Our body is a system in which all of the components are designed to work smoothly and in perfect balance with each other. The same way that one broken part can bring a car to a screeching halt, so can our bodily organs.
The last article was a short introduction to our HPA Axis. Traditionally viewed as the body’s “stress system”, it controls levels of cortisol and other important stress related hormones. But often, it too can “brake”.
Like a leaky Fukushima reactor, a disfunctional HPA Axis (aka adrenal fatigue) can slowly intoxicate our system for a period of time, stressing the entire body and mind. This extended overdrive in the HPA Axis will make you feel amped-up, irritable and cause you to be prone to snapping from a slightest irritant. What I’d like to share with you now are some effective measures to reset your HPA Axis activity and regain your sense of balance.
If you haven’t read Part 1: What You Need to Know About Your HPA Axis in Order to Manage Irritability More Effectively, go ahead and read it first, things will make better sense.
As you can imagine, turning the volume control down on our HPA Axis is a complex process, and I won’t even attempt to explain how and why some of the following things work well. However, as I learned from my own experience, there are a number of activities, as well as natural supplements, that we can take to help neutralize the stress-related responses and calm down our adrenals and central nervous system.
Things You can Do
As often mentioned here, our body and mind are an extremely intricate and intelligent system, energetically interwoven in an invisible (the the eye) fabric of life. Our mind effects the body and the body effects the mind. This seems rather obvious yet some folks have a hard time “believing” this.
Once over a coffee brake at work my colleague challenged me about this notion. Him being a very simple minded guy, I had to give a simple example so all I said was, “Buddy, think of the sexiest lady in your life standing naked by your bedroom mirror and gently applying lip gloss right now, and half a second later watch the sensation between your legs.” “You see, a thought gives rise to corresponding physical manifestation in the body. Simple as that.” I think he was pretty convinced after that.
The activities listed below are bound to relax and strengthen your physical body, and subsequently your emotional stamina because they work in the same synergistic way.
Hang out with Nature
As the ancient healing science of Auyrveda and Tibetan Medicine explain, your body (micro-cosm) is a replica of the Universe (macro-cosm), and every aspect of the Universe is represented in the body of an individual in its subtle form. Therefore, any change in the environment affects the body, mind and spirit of the individual. At the same time, every activity of of the individual, through his body, mind and speech will affect the individual and his inner environment.
When you spend time in nature, simply sitting calmly and observing its natural balance and serenity (especially any water elements) your mind very effortlessly synchronizes with the outer environment. Take time out of your daily schedule to observe and spend time with nature, it is the most powerful drug on the planet.
Some naturopaths even offer “grounding” treatment, using a custom made contraption which simulates several waves of electricity found in the earth, and feeds that energy through wires into the stickers placed on our body’s “acupuncture gates.” In simple terms, it is like digging a hole in warm earth and stepping into it to recharge off of earth’s energy.
I remember when I worked at a busy company in Silicon Valley; I would walk down during my lunch hour and just sit by a big beautiful fountain. Just ten minutes of that refreshed and energized me for the rest of my working day. Before you do anything else, I invite you to establish this habit in your life starting today.
Light Exercise with Cardio and Weights
This is a very well-known fact – exercise is your next best friend. Not only it helps to re-balance all that energy we normally carry in our heads, it oxygenates the cells, relaxes the mind, and you get a free dose of happy hormones like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, all produced by the most powerful pharmacist in the universe – your brain.
One note worth mentioning – don’t overdo it. Over-training is one of the quickest ways to overwhelm your HPA Axis (adrenals), which can produce the completely opposite result – brain fog, mood, irritability, and worst of them all – sleep problems. So keep it light and fun.
Be it yoga, tai chi or simple stretching exercises – I invite you to implement a routine starting today. Simple stretching combined with harmonious breathing can totally relax you in fifteen minutes. Stretching is an awesome relaxation technique, even if you are stiff and inflexible in general.
Yoga, in general, is said to stabilize the response of the nervous system to stress, removing the constant muscular tension produced by the repeated alerts from the central nervous system, and calming the involuntary symptoms of threat (racing heart, sweating, anxiety).
Contrary to what you may read or hear, meditation is not easy. In fact, its damn hard! Well, I should say it is very hard with an overexcited central nervous system. Why? Because you’re trying to balance a wild mind with your…. well, wild mind.
This is only my opinion, but I think you should only start meditating after you’ve done all of the above. Once you employ your body to stabilize the mind, then learn a very simple meditation and focus on the breath (I’ll provide for some simple instructions in the future if you’re interested). 10-15 a day for starters is the best way to go. Meditation is so powerful I’ll expand on this in great length in the near future.
One of the fastest ways to support and nourish your exhausted and depleted system is via diet improvement. Look up a previous article called “Happiness Management Diet to Fight Off Anger & Depression”. What you want to focus is on anti-inflammatory food and Omega 3s. Also look into adding a few super-foods to your diet – they carry more nutrients per square inch of matter than most other plant based food.
There is plenty of good stuff online about this so I will not elaborate but again, I invite you to use diet as one of the most important components to support your physical and emotional health. Nothing will work without a proper diet.
