Optimize Your Adrenal Health Naturally

adrenal health

“Adrenal fatigue” is a hot topic among health experts. We are a society facing an incredible amount of stress and suffering the consequences, physically and mentally.

I reached out to Dr. Nick Zyrowski, founder of NuVision Excel, to explore the very real consequences of prolonged stress on the body. We had an engaging conversation about how to de-stress through positive psychology and meditation, which I encourage you to listen to here on his latest radio show.

Here he discusses adrenal dysfunction and shares 5 ways to optimize your adrenal health naturally.

“If you are like most people, you work hard and play hard. One day, you wake up and realize your body isn’t working like you think it should. You are tired all of time, relying on stimulants like caffeine to get you through the day. I’d like to think that this is an isolated incident, but it’s the reality for most of my patients,” says Dr. Zyrowski.

“It’s estimated that 85% of Americans suffer from adrenal fatigue. Adrenal dysfunction does not discriminate; it occurs in men and women of all ages. I see many people as young as early twenties experiencing adrenal fatigue. With no knowledge of its existence and not knowing what to do, the problem often snowballs and only gets worse.”

What is Adrenal Dysfunction?

“Adrenal dysfunction is a decrease in function of the adrenal glands that characteristically manifests as a reduced output or alteration in the diurnal pattern of adrenal hormone secretion including cortisol. People suffering from decreased adrenal function commonly complain of fatigue but may also experience sleep disruptions, weight changes, salt and/or sugar cravings, allergies, anxiousness, nervousness, low blood pressure and numerous other symptoms.

I’ve personally run dozens of adrenal tests and have reviewed hundreds. Most times, I find an inverse cortisol graph showing that the adrenal glands are shot. The reason it’s important to test your adrenals is because it’s difficult to manage what you can’t measure. Also, if you don’t know what the problem is, it’s near impossible to fix it. Once you identify the problem, and understand the severity of the problem, you can create a plan of action to get well.”

What causes Adrenal Dysfunction?
“Adrenal dysfunction results from continuous or sudden stress. Although stress is a natural part of life, the typical American lifestyle contains so many sources of stress that our bodies are unable to cope. Many people might think of stress in the way of emotional stress, but it comes in all varieties. Here are some of the major stressors that I see in my patients’ lives:

  • Recurrent disease and illness
  • Physical stress – injury, high physical demands, diet, surgery, tobacco/alcohol addiction, etc.
  • Emotional stress – marriage, divorce, deaths, work, a new baby, financial, etc.
  •  Environmental stress – chemical pollution of air, water, food, etc.

Who hasn’t experienced one or all of these stressors? These are all normal parts of life, but unfortunately, we are living a fast-paced world, resulting in an onslaught of stress in our lives. Identify which of these you can remove from your life, and eliminate as many as possible. This isn’t a time for excuses because these things are affecting your health.”

5 Ways to Optimize Your Adrenal Health Naturally

If I don’t address lifestyle with my patients, taking vitamins and herbs to address the problem is useless. Poor lifestyle is the primary cause of adrenal dysfunction. In order to heal your adrenals, you must adapt these five lifestyle strategies:

  1. Moderate Exercise – 30 minutes, 5 -7 days per week
  2. Sufficient Sleep – ideal sleeping hours are between 10 p.m. – 9 a.m.
  3. Balanced Diet – high in vegetables and healthy fats, moderate protein, and low in processed carbohydrates
  4. Frequent laughter and deep breathing exercises
  5. Limit caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugars

Prioritizing Presence

The question “Who am I?” rests at the heart of the human experience, manifesting in creative expression, scientific inquiry, and spiritual pursuit. While this most fundamental question can feel overwhelming, when approached with sincere curiosity, it has the power to transform a limited sense of self to limitless possibilities of self. IMG_3680


According to psychologist Paul Gilbert, self-identity is the process of prioritizing the different potentials within us and linking a sense of “me” to my memory of who I was yesterday and a feeling of consistency in my thoughts, values, behaviors, and emotions. By early adulthood, most of us lock into a stable sense of self, involving a story about who we are, what we are capable of, and how the world works. We spend our days collecting evidence to solidify this familiar sense of “me” – a brain process called the confirmation bias. Too often, the unconscious stories we tell ourselves pale in comparison to our potential. We are so much more dynamic, mysterious, and alive than our well-worn stories would have us believe.

