How to Breathe for your Adrenal Glands
I am always recommending and looking for new ways patients can decrease stress and anxiety levels. Fertility concerns and treatments are stressful for both partners, and a body undergoing stress is not functioning in a reproductively optimal state.
Acute stressors can be internal (something you’re thinking about) or external (your boss yelling at you, for example). Regardless of the source, when under acute stress the body always responds in the same way - it calls upon the adrenal glands, two tiny glands that sit on top of the kidneys. The adrenal glands are prompted to produce cortisol (stress hormone) – which makes you temporarily respond better to stress. You become more alert and focused, get a quick burst of energy, memory is heightened, immunity is boosted, you have a lower pain sensitivity and blood is directed away from the digestive and reproductive organs toward the large muscles of your body (so, evolutionarily speaking, you’d be able to run quickly away from a predator). Short term, this response is great!
When we’ve called too often and too hard on the adrenals, however, they begin to respond less well and can eventually become depleted. We need the relaxation response in the body to function well, so that you can recover and recuperate from a stressful event well. Unfortunately, in Western culture, we don’t focus on cultivating that relaxation response and this often results in a picture of chronic stress.
Under chronic stress, when cortisol levels are high for a prolonged period of time and eventually diminish even during times of stress, we see negative effects such as:
-blood sugar imbalances
-low energy levels
-mid-afternoon dip in energy
-tired on first morning waking
-trouble falling asleep
-trouble maintaining the second half of the sleep cycle
-impaired cognitive performance (brain fog)
-inflammatory response in the body
-decrease in lean muscle tissue mass
-increased abdominal fat
-decreased bone density
Like most things in life, we need cortisol in moderation. Most of my patients need to work on cultivating the relaxation response on a daily basis to counteract those times during the day when they’re calling on the adrenal glands.
I often prescribe the following breathing exercise to help train the body’s relaxation response. The more often your nervous system is in this relaxed state throughout the day, the more it will cope well with stress and the less likely you will become chronically stressed– we’re hoping to create a ‘new normal’ for your body, where being relaxed is automatic, and the stress response happens only occasionally when needed.
It’s very simple. It goes like this:
Breathing Exercise to Reduce Stress and Enhance Relaxation
1. Take four breaths
2. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth
3. When you inhale, breathe deep into your belly and feel your abdomen rise
4. Exhalation should last longer than inhalation (ie. breathe in for 4 counts, and out for 6)
Doing this breathing exercise several times throughout the day will train your nervous system to be predominantly relaxed. Other techniques that can be helpful include acupuncture, guided imagery, journaling, hypnosis, exercise, yoga, meditation, listening to music or participating in activities that bring you joy. Speak to your Acubalance practitioner if you have any questions or want some guidance on how to relax better and more often!
Dr. Kali MacIsaac HBSc, ND
Ebrecht M, Hextall J, Kirtley LG, Taylor A, Dyson M, Weinman J. Perceived Stress and Cortisol Levels Predict Speed of Wound Healing in Healthy Male Adults. Psychoneuroendocrinology. July 2004.
Jensen, K and Schauch, M. The Adrenal Stress Connection.