Lack of adequate sleep is one of the major factors contributing to HPA Axis dysfunction and subsequent irritability. Unless you are a yogi, the only time your body does most of the work repairing brain cells is when you are asleep. Fact is, if you want to “fix” your HPA axis issues, you must do whatever it takes to get quality sleep.
What this meant for me was a routine and early bed time. No screens, no exciting movies, a calming routine in the evening and a relaxing book before light out. Obviously, this is not realistic long term with our lifestyles, but do it as much as you can till you feel more balanced again.
Things You Can Take
Rhodiola Rosea is a cooling adaptogenic herb. This popular herbal remedy for stress is sometimes called golden root, or rosavin. People who show signs of heat such as a red face, high blood pressure and excessive anger may find rhodiola rosea super helpful. It stimulates the release of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
As herbalist/holistic health practitioner Val Silver explains – adaptogenic herbs (aka tonic herbs), are brilliant gifts from the plant kingdom. This elite group of herbs has the unique ability to enhance the function of body systems in the face of stress and aging. Adaptogens work in a variety of ways assisting the body in maintaining a balance.
This class of herbs can improve your endurance, strengthen the stress compromised immune system, and provide powerful antioxidants. Adaptogens strengthen resistance to mental distress as well as stress from biological, chemical and physical factors.
Herbalists claim Rhodiola Rosea nourishes the HPA axis and promotes adrenal, thyroid and reproductive function. It also protects bodily organs from the negative long-term effects of cortisol by reducing cortisol output during chronic stress.
B Vitamins – well known and widely prescribed as THE supplement to people with chronic anxiety and depression. A good B complex should help with energy levels and support the nervous system.
Omega-3s are those famous Fatty Acids found in fatty fish oil, flax seeds and chia seeds that are well known for their calming effect on anxiety and depression.
L-Theanine – a fat-soluble amino acid which is non-energizing component of green tea. It too helps to ease nervous tension and stress by stimulating the production of alpha waves associated with a calm, relaxed state. It helps produce GABA in the brain that blocks the release of excitatory neurotransmitters. Drink a few cups of green tea a day or take the capsules. Nutritionists recommend taking all amino acids on an empty stomach for better absorption.
GABA – a brain neurotransmitter supplement for stress reduction which is said to keep the nerve cells from over firing by boosting the inhibitory neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. A deficiency in GABA might manifest in anxiety, panic, ‘burn out’ and an inability to relax and is said to work in the same way as prescription meds but without the side-effects of addiction. You can use it temporarily while going through “rough seas” or continue it throughout life.
St. John’s Wort – according to Hippocrates, this herb has a 2,400 year history of use for “nervous unrest” and is said to work with several of the neurotransmitter receptors in the brain. I use it when I feel agitated but try to limit it for darker winter months as I’ve been cautioned that it may cause photosensitivity to the sun.
Valerian Root, Passion Flower, Hops, and Chamomile are herbs that produce a calming effect either alone or in combination. These must be the all-time favorites through the generations. When I was a kid, a usual scene at our house was my dad sipping on some transparent liquid from a shot glass, while my mom pouring valerian drops into her Chamomile tea.
The links I provided are to what I feel are quality products on Amazon but you should be able to get most of these in your health store. Please keep in mind herbal supplements take (1-12 weeks) before you start feeling any significant improvements.
Also, please note that I am not a specialist, and you should not blindly take all of these herbs. Please take some time and research these supplements. Follow recommendations for proper use. Consult with a good health care professional, especially if you are already taking some meds and have a medical condition. Please be wise and take this as general advice and always learn about everything inside-out before you put it in your body.
When you combine a good diet and herbal supplements with the activities mentioned above you should be well on your way to a more balanced emotional health and an overall sense of wellness. However, it is important to have accurate expectations. Living in a society that always expects “quick fixes” it is important to bear in mind that these measures are just a start.
A mere balancing act of the axis will not uproot our deeper seeded anger issues; it will only make them less severe and more functional. Ultimately, the dysfunction of the HPA axis has its causes in what Tibetan medicine calls artificial living. It is therefore much more imperative to address our lifestyle in a holistic way.
Finally, I’d like to invite you to become a conscious gatekeeper of your mental health. I used to have a lot of excuses for feeling irritated, angry, and exhausted but a few years ago, as part of my spiritual path, I decided to take responsibility for my health as well as mental states.
These days, I guard my mind and body with zealous fervor, even when it means doing less and making less. In other words, I do all I can to keep the body in good condition and protect my brain from stress. If I work hard, I also spend extra time in nature and boost my nutrition. If I had a stressful encounter I take extra antioxidants and do a short yoga in the evening. If I have to process a lot of information in several days I follow it up with a 24 hour low information diet. You get the idea – counter the negative effect with the opposite action to keep things balanced.
If you can get in a habit of caring for your mind, most of the small things that bother you now will seem trivial, maybe even humorous. As a result, you will enjoy more mental space and will be able to apply effective tools in transforming your entire mindset. Best of all, your likability factor will increase ten fold. You’ll be an awesome human being!
If you have any advice or experiences you would like share please do so in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. Meanwhile, I am wishing you all the courage, discipline and patience in the world. You’ll need it.
Additional reading: Optimizing the HPA Axis by Lise Alschuler, ND