If you are living large like so many in Bend during the peak heat of the summer months, you might be trying to pack in as much as possible during our relatively short summer. With endless recreational opportunities at the lakes, the river and on the trails, not to mention concerts and events every weekend, it can become a bit overwhelming. If you are also working, raising a family and even trying to squeeze in some travel, what is intended to be fun and enjoyable might actually be contributing to an increased level of stress and exhaustion.
Generally speaking, we are a culture that is doing more and driving ourselves harder than ever before. The endless barrage of information from our phones and media, career aspirations and family pressures, along with weekend-warrior recreation activity, can be a recipe for a frazzled nervous system and a taxed stress response on the body.
While we are well adapted for short bursts of stress, chronic and ongoing stress will for most people eventually lead to varying degrees of illness. Our adrenal glands and our nervous systems are always at work dealing with stress from a variety of inputs — mental and emotional, as well as physiological, like from physical pain or inflammation. Again, most of us can pull off over doing it for quite some time, but there are some tell-tale signs that our nervous and endocrine systems are beginning to suffer.
Increasing levels of anxiety and fatigue, as well as disturbed sleep, moodiness and irritability can begin to develop if we have begun to overtax ourselves with stress. The term "wired and tired" has frequently been used to describe adrenal fatigue, and over time weight changes can also occur along with increased levels of inflammation and pain or achiness in the body. Over time the immune system will suffer as well.
It is very common for sugar cravings to increase, and many will compensate with caffeine or energy drinks to keep things going. It is no surprise that sugar and caffeine only deepen stress on the adrenal and nervous system, and generally will move things in the wrong direction.
There are some great lab test panels that offer thorough workups of adrenal performance for cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone, along with insulin and other hormones. This offers great insight to how the body is physiologically responding to real-life stress. These tests allow a more precise understanding of whether one's body is well adapted to the stress in their lives, if there are early signs that the adrenal system is decompensating, or if later-stage adrenal fatigue is occurring.
This type of test workup also allows for more precise treatment to help support recovery of the adrenals and nervous system. There are many options for treatment, including adaptogenic herbs, nutrients and vitamins, and in some cases precursor hormones to help the adrenal glands recover. Dietary modifications are also crucial, because as previously mentioned stimulants and sugar, along with foods that might be contributing to inflammation, should all be addressed to give the adrenals a break. In many cases the weekend warriors and athletes who are burning the candle at both ends will also benefit from parenteral minerals and vitamins via periodic IV infusions.
To really treat the underlying causes, however, we must of course take an honest look at how we are moving through our lives. If our summertime activities and events are creating more stress in our lives, rather than enjoyment, slowing it down might need to rise to the top of the treatment plan. Perhaps we could make some time to just sit still by the edge of the river, kick back and stare at the clouds for a while or pick that book up and truly relax. Prioritizing time for rest and getting quality sleep is so important, along with minimizing our exposure to the barrage of information that is always at our fingertips. Our adrenals and nervous systems will thank us for not only enjoying the summertime spoils of Central Oregon, but also for finding a rhythm of balance and moderation to support health and vitality.
—Dr. Phillips is the director of Hawthorn Healing Arts Center and can be reached at [email protected].