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Tag Archives: adrenaline

What up, Sassy Pants?  Enjoying the heat?  I know I am.  It feels like summer, for the reals.

So, let’s talk about your adrenal glands.  Or, if that makes you uncomfortable, let’s talk about my adrenal glands.  Potayto, potahto.  See here?  I found a drawing of adrenal glands on the interweb.  Aren’t they cute, those adorable glands, sitting there like dunce caps on their little kidneys?  Interesting factoid:  your kidneys are the only abdominal organs not located within the peritoneum, which is a bag of fascia that holds all the others, like your stomach and your spleen and your liver and such.  Yep, your kidneys are behind all of those, just in front of and below your lowest ribs, if you’re coming in from the front.  Which means your adrenals are back there too, right up under your ribs.  Which is cool and all, until they get worn out.

Now, I can’t prove this, but I see it a lot in my practice and I experienced it myself for years.  I think your adrenal glands help to physically hold your lower ribs in place.  When your adrenal glands get worn out, your lower ribs suffer.  By suffer I mean they struggle to stay where they should, politely attached to your vertebrae, and instead tend to just sorta fall out of place.  And as anyone who’s ever had a rib out of place can attest, when your ribs suffer, nothing much matters except getting your hands on more vicodin.  And that’s just not a happy place to live from.  Trust me.  Under each rib head (the end that attaches to your spine) is a nerve ganglion, which is like a nerve hub.  Drop a rib on that and the whole area lights up like the 4th of July.  Fun times for all!  Unless you wanted to sleep, or breathe, or bend over, or anything silly like that.

So, how do your adrenals get worn out in the first place?  Well, adrenal glands, oddly enough, produce something called adrenaline.  Ever heard of it?  Just kidding.  We use adrenaline for all sorts of things.  Like escaping super-scary situations.  A moose sneaks up on you in the woods and you get scared and you get a huge adrenaline dump and all of a sudden you can run faster than you’ve ever run in your life.  Hooray!  Adrenaline just saved your life!  But the thing is, you also get a huge adrenaline dump when your alarm clock scares you.  Or a scary movie.  Or a super-loud crack of thunder.  But by the time you can explain to your adrenal glands that there’s nothing to be afraid of because zombies aren’t real (unless bath salts are involved) and it’s just a movie, it’s too late.  That adrenaline’s flowing through your veins and your heart is pumping hard so you can run away.

Your body asks for adrenaline at other times, too.  Like when we’re stressed out about that deadline for work.  Or if you have three shots of espresso.  Or if your body is worn down because you have the flu.  Or if your blood sugar goes up and down like it lives at Six Flags because you’re not careful about eating balanced meals and snacks at regular intervals.  Which is fine.  That’s what it’s for.  Adrenaline gets you through the rough patches.

But when it’s not so much a rough patch as it is your life, we run into trouble.  If you never take care to maintain a steady blood sugar, you’re getting adrenaline dumps all day.  If you never get enough sleep, so your alarm clock scares you every morning, that’s another rush, every day.  Then, you have two cups of coffee, to make matters worse.  If you hate your boss and work is stressful all day, every day, you’re burning through adrenaline like it’s going out of style.  If this is your life and then you get the flu, chances are you’ve just drained the last drop of adrenaline your body had to offer.  And now, your adrenal glands are pissed.  Or they would be if they weren’t so tired.  At this point, your adrenal glands feel like parents of newborn triplets.  They’ve given all they had to give and they need a nap.  A very, very long nap.  So when your ribs turn around and say, “Hey, can we get a boost?” your adrenal glands just give them a sleepy, incredulous look and go back to sleep.  And your ribs fall out of place.  And where did I put that vicodin?

