Adrenal Insufficiency- & Other Possible Causes of Anxiety

Living with anxiety can feel like you have a lot in common with a river in the mountains- calm on the top and raging undercurrent. Stress can rob you of your joy in meaningful or seemingly unimportant moments. And take up space in your mind for things that will likely never happen. However, anxiety is a reality for a lot of people, especially trauma survivors, and it can be crippling. 

Anxiety may not be the only thing you are dealing with, though it may be a prominent symptom. Anxiety can have a lot of underlying causes, we will explore the way adrenal fatigue can cause anxiety in your life- as well as, other possible causes.

In this article, we are going to take a deep dive into the role of the adrenals, adrenal health, and what they may contribute to anxiety symptoms. We will also cover some other possible causes for anxiety and what steps you can take to a healthier and more peaceful internal world, regardless of what you may have experienced along the way. 

“I now see that owning our story and loving ourselves through that process (healing) is the bravest thing we will ever do.” Brené Brown [Eemphasis added]

What does owning your story have to do with anxiety? I am glad you asked, we will get to that towards the end.

The Role of the Adrenals

The adrenal glands do some pretty cool things in the body, and when they don’t function properly the adrenals can leave you feeling less than your best. These little glands, an important part of the endocrine system, sit on the tops of both the left and right kidneys. The endocrine system is made up of glands and organs( like the thyroid gland and reproductive organs). The Adrenal Cortex is the outer and the inner parts are the Adrenal Medulla. The adrenals secrete hormones and send them out into the body. Adrenals produce cortisol, which is a stress hormone. This is important when there are stressful situations. Cortisol will stop some of the non-essential functions in the body when the fight or flight response is triggered and can increase blood sugar levels. 

Adrenals produce other hormones too, what are hormones? Hormones are the body messengers that signal to the boy what should be happening. Hormones help metabolize the food that is eaten, help the body to grow and change in puberty, they control your mood and are responsible for the immune system, body temperature and so much more.

The adrenals are pretty important. Too much or too little of a hormone can have devastating impacts on the body. 

What causes Adrenal Exhaustion or Fatigue

The medical community does not usually recognize adrenal fatigue.  May Clinic posted an answer about adrenal fatigue from Ann Kearns, M.D., Ph.D. “Adrenal fatigue isn’t an accepted medical diagnosis. It is a lay term applied to a collection of nonspecific symptoms, such as body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances, and digestive problems.” There is a recognition, however, of adrenal diseases like Addidon’s Disease and other medical conditions that cause autoimmune diseases and tumors of the adrenals.

There seems to be a disconnect between adrenal fatigue and its Ask any naturopath or holistic doctor, and you will get a completely different answer. 

NaturoMedica says this about adrenal exhaustion. “Since 2007, the American Psychological Association has been keeping statistics on stress. In 2015, the greatest sources of stress were money (67%), work (65%), and family (54%). Two-thirds of the people polled that they have had a diagnosis of at least one chronic illness. Continuous stress causes your body to be constantly in the “fight or flight” mode because you are overworked and overtired. Your adrenal glands raise your cortisol levels when you are under stress. This is a normal and healthy response to occasional stress. However, problems arise when the adrenal glands are constantly stimulated to release stress hormones. Eventually, fatigue sets in, and the overused adrenals can’t keep up and they stop producing enough hormones for you to be able to cope with stress.”

Not only is adrenal fatigue a legitimate health issue, but it is also treatable. 

Symptoms of Fatigued Adrenal Glands

Adrenal fatigue can show up in different ways for everyone. The Mayo Clinic and Health Direct state that adrenal fatigue can show up like these common symptoms. The human body is so interconnected that when something is off then it does through the rest of the body off kilter. When there is severe stress inside of the body, or stress levels heightened from external circumstances, there is a greater need to rest and take care of yourself. However, when sleep is impacted this can create a vicious cycle because what you need to get better is unavailable. 

Symptoms of Adrenal Exhaustion

  1. Anxiety
  2. Irritability 
  3. Low Energy Levels
  4. Sleep Disturbances 
  5. Body Aches
  6. Salt and Sugar Cravings
  7. Digestive Issues 
  8. Lightheadedness
  9. Unexplained Weightloss
  10. Hair Loss
  11. & Weight Gain

Health problems can occur when the body does not get the adequate support it needs. High or low cortisol produced by the adrenals can result in low blood pressure, high blood pressure, high or low blood sugar, and brain fog. The following are common symptoms related to adrenal dysfunction aside from the long-term effects.

Adrenal Glands and Their Connection to the Brain

The adrenal glands interact with the brain. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are stimulated by the hormones released by the adrenals, and the brain is what signals the need for this release. So it is obvious that a disruption in the adrenals will also have an impact on the brain, and eventually the whole body.

Anxiety is that feeling you feel when you just remember you didn’t complete a task and the deadline is today. Anxiety can also be a constant feeling that something bad is going to happen. Our nervous system plays a large part in how we interpret what happens in the world around us. A nervous system that is always on alert may also trigger the body into a fight-or-flight response. 

Nervous system regulation has a key part of the body and its ability to manage emotional stress as well.

The nervous system is comprised of 7 parts. According to the national library of Medicine, these parts are the spinal cord, the medulla, the pons, the cerebellum, the midbrain, the diencephalon, and the cerebral hemispheres. 

The sympathetic nervous system is a part of the fight-or-flight response. It is best known for helping the body to respond to dangerous situations.

