Most adults understand the mind has a powerful impact on how the body responds to events in our lives. However, I still meet many accomplished and educated people who scoff at the possibility that they might be underestimating how much their perception of stress in their lives is responsible for creating their physical ailments. This article explores this interesting phenomenon.
The Epidemic Du Jour: Adrenal Fatigue. I know several people who have very busy lives and they truly believe they have “Adrenal Fatigue.” Based on all the research I’ve done over the years for several health-related projects, I don’t believe this is a real clinical disease. In fact, you don’t need to have any clinical disease at all to suffer from the symptoms frequently associated with Adrenal Fatigue.1
The Powerful Impact of Excessive Cortisol. Cortisol is called the “stress hormone” for a reason: It’s a powerful hormone that the adrenal gland releases (often in parallel with adrenaline) when the mind perceives a threat as “stress” and tells the brain to prepare the body for action. Cortisol regulates and influences many bodily functions in response to the mind’s perception of stress, including:
- Blood Sugar (Glucose) Levels: This affects mood and can create irritability, impatience, brain fog, etc.
- Fat, Protein & Carbohydrate Metabolism: This can create the same glucose issues above plus decreased muscle mass/tone, which can lead to a less attractive physical appearance, creating a vicious cycle of stress, depression, etc.
- Compromised Immune Response: This can lead to greater susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections, prolonged time required to heal from injuries and illness, resulting in sadness, depression, poor diet, more vicious cycles.
- Malfunctioning Anti-inflammatory Response: This can lead to cancer when inflammation is not handled properly by the immune system, arterial sclerosis and plaque, which causes heart disease and stroke.
- Blood Pressure & Hypertension: This can create chest pains, shortness of breath, feelings of dread and anxiety, greater stress on all bodily organs, leading to premature organ malfunction and failure.
- Central Nervous System Dysfunction: This can create the feeling of “frazzled nerves,” decreased hand-eye coordination, tremors, and other motor function problems.
The Power of the Mind-Body Connection. Your mind controls how your brain perceives the world, which controls the adrenal gland’s production of cortisol. Sometimes we can literally feel the torrent of cortisol coursing through our bodies when our minds perceive particularly stressful situations. It can be very difficult to live by this principle, especially when stress seems unbearable, but it’s critical to understand that “stress” is not an objective reality; it is our mind’s response to external events outside of our bodies. That is the most important thing to understand because everything that we experience truly is created by our mind. This is the real and powerful psycho-somatic process in action.
Constant Perception of Stress Leads to Constant Actual Cortisol Production. Cortisol levels fluctuate based on the body’s natural circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycles), which means you naturally have more cortisol in your bloodstream during the day than at night. For people who constantly perceive their lives as stressful, the cortisol can be produced so often that their cortisol levels never have a chance to return to normal. This can lead to one or more of the physical problems that I described above.
Why Do Men and Women Respond to Stress Differently? The secret is the “Cuddle Hormone” Oxytocin. This is a major contributory factor in the stress of all relationships and it explains why men and women deal with stress differently, which causes different levels of cortisol in their bloodstreams, which causes the cascade of behaviors that can often lead to broken relationships. This single insight alone explains the source of virtually 100% of all the behaviors that I’ve observed in dozens of couples who suffer from relationship problems because of their perception of their stressful lives.2
What’s the Solution to a Stressful Life? The only true “solution” is to re-calibrate the way our minds process information from our daily environment, more effectively prioritize our daily tasks so that we don’t feel overwhelmed as frequently, and structure our daily lives in a way that reduces our perception of stress in response to all the events in our lives. It is this cascading perception of stress that triggers the physical release of cortisol in our bodies, which triggers the cascade of physical symptoms that we feel and experience as illness, fatigue, pain, sadness, depression, etc.
There is No Pill or Supplement for Stress Management. It’s very tempting to reach for a pill to make our uncomfortable stress go away, but that’s just a fantasy and a waste of money. Anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax might suppress the brain’s response to stress in some cases, but even in the best-case scenario, those drugs are merely temporary crutches that can severely impair other aspects of their personality. Most importantly, those drugs are highly addictive. I’ve observed several people who spent years trying to quit those drugs, which can be as challenging to quit as heroine based on several credible studies that I’ve read.
Scientific Analysis & Effective Self-Help. I recommend reading this brief article published by the Hormone Health Network, which more thoroughly debunks the Adrenal Fatigue Myth. I trust the Hormone Health Network because they’re a nonprofit group that doesn’t have any supplements or drugs to sell you and they produce a lot of scientifically rigorous self-help literature to educate their readers, which helps to avoid wasting time and money on dubious pills and elixirs.
The Long-Term Solution to Stress and Excessive Cortisol Production. Effectively managing our perception of stress and our body’s excessive cortisol production to reduce or eliminate all the physical symptoms described above takes time and discipline. If you’ve already seen your doctor and ruled out any obvious acute or chronic medical problems and you’re still suffering from stress-related symptoms, then I recommend integrating WebMD’s stress management principles and activities into your life.
How the “Crazy” Stigma Distorts Accurate Diagnosis and Treatment. There is often a social stigma associated with inexplicable ailments. This is primarily because the psycho-somatic connection can be difficult to comprehend for people without sufficient education in neurology, biochemistry, and endocrinology. This lack of education causes many people (including many doctors) to incorrectly attribute physical symptoms to all manner of maladies that they read about in various sources of corporate pharmaceutical and healthcare propaganda. Patients often do this because they want to avoid the stigma of being labeled “crazy.” However, “crazy” is merely the catch-all label that ignorant people use when they encounter something they don’t understand. Labels like this perpetuate ignorance, distort diagnoses, lead to ineffective or non-existent treatment, and result in unnecessary and prolonged suffering.
I wish you good luck and great health along your life journey.
2. To learn more about the science behind this critically important insight, I strongly recommend reading the excellent WebMD article “Why Men and Women Handle Stress Differently“.