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Tag Archives: stress

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.

Anxiety.  You hate it.  I hate it.  We all hate anxiety!  Yet, here it is, walking into my office for the third time today.  And there it is, just around the corner at the coffee shop.  Gross.

Unfortunately, we live in a time and place that produces copious amounts of anxiety.  Whether you tend to be an anxious person or not, I’m sure you’ve been hit by the anxiety sneak attack at least once.  And we can all agree that anxiety doesn’t feel so good.  Let’s try something together, shall we?  First, imagine you’re in your happy place, be that a cabin in the woods, or lying on the beach, or walking through a mountain meadow.  Go ahead, let your body and mind really get into it.  What does it sound like in this happy place of yours?  Are the birds singing, or is it that perfect quiet after a snowfall?  Can you hear the ocean waves lapping, or the wind through the trees?  What does it look like?  Is the sun bright and hot, or is it dark, on a moonless night?  How does your skin feel?  Is it humid or dry where you’re at?  Hot or cold?  Windy or still?  What are the tastes associated with this place?  Hot chocolate around the fire?  Cool watermelon on your tongue?  Trail mix crunching as you hike?  Can you smell the ocean salt or the mountain sage or that crisp, cold night?  Are you all the way to your happy place?  Down to your bones?  Okay, now that you’re there, what does your stomach feel like right now?  How’s your breathing?  How do your shoulders feel?  Got a good sense of how your body feels, as a whole, in your happy, calm space?  Good.

Next, let’s think about anxiety inducing moments.  You got the job, but you feel under-qualified and overwhelmed.  You’re about to close on the house, but you’re afraid you’ve made a huge mistake.  You just realized you won’t be able to pay all your bills this month.  You’re waiting for the results on the tests your doctor ran.  Your lease is up and you don’t know where you’ll live next.  You feel undervalued at work and you’re sure it’s only a matter of time before you’re fired.  Your kid is in big trouble and you don’t know what to do about it.  You’re sure your boyfriend is about to dump you.  Pick a scenario.  Whatever makes you feel the most anxious.  Then, go for it.  Step into it, just like we did before.  Where are you sitting, or are you pacing?  Are you talking to your best friend on the phone, or are you holed up in your bedroom with the curtains drawn?  Are you eating a pint of ice cream or throwing up in the office restroom?  Are you crying yourself to sleep or lashing out at the UPS guy and the neighbor’s dog?  Wherever you go when you’re stressed, go there.  Go all the way there, with all five senses.  Then, check in with your body.  How’s your stomach feeling?  What’s your breathing like?  How do your shoulders feel?  Notice a difference this time around?

Obviously, stress sucks.  There are a gazillion studies to prove it shortens your life and makes your body unhealthy, but after our little exercise, do you really need a study to tell you that?  Just from writing that last paragraph, I feel like I need a massage to help me relax.  I’m going to go back to my happy place for a second to reset.  Maybe you should, too.  Ahhh…that’s better.  Let’s continue.  So we know stress sucks.  Now, what to do about it.  Here, in no particular order, are 17 things that work for me, and work for people I know.  Hopefully, they’ll work for you, too.  Hopefully, you’ll tell me all the other tips that you use to deal with stress.  And the world will be a happier, calmer, less-anxious place.  Nothing wrong with that, in my book.