Travel affords the opportunity to call our familiar stories of self into question. Beyond the daily routines and scaffolding that reinforce our habits, we are free to examine whether the repeated thoughts, feelings, and behaviors we have come to call “me” are in fact the “me” we want to be. While many aspects of life are beyond our control, the beliefs we carry with us the moment we roll out of bed powerfully influence our life’s trajectory and outcome. To use an analogy: We are dealt the cards and how we choose to play them is up to us. A recent trip to Croatia afforded just such an opportunity to examine the self I have come to most strong identity with.

IMG_2683Having no cellular service abroad, I came face-to-face with my mind’s ceaseless desire to abandon the present for “productive” distraction. To use Paul Gilbert’s language, I recognized the habit of prioritizing my potential for “doing” over my potential for “presence.” When life afforded a pause—a coffee break between historical sites, a cab ride to dinner, a quite bench in the shade—the urge to check my e-mail or read a new article would rise like a powerful wave. Without access to cyber land, I was forced to stay present to what was actually happening in the moment – neck wet with sweat, feet soar and hot, belly expanding with breath. I was forced to look up and connect with the life around me – the graceful silhouette of a nearby woman, the sound of shoes against pavement, the sweet smell of fresh croissants. Some moments were uncomfortable, and a pleasant distraction would have been welcome. Yet by staying awake in my senses, the majority of moments eventually gave way to an experience of deep contentment or connectivity.

In the Buddhist tradition, the term beginner’s mind is used to describe the practice of temporarily setting aside preoccupations and opinions in order to have a direct experience of your experience. Beginner’s mind requires an attitude of openness and sincere curiosity. In these technology-free pauses, I started paying attention with this kind of curiosity. And in paying attention, my body softened and my mind relaxed with what was happening. Nothing needed to be other than it was: My soar feet and the graceful silhouette of the woman sitting next to me existing simultaneously. In these pauses, as I let go of the compulsion to manage and control my experience, to get somewhere other than I was, a gentleness and appreciation for life emerged. IMG_3738

In our hurried, productivity-driven lives, I fear we lock into a hardened, shallow sense of identity. When we do have a moment of leisure, we are so caught in the habit of distraction that we flee from ourselves, reaching for anything to distract—music, television, planning, surfing the web. Underneath the surface of all our doing, checking, and e-mailing is a story that goes something like this: “There is not enough time. I have to get to the next thing. Right now is not enough.” We move through our days “on our way” to the next moment, never fully present.

Last week during an initial consultation, a client expressed my sentiments exactly: “More than anything,” she said with a look of heartbreak, “I want to recover my softness. I used to feel connected to life and the people around me. I feel hard, callous.” The unspoken and pervasive suffering in our culture is this: In all our productivity and distraction, we abandon not only ourselves, but also each other. The vast mystery of who we are—curious, spontaneous and loving— covered over by a sense of self always “on our way” to the next task.

I don’t have a solution to the dizzying busyness of modern life. What I do have, however, is a desire and intention to feel my life more fully. Considering self-identity is the process of prioritizing the different potentials within us, we can commit to prioritizing presence, gentleness, and wonder over productivity. Since returning home from Croatia, I intentionally stop regularly to look up. Literally. Stop. Lift my head up. Look at what is happening around me. Feel the sensations in my body.

Often what I find is a subtle tightness in my chest and belly—clenching to get to the next moment—and the underlying story that the next moment will somehow contain what this moment is lacking. In just stopping, I am interrupting the collection of unconscious reactions that solidify the busy sense of “me” I have come to know so well, and instead choosing a life of presence. I am in no way there, but I am wholeheartedly practicing. Over the past month of practice, here is what I have discovered:

New York City is filled with stunning architecture, if only I look up and notice. More awe-inspiring than the architecture, however, are the faces. The intricate, beautiful, expressive faces of the millions of people with whom I share the city I call home. When I really look at the faces I pass everyday – the suited businessman on the subway, the worried mother pushing her stroller, the barista dancing behind the bar when she thinks no one is looking, the hunched-backed older woman taking slow steps down the street, kids carrying backpacks the size of their little bodies to school – I can’t help but fall in love with the human spirit. I am humbled by the resilience, kindness, and grace of those around me.



In a society that prioritizes our potential for productivity over our potential for presence, maintaining a connection to our inner life and each other takes commitment. While we might think of strength as conquering a mountain, I have come to notice a subtler, more powerful strength: the greatness of heart required to get through a day and maintain connection – offering a simple smile, an ear to listen, a kind word to comfort. Amidst the fear, competition, and striving that pervades our culture, prioritizing our potential for presence—to really be “here” and notice the good that is unfolding amidst the everyday tasks and challenges—is heroic.

