In my experience, there are two categories of people. Those of us who are fighting to overcome adrenal fatigue. And those of us who are on the cusp of falling ill to it.
It has all the hallmarks of a modern day lifestyle epidemic – doctors and naturopaths disagreeing on its existence, several high profile sufferers and thousands of blog posts dedicated to different healing modalities.
Yep, adrenal fatigue is the modern day plague – fuelled by our obsessions with caffeine, sugar, drama and busy-ness. For us women who care, it is often the result of us prioritising everything and everyone else.
My own experience with adrenal fatigue probably started around 10 years ago, possibly even earlier. My addiction to sugar, caffeine, simple carbohydrates and stress (coupled with a crippling anxiety of not being good enough) made me an ideal candidate for burnout.
Add in a twelve month battle with an autoimmune illness and my poor exhausted adrenals just gave up. My body started to compensate. Switching each system off one at a time in a desperate attempt to right itself. First my endocrine system started going haywire (shorter periods and PMS, thyroid function issues) and then my digestion slowed to a halt (leading to weight gain). My lymphatic system followed with swollen glands in my neck, under my arms and on the backs of my knees. I had splitting headaches at the base of my skull. I was constantly craving sugar and salt and felt permanently hypoglycemic. I lost the ability to regulate my temperature and felt shaky. My hair started falling out in great clumps and my skin dried out. I fluctuated between completely anxiety-ridden and overwhelmed (wired) and bone-achingly exhausted (tired).
So what exactly happens during adrenal fatigue?
Basically, our adrenal glands are two bean-size friends who sit atop our kidneys. The outer cortex of our adrenal glands produce hormones essential for managing stress – the main ones being cortisol and aldosterone – whereas the inner part of the adrenals produce adrenalin and noradrenalin – the hormones that give us our ‘get up and go’.
The theory of adrenal fatigue is that due to our modern lifestyles, we activate our stress response too often, leading to a burning out or fatiguing of the adrenals. We have conditioned ourselves to believe that stress is everywhere – from an email from our boss to a spider in the bathroom – and we are constantly switching on a response that was, evolutionarily, designed to save us from predators.
Because these glands are so important in regulating our stress response and aiding a huge number of bodily functions, our clever bodies start to down-regulate our body’s other ‘less necessary’ tasks like digestion. And it’s this down-regulation that often causes the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. It’s our bodies’ way of telling us to stop, rest and listen. A lot of women I know end up with hypothyroidism and autoimmunity as a result of adrenal fatigue, not the other way around though in truth all three conditions can be precursors to the other. Many women with thyroid conditions that don’t respond to medication may in fact be dealing with adrenal fatigue. Add in leaky gut to the party – fuelling inflammation in our bodies – and we are dealing with a modern day chronic health cluster that is increasingly prevalent and difficult to treat.
So how do we get diagnosed?
Here’s the tricky part. Many allopathic doctors only test for extremely low levels of cortisol through blood testing. Increasingly, naturopaths and integrative doctors are able to run salivary hormonal testing which shows cortisol and other hormonal profiles over the period of a day.
But let’s get real here. If our hair is falling out, we can’t sleep at night because we’re wired, or we’re skipping our periods, chances are we know something isn’t right. And chances are that it will take some serious lifestyle change to get it right again.
Want personalised adrenal fatigue support? Subscribe to receive updates and tips that go beyond green smoothies.
The key thing to note is that adrenal fatigue can take decades to develop, and therefore prevention is essential. It is also worth noting that it takes several months and even years to restore balance to the system. My experience with recovery has been that there are good days and bad days. While the general trend may be positive, there are dips and troughs in the journey, and we have to be prepared for them. Working with a qualified specialist who has an interest in hormonal health and adrenal fatigue is the best way forward, as several supplements can make symptoms worse.
For me, the things that have worked have included:
- resting in the dark with an eye mask (20 minutes twice a day)
- limiting time looking at TV screens
- reducing noise pollution
- cutting out all caffeine
- eating regular, protein-rich meals and drastically reducing sugar intake (blood sugar spikes just tax the adrenals more)
- improving sleep hygiene and sleeping with an eye mask
- yin yoga
- no exercise that gets my heart rate above 100 BPM
- bone broth fasting
- breathing techniques
- Vitamin C and adaptogenic herbs including Ashwaghanda
- 15 minutes of sunlight per day minimum
- gentle stretching
- pacing my activities during the day
- reducing expectations around work and social obligations
- stopping negative self talk and focusing on positivity and healing
- Acupuncture to stimulate qi flow into the kidney meridian
There are a lot of things inside our control that we can do, but sometimes our bodies take a while to respond to the care we give it. Remember that these are lifestyle changes, and they take time to condition. The good news is that all of these things will, over time, assist our overall health and vitality so we shouldn’t wait until we’re bedridden to make some changes.
I’ve learnt that on days when I’m hyper-responsive (wired), I need different things to the days that I’m super fatigued (tired). I’m still learning. But I can tell you this. There is absolutely no way around just stopping and having some time to rest. The best thing we can do is LEARN TO ACTIVATE THE PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM – through deep breathing, relaxation and yoga.
For all the women on their journeys with adrenal fatigue, here are the best yoga poses I’ve found for me and when working with my clients. These poses work on relieving symptoms like neck and back pain, sciatica, as well as inviting energy flow into the kidney meridian.
Did you know I work one on one with women looking to escape the stress cycle once and for all? If you are ready for some individual love and to create your own unique roadmap to wellbeing, get in touch.
Coming in June 2017 a 3 month healing journey for professional women suffering fatigue or burnout – Love Yourself Well: A Guilt-Free Guide to Healing. Join the VIP list to receive ultra amazing bonuses and to learn when enrolments open.