1. Take a walk.  Anxiety is generally a mental thing.  We get really caught up in whatever’s spinning around in our heads.  Doing something physical, outside, where we have to pay attention to more than the thoughts in our head, can be a great way to snap out of it.
2. Sit on the ground.  I think of anxiety as this tornado with the base being in my neck and it just spins out and up from there.  When I’m anxious, my thoughts are usually rotating about 12 feet above the top of my head.  Anything to get me grounded, like physically sitting on the ground, can help stop this madness.
3. Meditate.  A lot of times, when I’m anxious, it’s because I don’t know what to do next.  Which path to take.  Meditation brings me very quickly in tune with my intuition and therefore in tune with the answers to my questions.  A 15 minute meditation can usually solve the problems I’ve been wrestling with for weeks.
4. Drink some tea.  Because really, who doesn’t feel just a tiny bit calmer with a warm mug of tea in hand?
5. Exercise.  Again, anything to get you out of your head and into your body is probably a good thing.  Also, if you’re still wrestling with those questions, or you haven’t gotten around to meditating yet, you can sometimes get your big epiphany answers with exercise.
6. Put your bare feet on the earth.  I cannot repeat this enough.  Physically grounding is super-duper helpful.  Physically connecting your body to the actual earth is one of the quickest ways to do this.
7. Think about opening your pelvis.  When we tense up, we tend to tense our pelvises without even noticing.  Where do you think anal retentiveness comes from?  So, to counteract this, notice your pelvis, then allow it to open and breathe.  Let your sit bones get a little farther apart.  Let the floor of your pelvis sink low and heavy.  Think about your pelvic floor as a clock face and take the time to relax each segment.  12 to 1, then 1 to 2, and so on, until your entire pelvic floor is open and soft.
8. Do some gentle sacral rocking.  Lie on your back on the floor, with your knees bent and your heels close to your butt.  Focus on your sacrum (that awesome triangle-shaped bone at the bottom of your spine, in-between your hip bones).  Imagine your sacrum is a stamp and the floor is an ink pad and you need to get ink all over your sacrum-stamp.  Roll your pelvis forward and back, left and right, until you’re sure you’ve got it all inked.
9. Hang out with a dog.  But not if you’re allergic.  Dogs can provide an endless source of positive energy, if you’re feeling a little low.  Also, they loved to be walked (see number 1).
10. Hang out with a cat.  But not if you’re allergic.  Cats can ground an endless amount of negative energy, if you have an excess.  Besides, a purring cat is a pretty calming influence.
11. Do simple, grounding activities.  Try sweeping the floor, or weeding the garden.  Chopping vegetables for soup, or apples for apple sauce are good ones too.  Knitting or spinning yarn are simple, grounding activities.  Cleaning’s generally good (although I’d stay away from noisy stuff like vacuuming), as is cooking, or organizing, or simple crafts.
12. Dance.  Shake it off.  Sweat it out.  Laugh at yourself.  Dancing also prevents dementia, so you can stop worrying about that.
13. Spend time in nature.  This is my go to stress reliever.  Nothing like a hike (and we’re back at number 1) in the mountains to make my problems seem small and insignificant.  Even a few minutes in the garden can bring my stress level down from a 10 to 4.
14. Take a bath.  Not everybody’s a bath person.  But if you’re a water-lover like me, this may do the trick.  Especially if you really let yourself have a bath.  Light some candles, use the fancy bath salts or essential oils (see number 15), put on some soothing music and just enjoy.
15. Get some lavender in your life.  I’m not a doctor.  I can’t prove this works.  Please don’t get me in trouble with the FDA or the AMA or any other acronyms.  But I know that lots of people think lavender is calming.  You can put lavender essential oils in your bath, or in a diffuser, or just take a whiff from the bottle.  Dried lavender can be sewn up in an eye pillow for super-zen sleepy-time or a satchel to throw in your car to counteract road rage.  You can even eat lavender with strawberries and balsamic vinegar and fresh whipped cream!
16. Remove distractions.  Turn the TV off.  Turn the radio off.  Turn your computer off.  Turn your phone off.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “You know, I was super stressed out, but then I watched the news/checked my email/heard a commercial on the radio, and now I feel so much better.”  Do what you can to limit the input you’re getting.  You have enough going on as it is.  Try to keep things as simple as possible.
17. Remember your happy place.  You know, that one you went to in our little exercise a few minutes ago?  Take a few minutes to go there whenever you need it.  It might not solve your problems in the long term, but it will get your shoulders out of your ears for a minute or two, and that counts for something.

So, what’s your favorite way to put anxiety in its place?  Got a good one that I missed?  Send me an email with all the details, or leave it here as a comment on the blog.  Thanks for reading and I’ll catch up with you next week!

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.