Where is your weakest link?
No, I’m not necessarily talking about some guilty food pleasure you have, your shopping indulgences or that hard to resist TV show that cuts into family time. I’m talking about that form of stress that could be just enough to tip the scales in favor of starting the disease process. If you read my last article, you may have gotten a fresh perspective on how interdependent all the cells and systems of the body are. The body is a marvel in its ability to adapt to changing stressors, shuffle resources, go when it would rather sleep and perform marvelously well despite it all. Still, if we don’t support the systems of the body adequately, they can only perform their work for so long before something has to give.
Stress. When most of us think of that word we think of traffic, pressure at work or a busy schedule. Yet, stress has many forms and no matter how much of it, we have only two tiny glands to help us deal with it. They are called the adrenal glands and they sit like little Napoleon hats on top of your kidneys. Those little guys don’t know the difference between different kinds of stress; they just know that when there is some, it is their job to keep you moving. In a sense, all stress must be paid for out of the adrenal bank account, and if we let them go into debt we allow the disease process to have a foothold.
Below is a list of 5 out of 10 ways we tax our adrenals that you may not have considered (I don’t want to stress you out, so we’ll cover the other 5 next week). Hopefully knowing more about these will help you be aware of potential weak links in your health. As you read them, reflect on what you can do to help give your body, and your adrenal glands in particular, a little TLC.
1 Lack of Movement
For most of history humans had to be active in order to meet their most basic needs. Today, the average American walks less a quarter mile per day, largely because father technology all but confines us the seated position. The difference this makes in our health is subtle because we don’t immediately feel the extent to which being sedentary robs the body of some of its most basic abilities. The human body was made for movement and our sedentary lifestyles cause our bodies’ natural purging systems (particularly our lymphatic system) to become sluggish. In short, we move less and consume more and that is a one of the largest factors in America becoming the world’s most obese population. To complicate the matter even further, despite what you may have heard on The Biggest Loser, our collective largeness is much more complicated than calories in, calories out, but that topic is for another article. The main point here is… find a way to stand more than you sit.
2 Trauma and Injury
For the most part, this type of stress occurs in a relatively short period of time (one moment or a few weeks of repetitive movements), and the state of health you have before this type of event occurs will determine how well you recover from it. For someone who is fit, trauma or injury can be simply a setback instead of a life-changing event. For others however, this type of stress can set off a chain reaction (the proverbial straw that breaks a camel’s back) and bring to light many other weaknesses. At worst, it will even leave the person with a long-term health challenge. I have met people whose autoimmune conditions started after a high stress situation. Two of my clients developed Multiple Sclerosis after being hit by a car. If your body has to deal with the stress of making major repairs (as is the case with trauma), and your stress is already high, some other less important processes are going to have to be put on hold while your body repairs the damage. If you find yourself with an injury, do what you can to create some margin in your life so your body can heal.
All drugs are by definition poisonous to the body. Poison, you would think, is an obvious form of stress, but ironically with every prescription I was ever given, it strikes me as odd that not once did a doctor point out to me that what I was taking would be interrupting or accelerating some normal bodily functions, and that the drug had the potential to kill me. Since all the body’s functions are tied together in some way, by short-circuiting the body’s ability to perform the way it would choose to, drugs have ramifications for other systems of the body, as well. If this approach is left unquestioned more drugs may also be added to the equation, which understandably increases stress with each new monkey wrench that is thrown into the body’s chemistry. In the final analysis, using drugs is no way to build your health and (with a few rare exceptions) if you are not actively working on a plan to not need them, you most likely setting yourself up for more and more symptoms. Maybe a little detective work can help you uncover why your body is having symptoms and what you can do to support those systems naturally.
4 Electromagnetic Chaos
This is one of those debatable and mysterious stressors. Needless to say, it is logical however that all of our fancy high tech devices, and for many of us, our proximity to overhead power lines are probably not all that good for our health. Maybe I’m alone on this one, but I don’t need a lot of “scientific” evidence that funneling radiation at my head (in the form of a cell phone) is probably something I should try to limit as much as possible. If nature is any guide, the fact that bee activity seems to be hindered by all the technology we put through the airwaves may be instructive for us. In our excitement for the latest gadgets it’s easy to turn deaf ear to those who warn us of these dangers. While I have no intention of giving up my fancy TV, wireless Internet, or cell phone I do my best to be smart about their use. I do simple things like keeping the cell phone in a different room when I sleep and limit how much time it spends in my pocket. The flipside of any new technology is that it often shapes our way of living to such a degree that we unknowingly trade some part of our health, our soul – or both – for newfound convenience—an easy example would be the microwave. I’m not trying to make you an alarmist. You’re not going to escape these things if you live in a big city, but where you can, do your best to be aware of them and take whatever steps you can.
5 Emotional Stress
(Relational, Financial, Work-Related Pressure)
This type of stress can come along for many different reasons, and often is the hardest form of stress to have any control over. Still, did you know that anxiety, or the anticipation of a stress, causes the same stress response by the body as if the stress was actually occurring—the mind makes it real. The idea that emotional stressors can trigger physical symptoms was written about as long ago as the 1950s. Think about these emotional states for a second and see if you don’t think there might be a symptom connection:
- “I need to get something off my chest”—Respiratory problems.
- An unwillingness to let something go—Constipation.
- “Something is eating at me”—Ulcers.
- People with stiff or rigid attitudes—Arthritis
I could list more but hopefully you get the point. Emotions of angst and physical symptoms are not unrelated. Life happens, and while we cannot control everything that happens to us, we can control our attitude and outlook, and thus limit this major source of stress and aging. That, of course, is easier said than done, but at least knowing that emotions of angst have very real aging effects should give us pause and encourage us to seek ways to center ourselves often. Address the emotion and you usually affect the symptom. Exercise and staring at something beautiful in nature are two of the surest ways to deal effectively with emotional stress. Where can you limit unnecessary worry?