Anxiety and Adrenal Fatigue
This is a guest post by Dr. Jessica Corbeille, ND.
Anxiety impacts your body, and your body impacts your anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle that winds you up and wears you down.
Are you someone who would describe yourself as "having anxiety"? Are there physical symptoms that you feel in your body when you feel anxious?
Do you get headaches, flushing, rapid heartbeats, sweating, angst, trembling, poor digestion, a pit in your stomach, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, and/or insomnia?
Are you also someone who describes yourself as having low energy, being exhausted, or worn out?
You may be experiencing both anxiety and "adrenal fatigue".
You may be interested to learn that your symptoms of anxiety and adrenal fatigue go hand in hand.
The anxiety wears out your adrenal gland, and the resultant adrenal fatigue ramps up your anxiety.
Let's first talk about your adrenal system.
The adrenal organs are two small "hats" that sit on the top of your kidneys. The kidneys are located in your low back area, and humans generally have two of them with two adrenal glands sitting on top.
The main functions of the adrenal glands are to produce hormones such as sex hormones, adrenalin, cortisol, and aldosterone (a mineral and water retention hormone). Today we will focus on the production of the adrenalin hormones.
Before we dive into adrenalin and stress further, let's also discuss the nervous system.
The nervous system is comprised of two general states:
- the "Fight or Flight" state (Sympathetic Nervous System - SNS), and
- the "Rest and Digest" state (Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS)
A healthy body can flux between the two states as needed.
When you are getting ready to present a lecture to co-workers, your body is more in the “Fight or Flight” state. Conversely, when you sit down for a meal with loved ones, your body should be in a “Rest and Digest” state.
When in the “Fight or Flight” state, your body produces adrenalin to give you energy and stamina to get through whatever your task may be, large or small. When your body is in the “Rest and Digest” state, the body produces more enzymes in your gastrointestinal tract for digestion as well as neurotransmitters to slow the heart rate and promote sleep.
The problem that many people face today is that they are stuck in "overdrive": they are stuck in the Fight or Flight state where their body constantly feels like it needs more adrenalin to get through the stressful day of events. People rarely sit down for meals and are often reading stressful emails right before trying to go to bed.
When the body is requiring more and more adrenalin to get through the stressful day, the demand on the adrenals to make the adrenalin increases.
The adrenals, like the rest of a human body, do all they can to compensate as long as possible. They try very hard to meet your demands--they produce more and more adrenalin to help you get all the things done in the day that you need to do.
When adrenal pathways are shunted towards making more and more adrenalin, other pathways, like those to make cortisol, sex hormones, and aldosterone start to suffer. We ultimately end up with a very unbalanced system.
That overuse of the adrenal gland causes adrenal fatigue. Your adrenals are fatigued. And you feel fatigued.
Now, let's circle back to see how the nervous system triggering adrenalin production contributes to anxiety.
Imagine going your whole day in the Fight or Flight state.
How does this state feel when you are aware of it? How does it feel when someone turns right in front of you in traffic and you narrowly avoid a collision? What happens with your body?
Most likely, you experience sweating, flushing, rapid heart rate, a stomach ache, etc.
Now, imagine if we are constantly sending that Fight or Flight message to your body.
You may be seeing now how a body under a great deal of stress all day long makes more and more adrenalin and thus causes some of the same symptoms that people experience when they describe their anxiety –angst, sweating, flushing, poor digestion, rapid heart rate, etc.
A body under this amount of stress all day is bound to feel strung out and exhausted, wired and tired, anxious and totally fatigued.
Help for adrenal fatigue.
Although it's usually not an overnight fix, one way to support a person who is experiencing anxiety is to help modulate this stress response in their body.
There are several natural products that help to modulate the body's response to stress and help the body move easier to and from the Fight or Flight and Rest and Digest states.
Supplements that have helped my patients
Although you are always encouraged to speak to your healthcare provider about your individual case, some products that can be especially helpful for anxiety related to adrenal fatigue include:
- Herbals geared towards adrenal modulation, i.e. “Adaptogens”, such as: Ashwaganda, Schisandra, Eleutherococcus, Oplopanex, Gingko, Oat, Licorice
- Vitamins like B12, B6, B5, C, and D (*see our upcoming blog post on Vitamin D and anxiety)
- Minerals like zinc, magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium
- Adrenal glandular supplements
Ultimately, a person given the proper nutrient therapy to support their anxiety and adrenal fatigue should feel like they have more energy to do the things they want and need to do, feel like they are better able to sleep deeply, and, generally, feel less anxious through their day.
Written by Dr. Jessica Corbeille, a naturopathic physician at Mt. Rainier Clinic in Gig Harbor, WA. Dr. Corbeille is a graduate from Bastyr University, WA. She specializes in anxiety, genomics, mold detox, and pain management. Contact Dr. Corbeille for a free 15 minute "meet-and-greet" phone call or a new patient consult.
Mt. Rainier Clinic is an integrative naturopathic clinic with a focus in Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, IV nutrient therapy and chelation, colon hydrotherapy, pain management, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and family practice (pediatrics to geriatrics). They have a range of medical professionals including several naturopathic physicians, a medical doctor, chiropractors, an acupuncturist, colon hydrotherapists, and a massage therapist.
- Ann Silvers