When you hear someone talking about burnout, they are usually referring to adrenal fatigue. Whilst naturopaths, functional medicine practitioners and chiropractors work with the ideology of adrenal fatigue or dysregulation, it is not currently a medically recognised condition.
Yet when you read the work of Dr Mark Hyman, or Dr Sara Gottfried the case for stress resilience and adrenal wellness as a foundation for good health, is pretty compelling.
Most people I know, especially women, respond to the emotional stress of financial worries, traffic congestion or the state of their relationships, as they would to an immediate physical stressor. You see, our autonomic nervous system isn’t able to distinguish between real or perceived stress. And when these stressors are incessant, or when you perceive life as incessantly stressful, you move from healthy stress response to toxic, stress-related harm in your body.
And the reality is that most of us are under a lot of stress, most of the time. Balancing work, family and friends, money pressures, internal pressures e.g. look amazing, eat the right foods, go to the gym, nail it at work, be the perfect mum and wife. The list is endless.
What is the function of the adrenal glands?
The adrenal glands are located at the top of each kidney, like a hat. They produce hormones that help the body to control blood sugar, burn protein and fat, regulate blood pressure and release specific hormones – adrenaline and cortisol – in reaction to stressors. Cortisol has a bad reputation in the world of stress however we need this hormone to survive.
Cortisol governs your hunger cravings, your digestion, blood pressure, sleep/wake patterns, physical activity, and capacity to cope with stress. Cortisol’s main job is to increase your glucose and store the excess in the liver. It keeps us alive by raising blood sugar, increasing blood pressure and modulating inflammation.
Problems arise, because for many of us, the body’s stress response never turns off.
When there is too much or unrelenting stress, the adrenals become overworked. They pump out too much blood sugar and insulin, which can make you insulin resistant and gain weight – especially around the middle. You might also notice cravings for fat, sugar, and salt, the fuel that the adrenal system needs to make the reaction work each time. Imagine this on a continuous loop. Eventually, the adrenals go into overdrive or fatigue.
Here are some common signs of either adrenal overdrive or adrenal fatigue:
You have trouble falling asleep even when you’re tired (“tired and wired”) and even when you do sleep, you’re not rested when you wake.
You get irritable or angry really quickly or more often than you want to, or you feel anxious or low in mood.
You crave sugar/carbs, fat, salt and your digestive system is off.
You have afternoon slump around 3-4pm, and you crave something sweet or some caffeine or both.
You’ve been gaining weight, perhaps noticing a spare tire growing around your middle but eating and exercising the same.
You’re getting sick more often than you used to.
Your hormones are all over the place, you’re having fertility problems, and you have low libido.
Your memory and focus are not what you think they should be.
Some suggestions for what you can do to help your adrenals
If you suspect that you have adrenal fatigue, it is recommended that you seek help from a doctor or other medical profession. Below I have suggested some natural methods that you can use to manage your symptoms.
Make relaxation a way of life.
The best treatment for stress is simply to practice daily relaxation. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, walking in nature, massage and activities that bring you into the parasympathetic system signal to your adrenals allowing your system to recalibrate to a lower stress state, including pumping out fewer stress hormones.
Get more sleep
While you might be feeling wired – especially if you are in adrenal overdrive – or if adrenal fatigue led you to an afternoon coffee, your body needs a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night to restore your body. See FREE download 8 ways to improve sleep for help with this.
Remove caffeine from your diet
Consuming caffeine in the morning when you have no energy and drinking wine in the evening to get you to sleep is the common behaviour of many. However, caffeine triggers some of the same adrenal chemicals that get fired up when we’re under stress – leading to increased cortisol production and adrenal overdrive. Often, my clients feel anxious about removing caffeine from their diet, especially given the withdrawal headaches. My advice is to start at the weekend and cut back slowly. Drink a lot of water. When the withdrawal is complete, you will have the benefit of better sleep (all night) and lots of natural energy.
Balance your blood sugar
When your blood sugar drops, it sends signals to your brain that you are starving – and this is perceived as danger by your adrenal system. Keeping your blood sugar steady lets your adrenals know you are not in survival mode and that they do not have to go into action. Allowing your blood sugar to dip by skipping meals, living on coffee, and then spiking it up with sugary foods when you’re famished taxes your adrenals. The most important step to blood sugar balance is starting your day – every day – with a high protein breakfast, and then eating a diet high in protein, good quality fats, and vegetables regularly throughout the day.
Exercise – but not too much!
Exercise is so healthy for the body and the spirit – but many women, particularly runners and spinners, are getting too much. Over-exercising actually contributes to adrenal fatigue, which is why many runners find that they get sick easily and why many over-exercisers have trouble losing weight. The message is to exercise often, and cutting back on really demanding exercise in order to restore your energy.
It is advised to seek guidance from a practitioner for exactly which herbs will specifically support you with regard to your adrenal health. Adaptogens are a category of herbs that support the adrenals.
You may have heard of Ashwagandha – calming and helpful for muscular aches and promoting sleep.
Rhodiola – helpful with anxiety and in reduction of cortisol in the body
Holy Basil – useful for boosting the immune system
Want more? You can contact me for some 1-1 person-centred coaching. Book a free clarity call to see how best I can help ❤️