I’ve written a lot about neurotransmitters recently and how imbalances in the adrenal system can cause some problems physically and mentally. However, I haven’t delved into how to go about fixing things. The truth is, addressing adrenal problems, stress, anxiety, and depression is a complicated task. I can say this because I, myself, have had quite a time “handling” stress and my adrenal system has taken a beating.
Most health care providers will do one of the following:
- Hand you a prescription for an antidepressant or something like Xanax.
- Send you to psychologist.
- Tell you to take a vacation or just wait a few weeks and things “should” get better.
We all know these “solutions” aren’t really much help at all. Antidepressants and drugs like Xanax or Ativan just mask the problem and usually cause additional issues to crop up. If you weren’t already gaining weight, suffering from low libido, or addicted to medication, you probably will be soon. Of course, some people do need these medications from time to time, but in most cases there is a better solution. As for seeing a psychologist, the counseling is without question beneficial, but the medications are the same as the ones your primary care provider might prescribe. And waiting for your anxiety and stress to “go away” or taking a week long vacation just to come back to the same routine will not fix your problems. In fact, you’ll probably just waste money going on a vacation you can’t enjoy because you’re a ball of nerves the whole time (and we all know how great creating a worse financial situation is for stress and anxiety).
So, what are you supposed to do? I’ve asked myself the same thing over the years and I’ve come to a broad and deep conclusion. Finding a treatment plan that works to restore balance to the adrenal system, neurotransmitter levels, and mental health requires some in-depth considerations. It has to be multi-faceted, individually tailored, and must be consistently adhered to for quite a long time. You can’t fix this stuff over night, folks.
In fact, I still haven’t “fixed” my stress and adrenal issues because I’m the worst patient ever. I don’t follow instructions very well. I am incredibly hard headed and set in my ways. I believe this is probably half the reason my system is so jacked up. So, over the next few months I am going to implement several different therapies, document my findings, and compare my results. The therapies I plan to explore include massage, yoga, acupuncture, and herbal treatments and remedies, as well as meditation and positive self-talk. Yes, I am going full-on hippie mode. Can you dig it?
Let me give you some baseline information about me. (Isn’t this fun? I’m just offering up my personal medical file for you to read. I hope I don’t regret this later.) I have had my cortisol levels and neurotransmitters checked in the past. My cortisol isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen but it certainly isn’t perfect. As I mentioned in previous articles, cortisol should peak in the morning then gradually fall over the course of the day. My levels are low to normal in the morning, low during midday, normal in the evening, then high at night. This indicates some adrenal dysfunction and some problems with producing the right amount of cortisol at the right time. I often feel a bit sluggish, but generally okay in the morning, then tired and dragging midday, okay in the evening, and then a little too wired at bed time. Not ideal.
I also examined my neurotransmitters. This is where it gets interesting. Things are a bit of a mess. I basically over produce everything. Leading the pack is epinephrine. My level is off the charts high! Norepinephrine is also elevated but not as much. Dopamine, serotonin, glutamate, GABA, PEA, and histamine were also all elevated. All these levels were taken in the morning around 8:00am.
Now, if you know anything about or have done any research on neurotransmitters, you are aware that norepi and epi are excitatory neurotransmitters. Dopamine, serotonin, and GABA are inhibitory neurotransmitters. At first glance at my labs, one might think I’m fine. Everything is high, but that’s okay because if everything’s high I should be feeling pretty balanced. However, because my epinephrine is so elevated, far more than any of the inhibitory neurotransmitters, I am still “over stimulated.” The calming guys like GABA and serotonin are just trying to balance things out, but they can’t quite do it. Ever heard the phrase “wired and tired.” That’s me. I am generally pretty anxious in the morning but also dragging a bit. It’s a weird, uncomfortable feeling that makes you want to lie in bed and do nothing, but when you do, you can’t make yourself relax enough to enjoy it or rest. Lovely.
So, how did I get this way and what do I intend to do about it? It’s difficult to say how long and why this has been going on, but I remember having anxiety as a young teen. Couple that with my eating disorder, chronic cardio, and then huge amounts of stress in my twenties including divorce, grad school, and working multiple jobs, and I’m sure somewhere in there my hormones took a turn for the worse. I am actually quite fortunate that my adrenals are not in a more severe state of dysfunction. Many people end up not producing enough cortisol or neurotransmitters. This is also often diagnosed as chronic fatigue.
So, it’s fair to say this has been an ongoing problem for several years now and I do intend to take some measures (finally) to get the problem under control. As I mentioned previously, I will implement several natural therapies and chronicle my experience with them, record several objective and subjective markers to track progress, and repeat cortisol and neurotransmitter testing in several months. And I will keep you up to date as this all rolls out. Sounds fun, right? Let the journey begin!
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