Anxiety and Stress- What is it and What it’s Telling You

From panic attacks and fast heart rate to feelings of looming doom and restlessness, anxiety Anxiety shows up in many ways and in many forms.  Tension in the body is a message that is trying to be heard that something is not quite right. Tension can show up as tightness, nausea, and even pain. 

Anxiety may show up right before a public speech is made. It can easily be described as an intense and unshakable feeling of worry. 

False proof: When there is anxiety, there’s no real-life circumstance that would warrant the worry. This could look like having a fear of [passing out while driving a car. When there is no medical history that would make you pass out and it has never happened before.

Real proof: When there is anxiety because something does happen, and you are worried it will happen again. Continuing the analogy above this could look like actually having an episode where you pass out and worry it may happen while you are driving. This is possible because there is real proof that it could happen.

When there is a reason for anxiety then this may be an indicator that you may need more support. 

Is All Worry Anxiety or Adrenal Fatigue?

Not all worry is anxiety. A person may feel anxious about doing something for the first time, like driving a car, the first day of school or a job,  or a minor dental procedure. This is expected because there is a level of uncertainty when there is newness. People, usually, like to know what to expect when something is happening. And when there is unknown it can leave feelings of uneasiness and worry. 

This type of anxiety would more often be described as nervousness or uncertainty.

A Holistic Mindset, History and Symptoms of Anxiety and Adrenal Insufficiency

Can a diet impact the adrenals? There are some nasty symptoms that go along with vitamin and mineral deficiencies. When there are too few vitamin C, B vitamins, Iron, Iodine, Vitamin D, Selenium, and Magnesium in the diet the body can be working from a deficit. This can lead to a lot of symptoms including anxiety and depression. Adaptogenic herbs can also be used to help your body deal with the effect of stress and limit the impact stress leaves behind. Nutritional supplements can be taken to offer you adrenal support, but you should work with a naturopathic doctor so you can safely and efficiently fulfill your deficiencies. Increased stress calls for an increase in vitamin and mineral needs.   

Causes of Anxiety Symptoms

  1. High Ace Scores- or Adverse Childhood Experience. Is a scoring system that brings light to the experiences a person had during childhood. When there are a lot of traumatic things that happen in childhood there can be an increase in how the body responds to those experiences and how they impact overall health and increase the risk of health issues (like heart disease). 
  2. Current Circumstances. Life gets messy sometimes. We all deal with financial, relational, and health difficulties from time to time. What we are going through in our lives can cause anxiety. Major changes in career, schools your kids go to, or where you live can leave you feeling less secure and can cause a rise in worry and a decrease in your mental and physical health.
  3. Disorders and Diagnoses. Some experiences cause a disorder in the body. However, if you have experienced trauma in your life then there may be a very legitimate reason you experience a certain fear or worry over something. Trauma infrared therapists are becoming increasingly reluctant to diagnose someone with a disorder when there is trauma. Because it is not out of order when someone experiences a symptom based on real proof. It is completely understandable to have a strong response to something terrible that has happened. 
Types of Therapy for Anxiety and Stress Management. 
  1. Talk Therapy

Talk therapy is a great way to relieve stress and work through the issues in your life. Having a trained therapist can help you to work through the difficult things you have faced. In my guide to finding the right therapist, we discuss how to choose a therapist, why it’s important to choose the right one, and what to do if you don’t like the therapist you have.

  1. Neurofeedback

I love neurofeedback where there is trauma involved. It’s great for adults and for children. Neurofeedback is a program that works on the low or high-functioning areas of the brain to bring the back into normal ranges. This treatment helps the brain heal itself all while watching a movie.

  1. EMDR

A trained therapist walks with their client through a traumatic memory. Tapping, visualizing and questions help to create new pathways in the brain that result in a healed feeling about a trauma once completed. 

  1. Medication therapy

Anxiety and depression can be treated with prescription medication prescribed by a doctor or a phycologist to treat medical conditions. Medication can ease the symptoms but do not come without the possibility of serious side effect.

Owning your Story

I cannot change what happened in my past, nor can you. Horrible things happen, and many of us (intimate partner violence victims) wish we could erase certain things we have been through. And for good reason. When we go through something traumatic because of someone else’s choices and maltreatment there can be a lingering effect. It seems unfair to be stuck with the fallout of abuse when, if it were up to you, your relationship would have a happy ending. But this brokenness and pain were forced upon you.

No, it’s not fair, it’s not right. And it sucks. 

But owning your healing, who you are now, and where your life is going is something you do have control over. 

Owning your story just means you accept that something, in reality, did happen, and you choose not to wallow in and move your body and mind as far away as you can, so you can safely heal. 

What can I Do Now?

The first step to healing is to provide yourself with support and resources. It has been my personal experience that wonderful things happen when I stopped denying myself of the things that I needed to survive. I think you will find this to be pleasantly true too. There is sometimes a waiting list to get into a mental health therapist but you can start pouring into yourself by tending to the one and only body you were given to ensure you are setting yourself up for success. 

Here are some small lifestyle changes you can make today to help you get started. Taking steps to nurture your body and mind can help with chronic stress and can be a great way to lower stress hormones. Maybe a break from watching the news and scrolling social media will give you time to read a peaceful book and help you get in bed 20 minutes earlier. Nutritious food, movement, and adequate sleep can also help you to meet your needs to deal with stress and supply your body with what you need to heal and grow through this difficult season.

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