Obviously, this is a situation that we should try to avoid.  But life happens.  And we all tend to go through rough patches that last longer than a few weeks.  So, you come to me and I do my best to get your ribs back into place so you can breathe and move and sleep again.  The thing is, that once you’ve drained your adrenals, it’ll take a while to get them back up to snuff.  Like months.  And that’s if you’re able to do everything you can to help them out, which you probably can’t, or you’d already be doing it.  So, your ribs may continue to thwart your desire for a pain-free existence.  Still, if your adrenals are drained you should try to get them rested and replenished.  Sleep, as much as you can.  Eat before you’re famished, and make sure you eat proteins and fats so your blood sugar stays as level as possible.  Avoid sugars (including alcohol) and caffeine as much as possible.  Try and reduce any mental and emotional stress.  Stop doing things you don’t have to.  Schedule a ‘me’ day once a week if you can, or take a weekend ‘staycation’ where you just don’t answer your phone.  Use your vacation days at work and stay in bed the whole time, or go for a leisurely walk.  Do all the things you’d want to do if you were the parent of newborn triplets.  And if at all possible, don’t let yourself get into this situation again.  It’s just not worth it.

A few hours ago, on my way to the grocery store, I very nearly got into a car accident that would have likely resulted in my car being totaled, and me with at least a very nasty bump on my head.  I bring it up not for pity, but because it got me thinking about adrenaline and it’s effect on the body.  Half a block after this incident, I arrived at the grocery store, put the car in park and sat there on the verge of tears, trembling all over, taking quick, shallow breaths, with my eye lids glued to my eyebrows.  See, that’s the tricky part with adrenaline:  it doesn’t care if you really got in an accident, or if you just came close.  In fact, it doesn’t care if you actually had anything to fear or if you were just startled by your alarm clock.

Adrenaline is the chemical that triggers your body’s fight or flight response.  This response should really be known as fight, flight, or freeze.  When your adrenal glands dump a ton of adrenaline in your system, you can stand and fight (with super-human strength), you can fly (or run really, really fast), or you can freeze (this is literally what that deer in your headlights is experiencing).

This adrenaline response is incredibly primal.  Every animal has this built into it’s brain.  And because it was developed for basic survival needs, it overrides any of the more superfluous mechanisms and patterns your body and brain may normally use.  For instance, following an adrenaline dump, you won’t be digesting anything.  Your body knows that if it’s putting energy toward breaking down that breakfast burrito, that’s energy it’s not putting toward keeping you alive for a couple more seconds.  And you can just forget about creative or logical thinking.  Symphony composition (or even good newsletter writing) will be impossible immediately following a tiger popping out of the trees in front of you.

Which is all well and good when you’re actually faced with a life-threatening situation.  But the thing is that most of the things that trigger an adrenaline dump in each of us these days is NOT life-threatening.  A fender-bender, or even a close call; someone jumping out from behind a door; a loud alarm clock; getting pulled over or getting in trouble at work; each of these (and many more) can trigger that pulse-racing, eyes wide open, muscles-tensed reaction.  So what do you do with all that energy?  That can make all the difference in the world.  That caffeine-like jolt is meant to be used for fighting, flying, or freezing, and often-times what happens instead is you get out of your car and exchange insurance information.  Or you laugh and go back to your desk.  Or you jump in the shower and get ready for work.  Our bodies get really mad at us when we do these things because they want to use that adrenaline for something super physical.  Sitting there shaking for a good long while is one option.  Going for a run or a long walk, or taking it out on a punching bag is a great way to burn through it.  If we don’t do anything hyper-physical, there’s a good chance we’ll get stuck in a trauma cycle, locked into fight, flight, or freeze mode.  Then, you’re in a constant state of elevated awareness, taking shallow breaths and not digesting that burrito.  And because your body doesn’t recognize that the trauma is over, it keeps pumping out adrenaline.  It’s a pretty sticky cycle to get stuck in, especially since this can last for years and years.

So the next time someone pulls out immediately in front of you, and you get that nauseous, shaky feeling, try putting that energy to good use, even if it means you’ll be a little late to work.  You’ll be more productive, creative, and smart when you get there, so the boss shouldn’t mind.