I invite you to experiment with pausing and practicing presence with me.

Stop. Look up. Feel your body. Breathe.

“Who am I?”

I still don’t know. What I do know is this: I feel more joyful, more peaceful, and more inspired when I prioritize presence. Sometimes the present moment feels edgy and uncomfortable, but in staying present and awake in my senses, a softer, kinder, gentler version of myself emerges. Here, I feel connected to you and that is where I want to be.






Building Character

Every once in awhile, a complete stranger comes into your life and inspires you to be better than you are. These encounters are rare; an unexpected visitor awakens you to your human potential. We walk away motivated to move beyond the confines of our limited identity and ask the bigger questions: Who am I? What qualities am I actively cultivating in myself?

I recently had such an encounter.

IMG_3433At sunset, just as the sky turned from blue to pink, he would appear. A frail old man, shoulders gently hunched, thin arms and legs emerging from a wrinkled torso. He came to the beach to run. He ran in a zigzag , making an “s” shaped pattern of footprints across the sand. Arms pumping vigorously, his steps were tiny, and from a distance, one would swear he was moving in slow motion. Yet his movement wasn’t labored, but rather joyful. Every step a small victory! He embodied a joie de vive and vitality that caught the eye of everyone on the beach.

My friends and I came to the beach to enjoy the dance of color as the sun sunk below the horizon, but it is not the sunset we remember most: It is Jerry, the old man who came to run. Without uttering a word, Jerry’s joyful commitment to his evening ritual left an indelible imprint on me and how I think about aging. Aging is a process the Western culture fears. Aging means loss— loss of mobility, loss of freedom, loss of vitality, loss of adventure.

Jerry proves all of these assumption wrong.

Perhaps aging is a process whereby the physical body softens so the deeper qualities of character can emerge? Perhaps aging is a process of perfecting the human spirit?

On our last night of vacation, as my friends and I snapped our final sunset photos, Jerry appeared, as he always did, ready to run. This time, however, Jerry stopped in the middle of one of his slow zigzags, and walked right over to us. With twinkling eyes he asked, “Would you like me to take a photo of you all?”

My stomach fluttered with excitement, the way one feels upon meeting a celebrity. “May I take a picture with you?” I asked.

A bit surprised by my enthusiasm, he said, “With me? I am just an old man doing his exercise.”

“We watch you run the beach every evening sir. You are truly an inspiration. I would love to have a photo to remember you.”

My friend snapped this photo. IMG_4563

I had so many questions for Jerry: Where was he from? What did he eat? What advice did he have to offer? Before I had time to uttered a word, he was off running again, the tide lapping at his feet as he headed off into the sunset.

I returned from my trip to Hawaii a month ago, and the memory of Jerry continues to inspire me. His being in the world affected not just me, but everyone who saw him running.

In a culture that values productivity above all else, asking the question of “being” is a radical shift. We are so used to identifying with what we do that we have lost touch with who we are, what we care about, and the power of presence.

Every single one of us can cultivate the quality of presence that liberates others; we can be a Jerry. Our character can and does affect those around us whether we are aware of it or not.

What qualities of being are you actively cultivating in yourself?


A helpful tool I share with my clients from positive psychology is to think about how you want to be remembered at the end of your life. Imagine you have passed and your close loved ones are gathering to celebrate your life. Take your time reflecting on these questions:

What would they say about who you were in the world? How you related to those around you? What you paid attention to? The energy you brought into a room?

Look back over what you have written, and ask yourself if your daily life reflects these qualities of character? How can you align your life with what you care about most? What would that look like?

After you’ve finished writing, put aside what you have written and keep it somewhere safe. Read over your character legacy daily to keep these qualities at the forefront of your consciousness. A simple yet profound Zen saying says it all:

“The most important thing, is to remember the most important thing.”

I keep a small note in my wallet. “Remember Jerry!”

Morning Hours – Orienting Our Attention


Each of us can learn the art of nourishing happiness and love. Everything needs food to live, even love. If we dont know how to nourish our love, it withers. When we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love.” Thich Nhat Hanh

“What was your first thought this morning?”

 If you are like most, your first waking cognition was likely self-focused– on a good day, a quick mental list of everything you want to get done and the thought, “I can do this”; on a bad day, a feeling of overwhelm or apathy and the thought, “I want to crawl back under the sheets.”

