Feeling tired all the time, yet have trouble falling asleep when you lay down at night? Are you more irritable, or get angry easier than you once did? Do you crave sugar, carbs, fat, salt, or all of those things? Do you find that you need that extra caffeine in the afternoon that you didn’t used to? Are you beginning to gain weight, particularly around your middle (a muffin top, or spare tire)? Are you getting sick more often than you once did, and staying sicker longer? Are you feeling anxious, or depressed, and aren’t really sure why? Having problems focusing, not getting your work done? Experiencing mood/hormone swings, or difficulty with fertility? Is your digestive system all messed up?
According to renowned midwife, herbalist, and functional medicine doctor Aviva Romm, M.D., the above listed symptoms are the top 10 indicators of adrenal fatigue.
The adrenal glands sit at the top of the kidneys (about midway down the back) and control many of the automatic responses of our daily lives. Most people only relate them to to “fight or flight” response, which is one of their main functions, but they affect so much more, including blood pressure, stress response, immunity, weight, and blood sugar regulation. When the adrenals are activated by a situation, our normal response is to either get away from it or defend ourselves. In this response, we pump out cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that sharpens our thinking, mobilizes blood sugar, and gives us energy. The rate of breathing increases, heart rate goes up, and senses are heightened. Once the threat is gone, the system normalizes and all is well again.
However, we now live in crisis-mode most of the time. There is no time for our bodies to process the first threat before another is upon us, and yet another after that. Our lives are in a constant state of stress, without the time to recover. Eventually, if we do not interrupt the cycle, our adrenals will be overloaded, and not function properly. We will continuously pump out too much sugar and insulin (which is a hormone excreted by the pancreas to get sugar out of the blood stream and into the cells where it can be used for fuel/energy), and can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. This is followed up by cravings for salt and fat, which is necessary for the reaction to occur.
So, how do we prevent our bodies from getting overworked and protect our adrenal glands? One thing to realize is that perfectionism creates a stress response, similar to other types of chronic stress. It is also an addiction, because we are driven to more and more success. Perfectionism is a precursor for all kinds of mental and emotional disturbances, such as anxiety and depression. When we are no longer driven by the need to overachieve and say “yes” to every opportunity that comes our way, we can be truly present in our own bodies and begin to combat pressure.
If you are already experiencing adrenal fatigue, here are some practical tips to help you begin to bounce back:
• RELAX! Find an activity that you enjoy doing that doesn’t put any pressure on you, and then do it. Read, hike, go on a trip, get a massage. Whatever you choose, do something that will help you unwind.
• Sleep hygiene. Your body needs 7-8 hours of sleep to repair itself. Skip that 4pm cup of coffee. Take the TV out of your bedroom. Turn off your phone and other electronic devices after 9pm (or at least an hour before going to sleep). Keep your bedroom dark and quiet. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day to keep your circadian rhythm in balance. Take a hot bath. Drink some herbal tea (chamomile or lavender are great options).
• Keep blood sugar balanced. Don’t skip meals. Eat a high protein breakfast. Skip sugary foods and drinks during the day. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and good quality fats.
• Reduce or eliminate caffeine intake. Caffeine is a drug, and it allows you to push past your body’s natural limits and perpetuates the vicious cycle of stress you are trying to break.
• Exercise. Move your body. It will give you more energy by releasing endorphins. But be careful not to over do it, as that can also contribute to further issues.
• Talk to an herbalist. They may be able to suggest options that will help you support your body as you try to make the necessary changes to take back your health.
Stress is a reality in life. However, you are in control of how much you allow it to control your mind, body, and spirit. Take back your life, and nourish your adrenal glands.
By: Rachel Clark, RN, BSN