Updated: Jul 5, 2020
Late in 2018, I was told I had adrenal fatigue. I was having some major issues in my daily life during this time. I was working 4 10-hour days, waking up at 4:00am to be at work by 6:00am. Often times, I was falling asleep on my 20-minute drive to work and even dozing off while driving home at 4:30 in the afternoon. During my workday, was drained, having “brain fog” by 2:00pm every day.
At home, I would fall asleep by 6:00 at night, passing out on the couch; sometimes without eating dinner. My libido tanked also. I was not interested in being close with my husband. It was worrisome. My mind was also dim. I felt depressed all the time. However, my body and face did not show anxiety or a sense of being overwhelmed. I did not feel nervous or jittery. Just sluggish.
I had been to several doctors and met the medical specialists for possible answers. I was also having trouble but problems and had to undergo a colonoscopy, endoscopy, and a biopsy. I was given many prescriptions without answers and the mess did nothing for me. After spending nearly $4000 out of pocket, I decided to see a holistic doctor, not connected to modern western medicine. He is chiropractor, nutritionist, and acupuncturist focusing in preventative health. A quick blood draw and adrenal saliva test and I was given answers… finally.
After talking with my doctor about my energy level and this “new-to-me” diagnosis, I knew I needed to make some changes. There were several options out there for me. Ultimately, I needed to get serious about several of the things I was already passionate about; kickboxing, eating healthy, family time, meditation, and yoga. What I needed was self-care.
Adrenal fatigue, burn-out, chronic stress, whatever you wanted to call it was impacting my whole life. It was time to make a commitment to myself, for myself, my family, and my for sanity. Adrenal fatigue is a condition that can affect numerous areas of your life. Below we will review several of these domains and how you can improve your overall functioning, simply.
THE EFFECTS OF ADRENAL FATIGUE
You may be asking what is happening in your mind and body when you have adrenal fatigue. Or…what is adrenal fatigue. It is a condition from which your mind and body are in a constant state of “fight or flight” …or freeze. Your adrenaline levels become thrown off balance because the adrenal glands are not being told by our mind how to appropriately react. The mind and body are in a continual loop of stress, even when there is nothing to be stressed about. Your body becomes so comfortable with the stress and the response that it thinks this is the new normal for your system. You live in a heightened state of stress, worry, fear, tension every day. What people do not understand though, is this is not the jittery type of stress and anxiety we typically think of. No, this is stress has been going on for so long that the body, for lack of a better word, relaxes into the stress and is seen by the outside world as balanced. When I was fully impacted by this, I did not exhibit a fast-pace tone of voice, bounce around anxious, fidget, have high blood pressure or heart rate. In fact, my blood pressure and heart rate were on the lower side. I thought I was in complete control and calm.
When our body or mind sense stress, a threat, or danger the mind is triggered to go into one of three defense mechanisms: fight, run, or freeze. It is normal for your body to take on one of these three tactics and your mind will attempt to quickly choose which one will give you the best chance of survival. When you have chronic stress around you, your mind can no longer detect danger effectively because you are already in one of the three defense mechanisms. Your body and mind become worn out and drug down by the sense of “needing” to be in a fight, flight, or freeze mode. Psychologically and physiologically you begin to see small warning signs that the body is crumbling.
If you have noticed yourself having several of the follow issues, it may be time to talk with your doctor.
The body is not able to breakdown the nutrients in the foods you eat. This leaves you feeling bloated, gassy, and may even have diarrhea (Goldman, 2020). Often seen as irritable bowel syndrome, adrenal fatigue could be the root cause for your tummy to be upset.
To piggy-back off the first area of impact, the stress hormone, cortisol, effects your blood sugar. Most commonly, the increase in cortisol will trigger cravings for unhealthy foods such as sugar, carbohydrates, and most commonly salt. This increased spike in your blood sugar is ultimately stored in the belly as fat (Goldman, 2020).
