Are you doing more than being? + an adrenal intro

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue

One of my most favorite weekly emails is the digest from On Being. It touches my heart, inspires me and introduces me to different and thoughtful ways to grapple with the big questions. In a past post, columnist Omid Safi asks the soulful question:

“When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?”

Whoa. This academic summarizes so poignantly the state of stress in our lives and, I’d add, the effect of stress on our bodies and health.

The human doing is exhausting our adrenals. It’s time to go back to being.

But, first. What are the adrenals and why do they matter?

The adrenals are two glands that sit atop the kidneys (who knew the kidneys had little hats!). They’re important because they respond to signals from the brain to secrete hormones, most importantly cortisol.

Under periods of stress, cortisol helps alert the nervous system to be vigilant and responsive, gets our blood pumping and us fighting or fleeing--literally or metaphorically-- to escape the threat. Generally, as soon as the stress ends, cortisol levels lower and we can go back to resting and digesting (being).

However, if the stress is unrelentless, the adrenals will continue to get the signal to secrete cortisol trying to get our bodies to adequately respond to the environment. If this continues for long periods of time, or without rest, the body becomes resistant to cortisol and the communication breaks down resulting in the adrenals producing too little cortisol and symptoms of intense fatigue.

Well, symptoms of intense fatigue plus:

  • A chronic feeling of stress
  • Feeling of a lead cloak upon waking
  • Being easily overwhelmed
  • Low libido
  • PMS, period irregularities, or worsening hot flashes
  • GI disturbances
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Blood sugar issues
  • Trouble losing weight
  • Feeling wired but tired
  • Trouble focusing
  • Exercise recovery that is longer than normal

The above symptoms are usually summarized as “adrenal fatigue-” the most decompensated form of adrenal dysfunction. 

Still, the adrenals can be taxed well before you get all the symptoms above and are intricately linked to ovarian and thyroid health. And if stress is making you hangry, overwhelmed and anxious, it’s very likely your adrenals could use some attention.

In my experience, healing adrenal dysfunction means tilting the scale towards being more than doing.

Adrenal symptoms can be timely invitations to reflect on the state of being in your life. Are you predominantly a human doing or do you take time to be a human being? Are you playing? Do you give yourself permission to rest and nourish? To just be?

Once you’ve taken some time to reflect, good practices to cultivate being and support your adrenal glands are:

Routine: Rising and going to bed at the same time every night. Included here is carving out a routine that allows for 8 hours of sleep.

Regular meals: Sitting down to eat well balanced nutritious meals signals to the body that it’s cared for and well fed and that there’s no threat--in other words hunger is not imminent.

Meditation and deep breathing: One of the most effective ways to calm the stress response is to breathe deeply. This literally puts the brakes on cortisol. Furthermore, our mind can be a huge source of stress. Does your mind tell you that you’re lazy if you rest or try to convince you that productivity= self worth or get anxious worrying about what you’ll be doing 4 months from now? Mine does. And it’s freakin’ stressful. Meditation helps me practice breathing and being, even with a monkey mind.

Play: Having fun is fundamental to optimal health. Consider this permission granted to laugh, giggle, be silly, and play in whatever way makes you smile and brings enjoyment to your heart.  

Taking care of our adrenals is a radical move in a culture that exalts busyness and productivity. But, in my mind, anything that moves us towards engaging in our lives from fullness rather than depletion is worth such a move. So be a radical: embrace being with the doing.

With love,