The body has an adrenal response to severe stress. When you feel stress, your nervous system goes into fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system), and your adrenals release norepinephrine and epinephrine, also known as adrenaline.
Your adrenal glands are activated thanks to your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. You can think of your HPA axis as your body’s internal stress system responsible for complex hormone production, signaling, and regulation. After the stress response signals your HPA axis system, cortisol levels rise in an attempt to fight the effects of stress.
If stress is severe, the adrenomedullary hormonal system (AHS) may be activated to produce adrenaline, stimulating the body with more energy, which is part of the fight or flight response.
Once stress is reduced, the opposite nervous system (parasympathetic) is activated. This is the rest and digest response. Thanks to this system, the body is able to relax, and leftover adrenaline is metabolized, allowing the body to fully recover from stress and tamp down inflammation.
What Happens When You Enter Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue just doesn’t happen overnight. It happens when the adrenal glands are under constant chronic stress, and the hormonal output becomes too great. To protect your body, the hypothalamus tells the pituitary gland to signal the adrenals to slow down production—which they are already wiped out from. While this should help the body recover, oftentimes the stress continues, and we don’t have the opportunity to recover, and the adrenal glands won’t begin to properly secrete cortisol, leaving you tired and sluggish, among other adrenal fatigue symptoms.
While the adrenal’s cortisol levels are out of whack, they continue to secrete epinephrine to prepare the body to flee. Epinephrine is a powerful hormone that impacts many different body parts. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that affects certain organs like the brain, helping keep it more awake and alert. It will also travel to the heart, causing it to beat faster and gearing the body up to flee from a threat.
As you can see, adrenal hormone production goes hand in hand with the nervous system. Eventually, the nervous system becomes dysregulated, our vagal tone down spirals, and we lose a lot of resilience to perceived stress.
Some symptoms of a dysregulated nervous system include anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, depression, insomnia, poor memory, poor attention, addiction, and exhaustion.
Treating nervous system dysregulation is often the same as treating adrenal fatigue. Let’s dive into how we can nourish both our adrenals and nervous system for less stress, more resilience, and a better life.
Regulating the Nervous System & The Adrenals
1 – Diet
Believe it or not, you can nourish your nervous system and adrenal glands by eating nutrient-dense foods and by eliminating processed foods. For starters, certain drinks and foods can really through the nervous system and adrenals of kilter. Number one: black coffee and caffeine. Black coffee and caffeine on an empty stomach send cortisol and adrenaline skyrocketing. It also can cause anxiety, putting you into fight or flight or sympathetic NS. Other foods like sugary and processed foods can do the same thing. Any type of food or meal that puts blood sugar levels out of balance will through the nervous system and adrenals out of balance.
Eating a diet focused on nutrient-dense foods for proper neurotransmitter, cell, and organ function is necessary. I easily get my essential vitamins and nutrients every day with this superfood supplement. Critical vitamins and minerals needed include zinc, magnesium, and potassium. You can find those in all of our superfood supplements. One scoop and you’re done.
Eating a diet that is focused on balanced meals is also key. This will help balance out blood sugar, tamp down stress and inflammation, and keep hormone production properly regulated. A balanced meal looks like quality protein, fat, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. You can find an adrenal fatigue diet list here.
2 – Adaptogens
Next up, adaptogens! Adaptogens are mushrooms and herbs that help the body adapt to physical, mental, emotional, and environmental stressors. All things that cause the nervous system to enter fight or flight and the adrenals to get overworked.
Including adaptogens in your daily routine helps to balance hormones and makes you more resilient to perceived stress. Bonus: they also help with common adrenal fatigue symptoms like hair loss, poor libido, dull skin, brain fog, and more.
Some of my favorite adaptogens are reishi, ashwagandha, and schisandra. Reishi helps to calm the nervous system and brings deep healing, while schisandra balances hormones and fosters consistent energy. Ashwagandha helps provide energy, boost brain health, improve libido, and reduce stress.
3 – Breathwork
Breathwork is one of the most simple and least expensive ways to regulate your nervous system and tamp down the stress response. Here are a few of my favorite techniques.
- 4-7-8 breathing: Inhale for 4, hold for 7, and exhale for 8
- Inhale for a count of 5, and on your exhale, purse the lips like you are blowing out of a straw for 8.
- Deep belly breathing: filling the belly, flaring the ribcage, flooding the collar bone. Repeat 10 times
I hope this article has helped you understand the connection between a dysregulated nervous system and adrenal fatigue. When your nervous system is dysregulated, chances are so are your adrenals. To heal at the root, we need to pay close attention to our nervous system. Nourish your nervous system and adrenals with nutrient-dense foods, adaptogens, and breathwork to help heal adrenal fatigue at the root.