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Second article by Lucie Charping on Appetite for Adrenaline, first episode HERE
As action athletes we don’t often think of ourselves as being stressed, yet that’s exactly what we are doing to our bodies and mind during action sports - activating the stress system. Adrenaline and the cocktail of neurotransmitters and hormones that manage stress is the “action” feeling in action sports and we love that shit! It’s the nature of the beast and it can be the catalyst to ultimate human performance. If we excel with an amount of stress and love the feeling of the rush, why is this a problem?
We literally get naturally high from the adrenaline rush of action sports and what goes up, comes down if not supported. An unmanaged stress response (riding the wave of adrenaline) is a major contributor to energy issues, focusing problems and extreme behaviors in down time, making appropriate nourishment and recovery time vital to an action athlete.
The body is under attack from a barrage of stressors all the time and can be anything from intense training, poor food choices, staying in toxic relationships, trauma, injury or infection, money woes or hating your boss. Stress is a normal part of life and the magnificent human body handles it well behind the scenes, until it doesn't. Chronic stress is the action athletes nemesis. It is a silently debilitating condition that gnaws away at you, leaving an inflammatory path of destruction in its wake and can take you down when you least expect it.
Stress creates inflammation which is one of the main causes of chronic pain, fatigue and digestion issues which will screw with your metabolism and immune system. Symptoms result from an imbalance of the neurotransmitters in your brain (that regulate nearly all functions in the body), hormones in the adrenal glands and the condition of your gut which would ordinarily keep stress in check and maintain homeostasis (balance) - not too stimulated, not under active. Happy days! These potent neurochemicals are made from amino acids, vitamins, and minerals and regulate physical and cognitive performance, how happy you feel or not, weight, perception and response to pain, sleep and your emotional and mental state. Excitatory Neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine and adrenaline make you feel alert focused and motivated. Inhibitory ones like serotonin and GABA help you relax, sleep, and make you feel good which contributes to self esteem. For optimum health, neurotransmitters of opposing actions need to be balanced.
Chronic stress can be caused by or result in an imbalance in Neurotransmitters and hormones affecting every decision you make. Dysfunctioning neurotransmitters means the mind-body connection doesn’t communicate effectively so the body starts to compensate. Deficiencies show up as any kind of addiction, memory issues, compulsive behavior, binge eating and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Low serotonin is associated with ADD/ADHD, eating disorders, mood issues, sleep disruptions and panic attacks. Low dopamine can cause impaired short-term memory, low sex drive, trouble with numbers and general fatigue. Too much norepinephrine or adrenaline can elicit panic and sleep issues and a shortage can crush your motivation, ambition and bring on depression, increasing the need for caffeine and other stimulants.
This is beautifully demonstrated when spending a week at Burning man. There’s the sensory overload, harsh environmental changes, the encouragement to fully participate in the adventure of life, the extreme behaviors and pushing yourself to the edge of your comfort zone just to see what you are capable of. There’s the dehydration and eating crap food, irregular sleeping patterns and all kinds of brain chemistry experimentation to get you in the flow. All perfectly packaged in huge amounts of fun with the freedom and connection to express yourself as you wish. Sound like the lifestyle of another sub culture you know? ;)
At the start you may say things like, “I wish life was always like this” and by the end your mind and body are ragged out and are no longer cooperating. Your shit doesn’t work and you’re likely constipated. Emotions start to fray and meltdowns can happen as your brain chemistry and adrenals are fried. You're ready to get home, take a shower, eat some good food, and rest aka “recover”. You soon realize that thriving is not sustainable at that level of stimulation for much more than a week without feeling the pinch. This highly fun and stressor-filled week is pretty much a concentrated version of many action sports athletes lives, give or take a few details. The body and mind tell us we must rest and recover from such intensity but we don’t often put it together that it needs to happen in your daily life or training simply to counter the epic lifestyle you lead! 'Hangriness' and self-diagnosed ADD have become accepted as something that just happens, not as a sign your blood sugar and nervous system are freaking out.
We experience massive amounts of pleasure from activating the stress response in action sports and don’t often see the signs of stress until there's an injury and don’t recover as fast, or there's repeated brain-locking in competition and can't shake the distractions. Unfortunately our buzz-seeking behavior, if unmanaged, can screw with brain chemistry, hormones and metabolism leaving us feeling trapped by unproductive behaviors, an insatiable 'crappetite', fluctuating energy and the attention of a squirrel. Not to mention dealing with the “normal life” stressors of being an adult, like paying bills, having kids and trying to balance family life with passions or work. Stress sneaks up on us disguised by fun and fueled by the adrenaline rush, poor nutrition and a desire to avoid the mundane. It’s then no surprise self-medicating with mood altering consumables and the dopamine pleasure-trap of crack-book becomes the stress management of choice for so many. Herein lies the danger peeps, we are the frogs in hot water unaware that we are slowly being cooked!
