Anxiety and stress disorders are rampant in our very common in our society. As a practitioner of holistic health modalities, stress contributes negatively on many health problems. So what are the physiological processes that contribute to higher amounts of stress and anxiety disorders? Are these unfavorable processes something we are born with or are the acquired. If they are acquired or inborn are there things we can do about them other than take medication?
For some these anxiety and stress disorders are partially a self induced phenomenon from being too “plugged in.” This is probably more true for those with high stress rather than those with real mental health and anxiety disorders. Those that fall in this latter category often have unfavorable genetic and or physiological process working against them. As we will discuss below, both groups of people would benefit from unplugging and de-stressing from the world on a regular basis.
In exploring these question it is important to have a basic understanding of what make us anxious or stressed. We need a framework for understanding the neurochemical processes behind these feelings. This was discuses in more detail in the mental health lessons so refer to that if needed. This version is simplified to cover other topics.
Inside our brains we have two opposing forces of neurochemistry occurring, the stimulatory and the sedating. Certainly there are more than two neurochmicals in our brains but for our purposes we are separating them into these two categories. When we are happy or “feeling good” mentally these two forces are in a dynamic balance. That is to say, there is a middle balance point for the concentration of these chemicals. it may shift a little in each direction from one moment to the next. However it stays fairly close to this dynamic balance set point.
For the most part, we can say that all the chemicals fit neatly into these two opposing categories of neurochemicals. When we are born some of us have a tendency to have more of the stimulatory and others more of the sedating. This is in part what is responsible for creating our wide variants in personalities. However there is more to our personalities than what we born with. We also have to take into account our experiences, associations with our environment, and how those associations shape the neurochemistry.
For instance onr person may really look forward to being in a group setting as it causes more stimulation. While another person may really dislike this stimulation. In this scenario there are two things influencing the person’s mental state. Both the chemicals being released from the environmental interaction and the person’s unique association with the environment.
An example of the environmental factor that influences our mental state is stress. As we will see below, stress influences out mental state though it’s relationship with the adrenal glands.
Stress is an experience that makes us uncomfortable and as such there is a wide variety of stressors. Perhaps what is most fundamental to stress are the chemical cascade that stress triggers. These stress chemicals come from our adrenal glands. The adrenals are glands located on top of the kidneys that produce Cortisol and Adrenaline (epinephrine). These are hormones that come from the outside or cortex of the adreanl gland. Other hormones called mineralcorticoids (which control electrolyte balance) come from the inside of the adrenal gland called the medulla.
During periods of stress these glands produce more adrenaline and cortisol to get the body ready for the actual stressor, like a car accident. In some cases the stressor is not real but perceived like “I am going to be late.” In both case, both actual and perceived, the body does the same thing, makes the stress hormones. See lesson on endocrine system function for more details. With perceived stress this production of stress hormones can be insidious going on for month or even years. This taxes or fatigues the adrenal glands themselves but it also puts a burden on the mental and emotional buffering system. These hormones stimulate the brain which then makes more stimulatory neurotransmitters. Over time the increased amounts of these chemicals causes a depletion in the body’s ability to breakdown the chemicals. This occurs because the body is using so much of one or two nutrients to both create and breakdown the stress hormones that the normal function of the adrenals becomes imbalanced.
This is refereed to as Adrenal Fatigue and represents and imbalance in the adrenal glands. The imbalance often leads to greater swings in highs and lows. In other cases it is more one sided. Either high most of the time or low most of the time. One cause for a anxiety and stress disorders surfacing all the sudden is the adrenals producing high amounts of stress hormones. Luckily nutrition is one way to prevent and protect yourself from this.
We can say that each of us have a certain threshold to breakthrough before we become overwhelmed or stressed. Some of us have a higher threshold than others and this influenced by our buffering capacity. The buffering is our ability to absorb the stress. So what makes up that buffering capacity? There are many things but three come to mind most often
Sleep or getting a full 6-8 hrs of sleep is critical . How much you need is really dependent on you to some degree. Most people know this. For instance you may normally get only 5 hrs and feel great with that while others need 8 hrs. Try to get the amount you need when you are feeling good. Try not to short change your sleep when you are more stress or expect to be. This can snowball in the wrong direction quickly.
Adrenal response is highly dependent and influenced on eating and blood sugar levels. One of the functions of the adrenals is to balance out the blood sugar. If you wait too long between meals you are going to have more cortisol and epinephrine produced. This will cause you to feel anxious and stressed.
Equally important is eating foods that do not spike insulin, like sugary foods and lots of carbohydrates. Try to eat low index foods also known as “slow carbs.” They are called this because they empty into your blood stream slowly and therefor have a blunted insulin and corresponding cortisol response. Additionally your adrenal glands need time to rest and be calm so take time out of your schedule to just be and not do . Unplug form the world of electronics to de-stress. Mediation, yoga and exercise are all good ways to do this. You can also consider adrenal adaptogenic herbs and adrenal nutrition.
Anxiety and stress disorders are so common in our society because most of us do not take time to care for their buffering systems. Specifically they don’t care for their adrenal glands. To learn more about how you can improve your anxiety and stress disorders through holistic health, check out health mentor.