Does this sound familiar: you’re not feeling yourself and you can’t put your finger on quite what the issue is.
Wired, but tired? Exhausted even after a night’s sleep? Craving sugar? Craving salt? Irritated and overwhelmed at the same time? Foggy brain? Unusually achy in your joints? Muscle weakness? Reliance on stimulants like caffeine to get going or keep going?
Does not sound like fun – but these are certainly common concerns that my clients bring into my office regularly. And often after they had little success in getting their needs met – or even listened to – by the conventional medical community.
All of these symptoms plus a few more can be related to the constant stress we are exposed to in our modern lives. There is no doubt now, and plenty of research to back it up, that stress can have a huge impact on our health and wellness. And, since your adrenal glands produce and regulate your stress management hormones, adrenal fatigue (or “HPA Axis Dysregulation,”) is a real and growing concern – even if it’s not always recognized by the conventional medical community.
What are your adrenals and why do you need them?
Your adrenal glands are the shape and size of walnuts. They live on top of both of your kidneys. These important glands produce many hormones, including adrenalin, cortisol and epinephrine among others. They are small but mighty and alongside your thyroid, pancreas, reproductive organs and other members of your endocrine team, they send important messages to all cells of your body.
But what happens when they become “overworked?”
You’ve heard of “adrenaline junkies,” right?
Adrenaline and cortisol are the stress hormones that give you the commonly known adrenaline rush; when you’re totally alert and living in the moment. This feeling is known as your body’s “fight or flight” response.
Some people (perhaps you?) just love that intense feeling.
The release of hormones in the fight or flight response is your body’s normal reaction to stress. Don’t get me wrong, this kind of stress reaction can sometimes be very helpful, like when it helps you swerve and prevent a crash while driving. Or even stand in front of a crowd and make an impassioned speech.
After a short time, the fight or flight response dissipates, your hormonal surge calms down, your body goes back to normal, and all is good.
But what would happen if you felt constant, unwavering stress? Like chronic stress – from issues large or more likely small, that stimulated the drip, drip, drip of your stress hormones all day every day?
I bet you already know the answer to that. It wouldn’t feel like an awesome, once-in-a-while “rush,” to get you through something challenging. Instead your poor adrenals will get worn down and fatigued. And suddenly, mysterious, lingering symptoms appear.
Do I have adrenal fatigue?
Symptoms like fatigue, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, weight loss or gain, joint pain, sugar cravings, even frequent infections like colds and the flu are signs that your adrenals are overworked.
First off, let’s be clear: there aren’t medically accepted blood tests for adrenal fatigue. In fact, it’s not recognized by most medical professionals until the point when your adrenals are so fatigued they almost stop working completely. At that point, the official diagnoses of “Adrenal Insufficiency” or “Addison’s Disease” may apply.
However, if you do have mystery symptoms, see your doctor to rule out other conditions. She or he may even be open to discussing adrenal fatigue. Or maybe – if they are progressive – recommend you see another health practitioner for some holistic wellness strategies that can help to reduce the root cause of the stress and provide some relief for the symptoms until you get there.
What to do if I have these symptoms?
There are many actions you can take to reduce your stress and improve your health and energy levels.
If you think stress is starting to burn you out, overwhelm you or impact your well-being – finding strategies that will mitigate or alleviate stress is key.
Baby steps are best. Deep breathing is a definite start. Dr. Andrew Weil has a technique that you can do anywhere, anytime that is a proven method to slow down the release of cortisol and give your adrenals a break. It’s called the 4-8-7 method and you can watch this short video to learn more about it.
Of course, I also recommend reducing sugar and processed food intake and eating more vegetables and fruits. There are many specific foods to incorporate that are nutrient rich and target the adrenal glands specifically. Foods high in Vitamin C like strawberries, kiwis, red peppers, papaya, cantaloupe, broccoli and of course, citrus fruits are especially nourishing. As are those high in magnesium, known as a calming nutrient. Raw pumpkin seeds, spinach, swiss chard and black beans are good sources, as is raw cacao. Yum! You can also increase your magnesium levels by taking a bath with epsom salts. Adding some additional stress-reducing essential oils – lavender, clary sage or lemon balm for example – is another proven methodology.
The most important thing you can do first is to get tested to rule out other potential conditions. And then take steps to make some changes and/or get some support from a reputable wellness practitioner.
Healthfully yours –
Recipe (Stress-reducing bath salt): Lavender Bath Salts
- 2 cups epsom salts
- 10 drops lavender essential oil
As you’re running your warm bath water, add ingredients to the tub. Mix until dissolved
Enjoy your stress-reducing bath!
Tip: You can add a tablespoon of dried lavender flowers.