Action athletes generally have strong adrenal function hence the willingness to go back for more, but that can change at any moment due to injury or a major emotional event. Perhaps you travel the world to train hard, play hard, compete and/or coach others who want to be like you. It’s a dream lifestyle you love and you wouldn’t trade it for the world! Then something shakes your world like an injury or tragedy strikes with the all too familiar death of a friend or partner. You start to have trouble sleeping but you push through the fatigue or mask the pain of loss with more and more added to your schedule. You start to show the signs of stress as “looking older” and your hair and skin become thinner and dry, you often feel cold and have spikes in energy. Memory issues may have you dropping the ball on your commitments when usually you’re on it. Self doubt and insecurities show up as increased judgments, defensiveness or frustrations and decreased tolerance (“people irritate me more these days”), everything seems like a chore and you depend more and more on sugar and other stimulants to get you going.
When adrenaline or norepinephrine in the brain is high and cortisol is low from fatigued adrenals you start to feel wired and tired. You may notice you’re pounding ibuprofen to manage pain and have increasing dependence on uppers or downers to improve your mood. Eventually something’s gonna give. As adrenal fatigue advances adding more stimulation to your system without the proper regulation from inhibitory neurotransmitters and adrenal hormones is like hitting the gas pedal on your car and flooding the engine of your brain with excitatory neurotransmitters. The greater the stimulation the harder you crash. This can happen to anyone at anytime. Chronic stress influences decision making, risk assessment, behaviors and general satisfaction with life. With an increase in accidents and fatalities we are all asking what is going on here? Highly skilled and experienced people are going in. Yes they take risks and not everything goes to plan but could there be something else influencing their choices? Chronic stress and adrenal fatigue are major barriers to health happiness and peak performance. When your chemistry is off, you are off. Stress is not a weakness, it's a side effect of living our passions and byproduct of life that simply needs to be managed so you can keep on being exceptional. Learning to relax and focus the mind while nourishing yourself with vital foods that heal your gut, feed your brain and support the adrenals is an essential component to peak performance training and balancing your daily life. How do you start? With food and relaxation practices. It’s not hard, you just gotta do it!
1) Balance your blood sugar - tips in part 1 of this article HERE
2) Nourish nerve tissue with anti-inflammatory foods rich in amino acids, antioxidants, Omega 3's, vitamins and minerals such as spinach, blueberries, kale, spirulina, seaweed snacks, activated nuts and sprouted seeds, wild rice, cauliflower, quinoa, flax, brussels, miso, tempeh, and nutritional yeast.
3) Eat more fiber- whole grains, oats, beans, green leafy vegetables, avocado, artichokes and peas help remove toxins and provide prebiotic food for your gut.
4) Avoid Caffeine and the addictive white powders (sugar and refined flours). These are two of most disruptive foods for your gut and neurotransmitters and will sabotage your energy. Fat based desserts to curb munchies are better than sugar late at night.
5) Boost your brain memory and focus with herbs like brahmi, ginkgo biloba, ginger and nootropic mushrooms extract like Reishi, Lions Mane and Cordyceps (I like Neuroshroom) to improve cognitive function.
6) Boost your adrenals by adding adaptogenic herbs to your smoothies - Maca powder, Cacao powder, Moringa powder, Ashwagandha and quality Omega 3 fatty acids
7) Rest - get adequate sleep, enjoy a chill hike or bike ride, eat vital foods, sit in a hot tub or go on a retreat. Your body needs time to heal itself or you’ll never get out of chronic inflammation.
8) Focus the mind with breath - close your eyes and bring awareness to your breath, slow it down. Maintain focus on the inhales and exhales through the nose and if the mind wanders simply bring it back to the breath. Practice 10-20 mins in random loud or stimulating environments or with the TV on.
Chronic stress is all encompassing and requires a holistic approach to balance. Moderate to advanced adrenal fatigue can be slippery and paradoxical. If you think you might have adrenal fatigue consult a practitioner or doctor of Ayurveda, Chinese medicine or Functional medicine.
This is the second of 3 articles on Appetite for Adrenaline,
Lucie Charping Peak Performance Health Coach, Fusion Flow Retreats, San Diego CA www.Fusionflow.co