, the medulla and the cortex, regulate and maintain many of your internal processes, from metabolism to the fight or flight response. Many of us are unaware of the damage we inflict on our bodies and minds on a daily basis through the small stresses we endure. The constant worries and stresses of our modern life’s challenges can rob us of our life force and drain us of these essential and nonessential hormones produced by the adrenals.
First, managing stress is a crucial factor. Stress, in Ayurvedic terms, is intimately related to the balance of our three vital energies or doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha. Our daily habits determine how harmoniously these doshas function and how they maintain balance.
It is crucial to take a look at where your stresses are originating. Are they internal or external? An internal source would be identified as poor digestion, lack of sleep, a pessimistic attitude, or low self-esteem. External factors include things such as financial problems, pressures at work, living situation, and marital and family disputes. Nature offers us two basic options: fight or flight, and our adrenals are the source of this natural occurring reaction. Either mode is taxing on the system and it is best to be aware of our stressors and do things to limit them and counteract their effects.
Second, balance vata. We must understand that the vata dosha rules the nervous and endocrine systems, so keeping your vata dosha very “happy” is an important step if you want to support healthy adrenals. In this way Ayurveda can offer practical advice about what foods to eat, what exercise is best for you, and what hobbies to enjoy to keep vata balanced.
Lastly, in Ayurveda we use the concept known as rasayana. Rasa literally means “life energy” and ayana means “that which enters.” Thus, the action of rasayana is that which nourishes and promotes positive life energy. Using Ayurvedic herbs, lifestyle routines, and diets that are based on rasayana would be an additional approach to adrenal balance.
Below are 5 easy general tips that can offer daily support in managing your adrenal levels and promoting overall balance:
Communicate. A great deal of stress piles up when we refuse to talk about our normal daily stresses, even to ourselves. Each time we suppress stress, it piles up and can become toxic in our minds and in the physical bodies. Talk to someone you can confide in, or take the time to journal so you can express your stresses and emotions.
Bring nature into your life. Gardening is a great way to be more in tune with nature. The fresh air is a great natural revitalizer. The simple feeling of the wind, sun, and soil on your skin reduces stress and anxiety and supports the adrenals. If you don’t have a place to garden outside, you can plant herbs in your windowsill and use them to make fresh teas in the mornings to start your day. Enrolling into a class at your local garden center to learn more about plants is a great alternative as well.
Walking. There is a great deal of evidence suggesting that walking is good for you. This is something that can easily be added to your daily routine. Keep in mind, Ayurveda maintains that in order to correct your imbalances it is important to be mindful of the kind of walking you do. Because adrenals are regulated by vata, pacifying vata on your walk would be your focus. This could be a stroll by a lake, river, ocean, or through a garden or park. The wind and cold can be vata deranging, and if this is the case, bundle up and try to avoid getting chilled.
Stay away from “pick me ups”. This one may seem like a challenge because as the adrenals become overused and overworked, you may be tired upon waking and think you need a quick “pick me up.” So you might turn to coffee, black tea, or other stimulating products and drinks. In actuality this creates a vicious cycle. These stimulants, including caffeine, unnaturally force the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline, pumping adrenaline into the blood stream at a faster rate, creating the “pick me up” sensation. By doing this you are making the adrenals work at an abnormal rate, thus worsening the depletion.
Herbal support. Generally it is best to try to get our vitamins and minerals through a whole-food, plant-based diet. This can be difficult, especially if the body is extremely depleted. You may want to help restore the body with vitamins and minerals. Amalaki supports the release of natural toxins and can be taken on its own or in the form of Chyavanprash. Chyavanprash is considered one of Ayurveda's great rasayana formulas and supports the body in reestablishing its balance.
Ashwagandha is a good choice for supporting the proper function of the adrenals. It is a great adaptogen, maintaining a healthy balance and level of stress hormones. It can also help reestablish a good sleeping pattern.
Triphala can also be taken to help the body eliminate natural toxins stored in the colon and support the digestive system in normalization and regulation. It is excellent at balancing all three doshas, and is especially useful for vata.