Could there be a better moment for the publication of a warm, insightful book about how to recover from the physical effects of chronic stress? Probably not. And the fact that it comes from one of the most respected functional-medicine physicians working today — the wonderful Aviva Romm, MD — makes it even better news.
In her just-released book, The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution: How to Rescue your Metabolism, Hormones, Mind and Mood, Romm offers a four-week plan for how to identify and treat the effects of what she calls “survival overload syndrome.” (Yes, the acronym is S.O.S.) Its symptoms correlate to a chronically activated survival response, and they’re often dismissed in conventional medicine as the inevitable side effects of aging, or being “all in your head”: brain fog, deep fatigue, digestive problems, fertility issues, unexplained weight gain, and a violent passion for coffee, sugar, and simple carbohydrates. A complaint to a doctor might get you a prescription, but little understanding of why these issues really occur — or how to treat them without drugs.
Romm’s book explains how and why these symptoms can correspond to overtaxed adrenal and thyroid glands (both are central in the survival response) and are best managed through lifestyle adjustments such as nutrition and stress relief. She also takes her colleagues’ dismissiveness of these issues seriously:
“Women in the United States are . . . dangerously overmedicated, at a rate higher than men, for problems that generally require lifestyle — not pharmaceutical — solutions,” she writes. “Considering that half of women over fifty are on at least two medications, 10 percent of Americans take five medications in any thirty-day period, and the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer is prescription medications, this is no small matter.”
In place of a quick prescription, Romm’s book offers a lifestyle-based plan for addressing S.O.S. It includes quizzes to identify your “survival type,” explanations for hidden triggers for the stress response, and suggestions for overhauling your diet, thought patterns, and sleep habits in ways that will allow you to reclaim your vital energy — which you need more than that next cup of coffee.
Here are four big takeaways from the book, which we hope will inspire you to read the whole thing:
- The problem is not just in your head.
Health complaints from women have a long history of being deemed “hysterical” by conventional medicine. Romm notes that as recently as the 1990s, hysteria was a medical diagnosis that could be given to women with unexplained conditions. (The root word for hysteria is hystera, Greek for womb; there’s really no getting around the gender bias here.) So while many of the symptoms of S.O.S. involve emotional and psychological well-being, and antidepressants and antianxiety medications are commonly prescribed for them, these drugs are far from the only option.
- “Unexplained” conditions have explanations.
Romm takes the functional-medicine view that what we call symptoms are actually “surface manifestations of what’s going on at a deeper level in the body, the hidden root of conditions.” She identifies the five root causes that can keep the stress response perpetually triggered:
- Chronic emotional and mental stress
- Food triggers
- Gut imbalances
- Toxic overload
- Stealth infections
Until you treat these root causes for S.O.S., you might treat its symptoms indefinitely with the usual advice (which, for the record, includes “eat less, exercise more!”) and nothing will change.
“When you remove the obstacles to your body’s innate healing responses and add in the important healing elements your body needs,” Romm explains, “your body begins to recalibrate naturally.”
- You don’t have to feel worried and anxious for your body to register the effects of chronic stress.
Anything that overloads one of your body’s systems can tax your adrenals and thyroid. So if, for example, you have a magnificent spouse and your dream job but also a simmering infection that keeps your immune system working 24/7, the body registers this as an all-hands-on-deck crisis, and keeps the stress response activated. This is why Romm insists on identifying possible root causes that may not seem immediately relevant to presenting symptoms.
- You can feel better.
Romm’s program includes the following strategies for recovering from S.O.S.:
Reboot: Learn how to stabilize your blood sugar, identify and eliminate possible food triggers, and clean out toxins from the medicine cabinet and your personal-care products.
Reframe: A variety of mindsets can contribute to chronic stress: perfectionism, Good-Girl Syndrome, and FOMO, so Romm teaches readers how to shift their thinking in a more empowered direction.
Repair: The digestive, immune, hormonal, and detoxification systems are each connected to adrenal and thyroid function, so supporting one ultimately supports them all. Romm explains how to heal and support each system.
Recharge: Some supplemental support is usually needed to restore optimal function after the body has spent time in S.O.S. Effective use of herbs and supplements (and, if needed, supplemental hormones) depends on a precise diagnosis, so Romm explains which thyroid labs are necessary to get the best information.
Replenish: Deprivation is also a trigger for chronic stress, so in her “replenish” guidelines Romm outlines a food, lifestyle, and rest plan that emphasizes nurturing and pleasure (think: dark chocolate, avocadoes, and regular sleep on good sheets). She understands that if you’re going to reclaim your life from the draining effects of S.O.S., there should be some things worth living for.
For more on how to shift from fight-or-flight mode into a calmer state, check out “Reset Your Stress,” which originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Experience Life.