And the effects can be debilitating. When the severity of a condition boils down to a stress level, what's a Mama to do?
Recently, I was diagnosed with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. While my medical physician told me that it wasn't 'really a thing,' my functional health doctor told me that it most certainly was.
It was not only confirmed by blood results, but a full-day urine test that analyzed my hourly cortisol levels. Based on the urinalysis alone, my doctor told me that my adrenal glands, which are the main stress control system of my body, were simply worn out.
Related: 'Hygge Out' Your Home to Relieve Stress
When adrenal glands cannot carry out their main function - to produce hormones (cortisol and aldosterone) that help your body control blood sugar, regulate blood pressure, burn fat (and protein) and react to stress - you suffer.
Basically, adrenal glands that are chronically taxed by stress, whether physical, emotional or environmental, will eventually succumb in their ability to adjust your body's levels of cortisol and aldosterone.
Most often, for mothers, this is exhibited in the classic 'fight or flight' scenario, where a mom is basically in 'fight' status all the time and her adrenal glands constantly have her in a state of disproportionate cortisol levels.
Related: 101 Ways to Deal With Mom Stress Now
Our bodies need appropriate amounts of cortisol to remain alert and awake, as well as motivated and in general, engaged with our environments.
When we cannot maintain balanced levels of cortisol because our adrenal glands are overtaxed, we see symptoms like weight gain (without the ability to lose it, especially in midsection), frequent illnesses that tend to last longer, reduced sex drive, brain fog, lack of energy (especially in the afternoon) and a plethora of other situations that make enjoying motherhood difficult, including insomnia and hypoglycemia.
We know from research that stress can predispose our brains to mental illnesses such as depression and/or PTSD. What most functional health doctors also believe is that anxiety and stress can tax our adrenal glands in such a way that physical ailments are a result. Often, this leads to a vicious cycle - "I'm anxious because I know it's bad for me, which makes me more anxious."
So, what do we do? How can busy mothers stop the anxiety that can force our adrenal glands to just give out?
Most importantly, we can take care of ourselves. It took my doctor looking me in the eyes and reminding me about how I'm no good to anyone if I'm a mess. And she's right. So often, we get caught up in doing for others that we neglect ourselves...until our bodies literally just break down and tell us they're not going one second more.
Do something that gives you peace. Take some time to read and ignore the laundry that needs to be folded. Not indefinitely, because if you're like me, that gives just as much anxiety! But allow yourself some time to just have for yourself.
Not every second has to filled with doing something 'productive.' Sometimes, the best productivity comes from a massage for your aching muscles or 20 minutes of meditation/praying. Even a regular fifteen-minute phone call with an old friend can relieve stress and give your adrenal glands the break they need.
Most functional health practitioners will tell you that there are many other things you can do to reduce the stress on your adrenal glands, including proper diet and exercise, and those are things that we should be doing no matter what - just to be the healthiest we can be.
When it comes to anxiety and stress, give yourself permission to take steps to eliminate the stress that you can. Your body will thank you!