Less sensitive hypothalamus
Perhaps the first sign of adrenal fatigue is our energy level become fractured. Sleeping or feeling tired when you need to be awake; awake and having a racing mind when you should be sleeping. Your energy levels become thrown off (Goldman, 2020). The hypothalamus is a small part of the brain that help regulate our hormonal system. It tells the pituitary gland what hormones to release and where they need to go. This is where the fight, flight, or freeze defense mechanism is triggered from. It also sends the signal to release cortisol in the body. As mentioned above, the mind has a difficult time determining when our body is no longer in homeostasis and is imbalanced.
Menstrual irregularity and decreased libido
Women may exhibit an irregular cycle with their periods. Remember your body is constantly trying to survive something and can trick the reproductive glands. It is telling your body that survival is more important than procreation (Goldman, 2020). The glands will then attempt to work around this survival and your cycle can become disruptive. With the hypothalamus being less sensitive and not reacting as quickly or effectively as needed, it does not send the signal to the pituitary gland to increase our sexual desire or pleasure response. Only in action movies does a dangerous situation become the best time for sex. Your mind is trying to protect you and consensual sex is most often not, the correct answer for survival.
Headaches, irritability, and other cognitive issues
The mind is working in overdrive and putting in long hours when in a state of continual stress. You may feel the brain fog throughout the day or suffer from headaches regularly. When we are tired, we know our minds cannot seem to function and we may become cranky or irritable.
Immune system repair
We have already discussed how our body is unable to properly break down our foods and feed us with the nutrients we need to carry on. The link is easy to make that our body would then not have the right stuff to keep our immune system in tip-top shape. In addition, with our impacted food cravings, lack of energy for exercise, and confused hormone central station, the immune system will eventually take a hit. And repairing it will be harder than it was to lose it.
THINGS TO AID IN ADRENAL FATIGUE
If you feel you may have adrenal fatigue, your doctor can run a simple test to determine if you are suffering from it or not. Below is a list of some ideas on how you can improve your situation. However, the first step is to acknowledge and accept the problem. The second, to become committed to act.
Passive, prop-supported restorative or yin yoga
The slow flows of restorative and yin yoga allows the mind and body both to relax and release tension and stress. It aids in cycling out the excess hormones and shifts the mind from the “fight, flight, freeze” mode to a “rest and digest” mode (Schlegel, 2014). Other yoga flows can help but a great starting point is the calmer more relaxing flows offered in restorative and yin classes. Higher impact classes such as power or hot yoga, do offer a benefit in the realm of exercise and releasing negative energy, however, the fast-pace and sometimes strenuous poses will only leave your body feeling even more tired later in the day.
Because the mind is where adrenal fatigue is triggered, softening the mind and allowing it to actively rest can prove beneficial. Small intervals of meditation, as little as 1 minute, can allow your hypothalamus to reset and ease tension throughout the body. There is no need to jump directly into a 30-minute meditation session, chanting and lighting incenses. Start small and work your way up…and chanting and incenses are not required.
The act of controlling the breath and intaking more oxygen for your mind and body, aids in release stress and toxins from our bodies. There are several amazingly effective breathing techniques available. Some of my personal favorites are Dirga Pranayama (3-part breathing), 4-7-8, and the 7-4-8-4.
If you are working with a holistic, naturalistic doctor like mine, they can suggest a variety of herbal supplements. Some supplements can be used to help your adrenal glands produce adrenaline during appropriate times, as a manual way to reset your system to a more balanced status. Sometimes, adding in the appropriate vitamins and/or minerals can help boost your system back to normal. Talk to your doctor for more details.
Being mindful of the emotional energy around you
Take a look at what you surround yourself with. What are you listening to? What are your reading or watching? Do you find you are attached to your social media feeds, the angry/negative news, depressing music or podcasts? Are you hanging around people that are constantly complaining and never happy? Take a close inventory of the energy you blanket yourself in. A shift in the environment you interact in can ease the need for your body and mind to “survive”.
Supplements can only go so far. Taking accountability for what you feed yourself and making adjustments not only removes the negative things our body does not need but gives us the healthy things to strengthen our mind and body. Increasing the vegetables and fruits you consume is an easy way to build up a healthy immune system, provide our mind with smart food, and aid in an overall happy well-being.
Humans are social creatures by nature. Getting out and being around good friends and family (see above) creates a hormonal release of oxytocin sending a feeling of pleasure and happiness. Oxytocin also generates a feeling of rest a