Ask the Expert: Work Hard, Play Hard … Crash Harder

Gaining ground on adrenal disorders

By Tibby Plasse

Most of us know when something is off in our bodies. Especially women, because we watch our cycles like hawks. But what do we do when something is off without explanation? And then, why do we keep pushing ourselves, regardless of the symptoms?

Conventional checkups and basic blood panels rarely reveal signs of adrenal disruption. But a good understanding of our bodies and our environmental stressors can help us get a handle on adrenal fatigue, disorder, or deficiency. Fill in your buzzword of choice, because, really, until the adrenal glands completely fail—causing full-blown Addison’s disease—one can never quite be sure how mild or severe a case is.

Adrenal fatigue has become an epidemic. We’re pushing ourselves past the point of function—literally. Our organs are shutting down because we’re worried about children’s schedules, sick parents, finances, politics, getting enough exercise. … The reality is, life is an endurance sport and it’s getting harder and harder to keep up. The pressure to post something daily on social media is superfluous and yet omnipresent. Driggs acupuncturist Lori Lloyd asks, “Are we ever just doing one thing at one time?”

So how do we correct an imbalance when we don’t even know what that imbalance is?

Walking a Tight Rope

The adrenal glands control the fight-or-flight reflexes in our bodies. They manage our bodies’ adrenaline and other hormones, and are a critical point in the equilateral triangle of hormonal balance in women (the other two points being the thyroid gland and the ovaries). Located on top of the kidneys, the glands are small, delicate, and essential to bodily communication. Symptoms of fatigue and dysfunction can be vague but may include migraines, lower back pain, anxiety, neuropathy, insomnia, exhaustion, memory problems, irregular moods, and weight change. This array of symptoms, though not limited to the above, can surface after a physical injury or trauma, but they can also present in times of great stress, in the presence of an autoimmune disease, or, most often, by just ignoring the basic needs our bodies are asking for.

According to Jackson naturopathic physician Monique Lai, “Most people are not to the level at which Addison’s disease and Cushing’s are diagnosed by the medical community. Yet, there is dysfunction. Your adrenal glands respond to a variety of stresses: physical, emotional, and spiritual. A lot of people are under the medical radar … but fall into the area where no one [in the medical community] knows what to do. [These individuals] need to change the way they’re going about identifying what is wrong. And an adrenal test is a great indicator.”

When your organs can’t keep up because your schedule is taxing, you need to find ways to support them. Disciplining yourself to change bad health patterns or practices that don’t serve you can be life changing. Like birth stories, adrenal stories are unique in their own right, and each person has their own contributing factors. Autoimmune diseases, like lupus or arthritis, or chronic infections from a virus, a bacteria, or a Lyme spirochete can make the body work overtime. And over months or years, the lack of support for a body already battling something in the background takes a toll on the adrenal glands.

Similarly, emotionally taxing relationships can create toxicity that will eventually present in physical symptoms. If you’re constantly put on the defense, constantly having to step it up, or are just stretched to the max, your metabolism and hormone pathways will find themselves syncopating to that discord.

So what do you do?

Supporting Balance

Getting acquainted with the rules of nutrition is a good first step. For example, it’s important to understand what foods have too much potassium in them, like bananas and broccoli. Potassium is a mineral element we’ve all been told is good for us, but in excess, potassium decreases magnesium, a mineral lacking in most Western diets and a vital nutrient for managing stress and balancing hormones. A slight nutritional nuance, such as low levels of magnesium, can sometimes be the tipping point for adrenal taxation. Hair analysis and even annual blood tests can indicate certain nutrient deficiencies, and sometimes restoring these nutrients is a simple step toward giving your body, mind, and spirit what they need to recover.