During an initial consultation, I ask clients to describe their first waking thoughts and morning rituals for two reasons: First, to bring awareness to the constant flood of unconscious mental chatter—sometimes helpful and often unhelpful; and second, to highlight the natural, self-focused tendencies of the human brain that thwart our capacity for deep joy and love.

 Cultivating flourishing lives requires intimate understanding of our brain’s wiring.

The human brain, which evolved over millions of years for survival in the harsh wilderness is designed to focus our attention on ourselves and look for anything that could potentially harm us. When not actively engaged in a task, the resting state of the mind activates a network of brain regions called the default mode. The default mode functions to link our past and future to a sense of “self” that needs to be protected. While helpful for survival on the Serengeti, activation of the default mode feels like mild anxiety—our inner police force keeping watch, waiting for any sign of threat to our physical or psychological safety.

When a potential threat is noticed (the e-mail from your boss, the news channel’s announcement of yet another catastrophe, stepping on the scale to see the numbers haven’t changed) the brain responds to preferentially store, recall, and project this negative feeling state —a brain process called the negativity bias. Negative emotional experiences register much more strongly in the human brain than positive emotional experiences.

gazedownreallifeRecent research by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert at Harvard University shows that the average person spends 46.9% of waking hours in the default mode. A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind, the researchers conclude. “How often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged,” says Killingsworth. If serenity and love are what we seek to nourish in our lives, we have to override the default mode network and negativity bias to see beyond a limited sense of self that needs constant protecting.

During the first few minutes of waking, your mind and body are very receptive to influence, says neuroscientist Rick Hansen.

As we move from sleep to wakefulness, we have a potent opportunity to establish an open, loving brain state we can call upon throughout our day. Imagine the difference between waking up to the tender voice of a loved one and a warm embrace, versus a blaring alarm and a list of to-dos on our e-mail? The former activates powerful bonding hormones that tell the brain you are safe and protected. The latter activates even more potent stress hormones that tell your brain there is not enough time and you have to fend for yourself.

While we can’t always have a loved one nearby to remind us of our deep belonging and goodness first thing in the morning, we can cultivate a relationship with ourselves that is kind, supportive, and loving. Across humanity’s spiritual and contemplative traditions, the golden hours of the morning are safeguarded for meditation, prayer, and devotion. While traditionally these practices served to solidify group cohesion to a particular belief system, the physiological significance is critical: Orienting our attention towards a loving presence (be it God, Krishna, Allah, the Divine, Creative Consciousness, or the Buddha) interrupts the default mode network and negativity bias, giving rise to feelings of connection, awe, and self-transcendence.

prayerfaceMy morning practice is quite simple. I found a lovely prayer bell ringtone, (thank you Apple), and while I still wake with bit of a start, the first thing I do is put my hands on my heart and belly to offer gratitude for being safe and healthy. After five long deep breaths (and yes, I count them, otherwise my busy mind would have me jumping out of bed), I practice loving-kindness meditation (while still in bed). Starting with myself, I offer the life under my hands the wish for wellbeing: “May I be happy of heart. May I feel filled with loving-presence. May I feel held in loving-presence. May I know peace.” Then, I let the images of the people I care about and serve run through my mind. With each face I internally offer the same wish. After a few minutes, I set an intention for my day, “May I see myself in the other. May my presence serve to inspire hope and love in those I meet.”

Find a morning practice that nourishes your potential for love and peace. Keep it simple.

  • First, ground yourself in your body by taking a few deep breaths. Awareness of the body immediately brings us into the present, out of thinking.
  • Second, offer gratitude for whatever feels authentic to you in the moment – safety, health, life.
  • Third, orient your attention towards something bigger than yourself – your purpose or aspiration, the people you love, a commitment to a cause, body of teachings or tradition. Savor the words or images, allowing the feelings of gratitude, connection, love, and hope to build neural structure in your brain.
  • Forth, set an intention for your day. What would it look like to really show up to this day? Think about qualities of being (courageous, hopeful, loving, present), as opposed to specific goals. What kind of human being do you want to be? What qualities in yourself are you choosing to feed today?

The golden hours of the morning are sacred. When we elevate ourselves, our presence naturally serves to elevate others. May you give yourself permission to linger in self-kindness first thing in the morning, not just for yourself, but for all those you come into contact with throughout your day.