The end of the year is fast approaching. Deadlines are looming. The stress of the holiday season is upon us. It’s all happening so quickly. With the blink of an eye Christmas will be here. We all feel under the pump to get everything done, but this can come at a cost. The positive sleep, eating and exercise habits we’ve cultivated over the year are thrown to the curb in an attempt to just ‘get-shit-done’. We begin working on overdrive, and whilst adrenaline is fabulous for helping us reach those targets, meet those deadlines and to generally pull us through the more stressful times of life, long term this can be extraordinarily harmful to the body.
A number of students have come to me recently advising they’ve been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue. In a world that is relentless with its distractions and where increasingly toxic foods are being produced and promoted as healthy, I decided to do some research into this topic and share my findings with you all.
This post is designed to raise awareness in the hope that people will be more proactive with their health as a preventative strategy. Because believe me, when someone is truly suffering from adrenal fatigue, and I’ve had many clients over the years who have been through this, it is not easy to bounce back.
What is adrenal fatigue?
It is a combination of symptoms that impact upon the function of the adrenal glands. Fatigue and food cravings are the most common symptoms of those suffering adrenal fatigue, but the problems go far deeper than this. Changes in hormones and neurotransmitters affect every part of your body and your blood pressure can drop.
Let’s look at this with a little more depth…
Addicted to sugar and caffeine:
Do you find yourself always looking for the next sugar and/or caffeine hit?
People around the world have built their lives around surviving on the next sugar or caffeine high. There is a huge difference between enjoying a coffee or sweet treat here and there, and actually hunting it down because you’re on the cusp of metamorphosing into some unrecognizable, slightly insane creature should you be deprived of your next hit.
This becomes a really nasty cycle. The caffeine keeps you alert, impacts your sleep, the body remains in a tired and stressed state and so you wake up, lethargic and non-human until you’ve had that first coffee boost.
By mindfully reducing the amount of sugar and caffeine you have daily, you will gradually give the body a chance to heal itself. Eventually, you may come to remove sugar and caffeine completely from your diet, replacing these crutches with healthier alternatives that offer positive energy to the body.
Waking up in the morning is a struggle, even after a long nights rest:
You’ve had your eight hours of sleep but still wake up feeling foggy or overly tired. This happens when our bodies are in a chronic state of stress. Cortisol levels (stress hormone) are super high keeping the body alert during the night and preventing you from getting a rested night sleep. Insufficient sleep can be a major culprit here. Our body needs sleep to heal itself, and if we deprive the body of sleep, over time it will begin go take it’s toll.
Sick all the time!
Your immune system is fighting a losing battle. You feel unwell all the time. Colds, allergies, the flu… Your body is weakened and you’re tired of feeling sick. Cortisol has amazing anti-inflammatory effects that help to regulate the immune system. When the body is inflamed, it’s a sign our body is trying to fight an infection, but it’s cortisol that prevents inflammation from going out of control.
Should cortisol be too high, the anti-inflammatory effect becomes too strong, preventing the immune system from working as it should. Conversely, if your cortisol is too low, then the immune system can over-react to pathogens. This can lead to chronic inflammation and various respiratory autoimmune diseases.
So if you’re in the early stages of adrenal fatigue, the high levels of cortisol can suppress the immune response and leave you vulnerable to infection. In the later stages, lowered cortisol can result in chronic inflammation, allergies and autoimmune diseases.
At either stage, we want to focus on resorting balance to the cortisol levels and we do this by improving our eating habits, maintaining regular exercise and getting a good nights sleep.
Overly tired during the day:
You find yourself daydreaming at work about crawling under the sheets and going to sleep. You have those deadlines to hit but you can barely keep awake, let alone focus on projects. The energy you use to have feels as though it’s permanently gone. You’re simply exhausted all the time. Coffee seems to be the only thing keeping you up.
When adrenal fatigue sufferers reach this point, it’s usually because the adrenals are now depleted, lowering cortisol levels in the body. We need cortisol to keep us alert during the day. Without it, we feel lethargic, uninspired and unmotivated to do – well – anything.
A good diet and committing to removing key sources of stress from your life is vital to boost the adrenal levels and bring balance to your hormones.
Other symptoms you could be suffering from adrenal fatigue could include:
- Weight gain
- Asthma, allergies or other respiratory problems
- Frequent urination
- Low blood pressure
- Lower back pain
- Joint pain
The recovery process:
If you suffer from one or more of these symptoms, I would recommend chatting with your doctor and/or naturopath to develop a healthy strategy to get everything back on track.
Adrenal fatigue is a really serious condition that we should all be aware of. Coming into the holiday season especially, when stress levels tend to accelerate upwards, we need to be very mindful of the pressures we’re placing upon ourselves. If you’re anything like me, a Type-A personality, then you tend to push yourself beyond the normal capable limits of any human. But this is not a good way to be and not something I encourage. Frankly, it’s exhausting. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve needed to seriously reevaluate my priorities for I’ve come to realize – if I don’t make time for my health, then I will be forced to take time for illness. Not an ideal situation to be faced with. My decision… I choose health.
Truth is, I’m not wonder woman, nor do I want to be. Yoga has been fantastic for teaching me how to make time for what is important in my life. To work on improving my balance between work, family and me time. Not only do I feel like a huge weight is off my shoulders, because hey – it’s OK not to be perfect! - but I also know I’m setting myself up for a long, happy and healthy life. If you haven’t already done so, I would recommend taking time to reflect and evaluate where the biggest stressors are. Write about them. Journal. This way you can effectively work out how to address and move past them. We only get one chance at this, so lets make it count!
So remember to look after yourselves as we head into Christmas this year! 🎄