Calming down your body’s system is another important step. And that doesn’t mean just sitting on the couch and enjoying a movie marathon. If your body is in a constant state of fight-or-flight and depleting its adrenal reserves, it can’t just “snap out of it.” Instead, it requires actively working at a deep level on your parasympathetic nervous system. And while there are only a few practices that dig that deep into the body, our amazing local resources—like Rolfing, sound therapy, float therapy, and reflexology—are well worth exploring.

With Rolfing, a practitioner looks at your body to identify its compensation methods. Then he or she corrects those methods so you can literally stand taller. The practice works on fascia—bands of connective tissue beneath the skin that attach, stabilize, and separate muscles and internal organs—manipulating it to expand and fulfill its capacity. As local Rolfer Ticia Sheets of Mountain Somatics explains: “We look at all the connective tissue and see what needs to be unwound [in your body].”

“The reality is, life is an endurance sport and it’s getting harder and harder to keep up … Driggs acupuncturist Lori Loyd asks, ‘Are we ever just doing one thing at a time?’ ”

She compares this sense of “wellness” to a person standing tall when looking at the horizon rather than hunched over looking at the ground. “The person looking at the horizon, and standing upright is going to feel better in their head,” she says. “A tall person doesn’t feel sick or tired. But the person looking down feels sick.” She explains that balance in the body doesn’t just come from looking better but also from being able to stand up straight and breathe. “Structural integration is a lot more than just realigning the tissue. And while the work is deep, it’s at a level that your body and nervous system can handle. It’s not about getting beat up.”

Sound and float therapy are, perhaps, the most passive forms of healing. Interestingly enough, they are two therapies regularly used to treat conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and forms of depression. They also work great for restoring adrenals.

Float therapy involves soaking in a “pod” filled with 200 gallons of water and about 1,000 pounds of magnesium sulfate dissolved in it. Soothing music, total darkness, and complete buoyancy create a womb-like state where the brain can truly rest. Otherwise known as “sensory deprivation,” floating comes as close as possible to experiencing zero gravity, and it gives the brain an opportunity for “recovery growth.” See for yourself at Healing Waters Therapeutic Float Center.

Daniela Botur’s sound healing experience is also an exercise in recalibration. Daniela brings the client into a trance state with singing bowls. As she moves from bowl to bowl, each frequency resonates vibrationally with a certain part of the body. When bodies get “out of tune”—by means of stress, illness, or environmental factors—specific frequencies help restore vibrancy to the affected area.

And then there’s reflexology, a healing practice that is over 2,000 years old, according to Jackson wellness practitioner Kathy Chandler. Chandler explains that her therapy “works on every gland, every organ, every vessel, and all the nerves in your body.” By stimulating areas of the hands, ears, and feet, Chandler helps realign nerve pathways to the brain, restoring balance where communication has faltered.

Gaining ground on adrenal disorders is an uphill battle. Through trial and error, sufferers can figure out which therapies resonate best with their particular bodies. But being mindful of healthy habits and preventing the impact before the crash is the end goal. Because, although adrenal issues won’t necessarily just disappear, the first step to balance is knowing what you’re up against.

Adrenal-Friendly Practices

  • Slow down. Take a walk (rather than a run).
  • Take a bath with Epsom salt, Dead Sea salt, or Himalayan sea salt.
  • Attend a yoga class or start a regular at-home yoga practice.
  • Meditate: “Make it a habit like brushing your teeth,” says acupuncturist Lori Lloyd. “Even if it’s only ten minutes. Give yourself the space to do it.”
  • Give your body as much of a chance to recover as you give
    it a chance to perform.
  • Practice the adult version of “no-screen time.” Just like kids, we’re tuning out the natural world with the constant distraction of phones and TV.
  • Clear your schedule each night after 6:00.
  • Listen to the Solfeggio frequencies, an ancient six-tone scale said to balance energy, while working or sleeping.
  • Eliminate stimulants and inflammatory foods from your diet, especially caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and nightshades.
  • Kill your WIFI. Buy an ethernet chord or turn off your router when you’re not working.