Body Feeling Tense and Unable to Relax? Getting Help with Anxiety Made Easy

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

Metabolic Fitness can Help with Anxiety Problems

Cortisol may help with anxiety.Everybody feels the relationship between stress, anxiety, and tense muscles. The inability to relax muscles is a common symptom of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). Briefly, AFS occurs when you are under unrelenting stress that causes various physical symptoms. One way the body tries to help with anxiety and stress is to release cortisol from the adrenal glands. Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body deal with stress by flooding the bloodstream with anti-inflammatory substances and glucose (sugar) for use by the large muscles.

When the adrenal glands are unable to keep up with the demand for cortisol, this triggers an alarm response in the body, just as if there is a survival danger such as a predator, causing a ‘fight-or-flight’ response. The body then releases the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine to keep you alert and your muscles tense. Unfortunately, even when stressed and overused, the adrenals are often normal in appearance and lab tests don’t show any problems with metabolic function, making Adrenal Fatigue difficult to identify.

The release of norepinephrine keeps you in a hyper-alert mental state that can lead to anxiety and sometimes even panic attacks. Besides keeping the mind alert, norepinephrine leaves your body feeling tense and unable to relax. If this situation only lasts for a short time, it won’t affect the body permanently; this is exactly how the body is supposed to work when you’re in real physical danger. However, if stress continues to build with no relief throughout the day, you will probably experience tight muscles and nervous tension.

As a result, you may not be able to sleep. Even if you sleep due to exhaustion, you will likely wake up in the middle of the night with tense muscles. During the day, although you may be tired enough to nap, the body will often not relax sufficiently to do so.

Understanding the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response Can Help with Anxiety

Understanding that these symptoms are caused by problems with the adrenal glands can help with anxiety, muscle tension, and inability to relax. Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) is often a correctable metabolic, lifestyle, and nutritional problem. The symptoms may include anxiety, depression, frequent sickness, fatigue, loss of concentration and difficulty losing weight. However, Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is not only a condition of the adrenals, but of the whole body. Many organs and systems play a part. This complex, intertwined system of organs and processes is known as the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, which consists of multiple circuits that give rise to different symptoms.

Help with anxiety by having a proper diet and exercise protocol.The overwhelming fatigue that some sufferers experience is due to the low functioning of the adrenal glands in response to stress, which in turn causes the thyroid gland and the reproductive organs to slow down. This is part of the hormonal circuit, one of 6 major circuits. There are many causes of such stress, including inadequate rest, a toxic environment, and work pressure. Diet, nutrition, and exercise patterns can be changed to have a positive impact on the stress response and help with anxiety and depression.

Unfortunately, rather than look for the root causes of AFS and seeing it in the context of the overall NEM stress response, modern medicine sometimes addresses only the symptoms. Such attempts, including use of anti-depressants and thyroid medication, will ultimately fail if the causes of metabolic imbalance are not also addressed. They only serve to ease the symptoms while the underlying cause continues to worsen. Even more discouraging, physicians sometimes attribute subtle signs of fatigue, insomnia, and anxiety to the natural aging process.

Metabolic Feedback Loop

The heart, blood vessels, and lungs are all affected by the fight-or-flight response because the oxygen content of the blood increases. Norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, is one of the most powerful heart stimulants. The healthy functioning of the endocrine system depends on whether the body can maintain homeostasis, or a stable equilibrium. When the circulatory system, nervous system, and adrenal glands don’t work together, the result can be high blood pressure, heart palpitations, or even cardiac arrhythmia.

In addition, continual stress can lead to inflammation of the body. Overstimulation of the inflammatory response can eventually lead to symptoms such as depression, food sensitivities, and unexplained muscular pain. It can also suppress the immune system, leaving a person vulnerable to disease. Exercise is one way to rebalance your metabolic system because it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This triggers hormones that relax you and help with anxiety. However, exercise can also drain the body of energy and contribute to physical stress. In advanced stages of Adrenal Fatigue it is therefore important to be careful with exercise.

Adrenal Fatigue Recovery

Improved nutrition can help with anxiety, depression, and physical problems related to the NEM response. Certain foods, in particular, are correlated with impaired metabolic function. Saturated and trans fats, foods with a high glycemic index, caffeine, and alcohol can all negatively impact your stress levels and lead to feeling more tense. On the other hand, whole plant foods with their fibers and nutrients intact will have a positive impact on Adrenal Fatigue by allowing proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. Eating foods high in magnesium, such as dark leafy greens, fish, legumes, avocados, nuts, and seeds can also be very beneficial for relaxing muscles.
Certain habits may also help with anxiety and tense muscles. For example, soaking in an Epsom salt bath before sleeping in the evening may help you relax. Note that those with advanced Adrenal Fatigue may actually feel more stimulated when soaking in an Epsom salt bath due to paradoxical reactions.

Help with anxiety by avoiding stimulants and alcohol.Adrenal restorative exercise is a key component in AFS recovery. When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, it slows the heart rate and increases tone in the muscles. Exercises that increase joint mobility, blood flow, and relaxation of muscles are more beneficial than weight training or intense cardiovascular exercise. Adrenal restorative exercise helps the body and mind work together to heal.

In addition to following the guidelines for nutrition and exercise, it’s important to avoid stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol. Stay away from television and computer screens for at least two hours before bedtime, as exposure to this type of light can reduce your body’s release of melatonin, a substance that helps you sleep. Avoiding excessive amounts of salt and sugar may also help the endocrine system stay in balance. Finally, judicious use of supplements such as vitamin C and magnesium is recommended.

Adrenal Fatigue recovery can take anywhere from six months to two years, or in some cases even longer. The removal of various causes of stress is just the first step in recovery. Simply addressing the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue will not allow you to heal; you must address the underlying condition. Another key component of recovery is sleep. It’s important to go to bed early, before you get a ‘second wind’ that will keep you alert until late into the evening. Adrenal restorative therapy will eventually help your metabolic system to restore homeostasis, bringing relief from AFS and rebalancing the NEM stress response. Recovery is aided my both physical and psychological strategies: letting go of expectations and being grateful are two important factors conducive to rapid recovery. This is easier said than done, because by the time AFS arrives on the doorstep, the ingrained physiological and psychological dysfunction may be advanced. Changes are not easy for most people. Do seek professional help if your self-navigation efforts fail. The body needs proper healing tools, and negative clinical outcomes are common due to the many symptoms that sometimes defy medical logic. Well intentioned medical practitioners and self-guided recovery efforts often fail, not because of the lack of discipline, but because of overzealous effort and clinical inexperience.

© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Diet and exercise can help with anxiety.