Do you know someone who is into gaming and can spend the entire weekend fighting off orcs or blowing up vehicles and enemy bunkers? What is it that gets them all revved up, and how does all this sustained exposure to violence in video games, films, and media in general affect their bodies and minds? It is time to discuss the health hazard that we are facing on a global scale today, particularly one faced by our young adults—adrenal fatigue. What makes matters worse is modern science does not yet acknowledge the connection between adrenal impairment as being a symptom of fatigue in any meaningful way.
You have probably felt the butterflies in your stomach right before giving a speech or doing something adventurous and exciting like bungee jumping or going on a carnival ride. When our heartbeat and blood circulation increases without us actually having to do anything, our body’s autonomic nervous system prepares us for the upcoming challenges as a part of its ‘fight or flight’ response by releasing certain hormones like adrenaline into the bloodstream. The butterfly sensation is the stomach muscles reacting to this adrenaline rush.
The adrenal glands, resting right atop our kidneys, produce vital hormones that regulate essential functions of our body like metabolism, blood pressure, and our response to stress. Epinephrine or adrenaline is one of the many hormones produced by the adrenal glands as a response to stress. It performs a wide range of functions like regulating metabolism, blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart rate. Cortisol is another hormone that is released by the adrenal glands as a response to stress—a mechanism to provide our body with a boost of energy needed to fight an upcoming contingency or the situation that is making us anxious and stressed. Cortisol also impacts the blood sugar, sleep-wake cycle, bone strength, and the way our body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
While there are many who enjoy the adrenaline rush by unceasingly subjecting themselves to risky, challenging, and high-stress situations by engaging in extreme sports like skydiving and paragliding, there are others who prefer to do it by plopping on their couches, over-stimulating their adrenal glands through continuous exposure to high-intensity interactive video games, or by watching too many films that contain content that is gory, violent, or horrific.
Too Much Stress and Overworked Adrenals
Having to deal with stress constantly requires the adrenal glands to produce more and more stress hormones in order to keep up with the demands of the high-pressure situation. In the long run, continued high-levels of emotional, physical, or mental stress may cause the adrenal glands to become overworked and exhausted. This can slow down the production of the hormones needed by the body even to perform the basic functions—Adrenal Fatigue. Though the symptoms vary from person to person, the most common are unexplained weight loss, impaired memory, brain fog, irritability, low libido, an impaired sleep-wake cycle, various gut problems, and fatigue.
Ayurvedic Understanding of Adrenal Fatigue
In Ayurvedic parlance, overstimulation of the sense organs, stressful lifestyle, anxiety, mental distress, and shock are some of the many factors that lead to an imbalance in the vata element while overactivity, passion, immoderate lifestyle, sustained mental pressure and anger can cause pitta imbalance. While pitta governs the endocrine system and enzymes, an imbalance in the vata directly impacts the functioning of the brain and nervous system. Adrenal fatigue may be caused by one or both of these imbalances.
Tips to Deal with Adrenal Fatigue
Slow down, take a break. Those symptoms are an overtaxed and overworked endocrine system screaming for a break. The first step toward healing is to stop overexerting yourself with work or trying to meet everyone’s expectations. Rather than obsessing about perfection and goal completion, start making room for imperfections; this will help a great deal in simplifying your life.
Relax body and mind. Meditation is a tonic to the nervous system; it melts away accumulated stress and brings deep relaxation which helps in recharging all the bodily functions. Yoga nidra is a profound relaxation technique that effectively regulates the prana and rejuvenates the mind and body in just a few minutes.
Take a tech break. How much time do you spend on social media, gaming, texting, in front of screens in general? It is a good idea to give our sense organs a break and tend to our inner self, to break the impact of sensory overuse. Get out in nature, meditate, relax, and let your mind find some rest.It is also strongly recommended to take a complete break from mental and physical activity, once or twice a year, and sit for a meditation retreat for a few days, tending and nurturing our delicate nervous system, mind and bodies, by turning inwards. These retreats are important for clearing up the tens and thousands of impressions our minds carry, from over engagement and stimulation of the senses. The accumulation of these impressions clogs our mind, and do not let us think clearly or see things as they are.
Pranayama: Harvest the Power of the Breath. Certain breathing techniques like Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (alternate-nostril breathing) help clear the energy channels that get blocked because of stress, unhealthy lifestyle as well as physical or mental trauma. This improves the flow of prana in the entire body and rekindle the body’s self–healing mechanism. It not only balances the right and the left hemispheres of the brain, but is effective in bringing a balance in the autonomic nervous system. Bhramari pranayam is yet another gem of a breathing practice that improves the functioning of adrenal glands. Ujjayi pranayam stimulates the vagus nerve which is the heart of the parasympathetic nervous system; it calms the mind and brings an immense sense of relaxation.
Panchakarma therapies for detox and rejuvenation. Poor diet and lifestyle habits in addition to all the stress and environmental toxins lead to accumulation of ama, or toxins in the body which cause a number of ailments and hamper the functioning of all the body systems.
Panchakarma is the set of age-old cleansing processes mentioned in Ayurveda that focus on treatment and prevention of all ailments by eliminating the toxins from the body and bringing the tridoshas to an equilibrium. Oleation therapies like abhayangam (an Ayurvedic full body massage) and shirodhara (a technique where warm medicated oil is poured in a fixed stream over the head using specific techniques) are deeply relaxing and invigorating and help in strengthening the nervous system. Nasya is yet another panchakarma procedure that stimulates the pituitary gland which is also called the master gland since it controls the functioning of all other glands in the body including the adrenal gland. Vaman , Virechan and Basti are procedures that eliminate the excess doshas and play an important role in overcoming stress and anxiety, thereby providing relaxation to an overworked adrenal gland.
Diet and lifestyle changes. By limiting the intake of specific types of hard-to-digest foods, avoiding habits that tax your endocrine system, and making minor changes in your diet and lifestyle, you can support the revival of your adrenal glands.
- Instead of processed, packed or preserved food, eat freshly cooked and warm food.
- Prefer seasonal fruits and vegetables, and avoid frozen, cold or fermented food.
Include leafy greens in your diet.
- Avoid deep fried and heavy food items. Eat timely and easily digestible, nutritious meals
- Drink plenty of warm water to speed up the revival of endocrine functions and in general to stay healthy.
- Incorporate light exercise or yoga in your daily routine; avoid overexertion.
- Listen to soothing music and chants that bring relaxation; relax and take time for what you love doing.
- Have early dinner and go to bed before 10 PM to have a good quality sleep.
Herbs. Mother Nature has been kind enough to have provided us with wonderful herbal remedies for healing any number of ailments. When taken under the guidance of an Ayurveda specialist, the herbs mentioned below can also help alleviate the symptoms of adrenal fatigue because of their stress-relieving and invigorating properties.
- Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) helps to settle the nervous system, improve memory and concentration and alleviates stress and anxiety issues.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has impressive adaptogenic and rejuvenating properties. It helps in dealing with stress, soothes the nervous system, and improves sleep quality.
- Shatavari (Asparagus Racemosus), a boon for women’s health and fertility, is also a potent adaptogen. Not only does it reduce inflammation and boost immunity, but also stimulates the pituitary gland and helps in regaining hormonal balance.
- Tulsi (holy basil) is another panacea commonly found in Indian households for its wide range of medicinal and environmental benefits. One of the many benefits of Tulsi is calming the nervous system and alleviating stress and anxiety in addition to improving sleep quality.