Thyroid and adrenals: The Stress Cascade

Thyroid and adrenals: The Stress Cascade

If you’re a regular reader, you know I talk a lot about stress. We all have it, and in our modern life, where we are almost always plugged in, it is becoming increasingly difficult to break the toxic stress cycle that can have profoundly negative effects on your health. 

Largely, I’ve talked about natural ways to manage your stress (READ: 10 Best Ways to Manage Stress), but today let’s talk about the stress process and what it does to you.

The adrenal glands, those little almond-shaped glands that sit on top of your kidneys, might as well be re-named the stress glands. Yes, they have other functions, but primarily they secrete the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline.

These hormones are the chemical messengers to the body’s master gland, the pituitary, which tells all the other endocrine glands what to do.

So when your adrenals for in to hyperdrive because you are in a state long–term, unrelieved mega-stress, your adrenals start sending out chemical SOS messages to the pituitary.

The pituitary, thinking there is a physiological crisis like you’re about to be run over by a Mack truck, tells everything else to slow down—including your thyroid.

But that Mack truck never goes away, so your adrenals keep pumping our stress hormones and your pituitary keeps telling everything to slow down. What happens?

You become exhausted. Your adrenals are fatigued or even burned out.

Your thyroid has been told to go to sleep by the pituitary.

Your metabolism slows. Among other symptoms, you gain weight.

Your body, looking for some fuel, triggers cravings, usually for carbohydrates.

You eat carbs and feel better for an hour or two, then your blood sugar crashes and your feel worse. So you set up a cycle of carb craving, temporary relief and re-craving.

You haven’t done anything to break the stress cycle, so it begins to spiral out of control, increasing the problem exponentially.

Here’s a good test:

Have you recently said to yourself or anyone else, “I’m overwhelmed” or  “I have so much to do, I can’t deal with it?”

If you have, I can pretty much assure you that you are over-stressing your adrenals, setting yourself up for adrenal fatigue, adrenal exhaustion, low thyroid function and worse. You’ve started the stress cascade and you need to reverse it now.

The stress cascade can cause heart disease, obesity, diabetes, asthma, depression and anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, accelerated aging and even premature death. (READ: 10 Health Problems Related to Stress That You Can Fix)

These health problems are nothing to be scoffed at. In fact, the American Psychological Association published a study several years ago that said 75 percent of visits to the doctor were for health problems related to stress.

This is not in your head, but your head can take charge, recognize the stress cycle and break it. There are many ways to do this. I discuss several of them in my book 10 Best Ways to Manage Stress.

Here are a few:

Turn off your cell phone.

Don’t check e-mail after office hours.

Proclaim the dinner table an electronics-free zone.

Do something for yourself every single day without exception.

Talk a vigorous walk.

I’m sure many of you have more ideas. I’d love to hear them!

4 thoughts on “Thyroid and adrenals: The Stress Cascade

  1. Love that article! Check out Kathleen’s book, 10 Best Ways to Manage Stress. For even more info, see our jointly written book, 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health. For a healthy chill-out formula for the end of the day (or any time during the day when it’s all too much) check out my Dr. Cass’ CALM Natural MInd, and to get going the next day, the adaptogen-filled ENERGY formula. Both can be found at

  2. I also think in addition to those mentioned above, if you have a partner; get in a “bubble” or personal space where you are up close and personal together. Touch and hugs and being that close will slow down your breathing (after a period of a few minutes both heart rates will slow down and may even get in sync)to where you can relax. Touch and hugs are also known to fight depression and anxiety. Now all that touchin’ might lead to kissin’ which might lead to other things; and that isn’t bad for us either! You’ve mentioned the health benefits of sex here before. As a Sex Educator, I can agree to the list of health benefits that a good, healthy sex life will attribute to and a few more; including stress reduction in most cases. 🙂

  3. I’m very invested in this subject, Kathleen. Have been suffering from cortisol overload for years. I look forward to progress of your book and glad to contribute if I can.
    Gail Livingston

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