Navigating a maze of big changes in my life in the last 6 months – moving house, new professional challenges and working past bumps in my relationship – I’ve become attune to my body’s dwindling energy store. It’s the day-to-day kind. The one that helps you think clearly. The one you rely on to jump out of bed in the morning.
The reality is, daily life exposes us to many stress-inducing situations. These take the form of chronic illness, long-term stress from jobs, a major life event, an unhealthy relationship, or even food intolerances. When emotional, dietary or physical stress becomes prolonged, it can lead to adrenal fatigue.
So, what exactly is it?
Stress is believed to be the root cause of many hormonal imbalances, however adrenal fatigue remains a largely under-diagnosed and little-understood condition. It occurs when the body’s chronic stress response either never leaves or doesn’t work at all. At the crux of this response are the adrenal glands, two powerhouse organs that sit atop your kidneys. They are small but play a vital role in your wellness, regulating many critical hormonal jobs in your body.
One main role of the adrenal glands is the secretion of your body’s main stress hormone, cortisol, which controls our sleep/wake cycle, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Overtaxed or depleted adrenals (think, a tired energiser bunny), caused by constant stress, lead them to weaken and therefore unable to produce normal hormone levels. Many people experience a disrupted cortisol cycle that leads to low morning levels and spikes in the evening. In other words, being unable to help us when we most need them!
Got it. What can I do?
Step one: get tested for adrenal fatigue. I recommend a simple salivary cortisol test to understand where your levels sit. Step two: With effective questioning, nutrients, herbs, and lifestyle advice, hormones can easily return to balance. These 4 simple improvements have helped me manage my own stress, as well as many of my clients:
1. Identify and de-clutter – what exactly is causing your stress? Pinpoint the reasons you are feeling anxious or sick. Create a list under 4 categories – emotional, physical, dietary and environmental – and try to identify your major stress points. Maybe it’s financial strain, or over-exercise, or over-exposure to a toxin, or a combination. Once you identify these, you can work on ways with the help from family and professionals to overcome them.
2. Have a little empathy – even small changes will have a big impact. Although I know it’s not best to add an extra stimulant such as coffee to my already strained body, I’m conscious that it comes back into my life sometimes. Be kind to yourself, but also know that non-caffeinated alternatives are always a better option. I’ll enjoy a chai or herbal tea every second day. Or improve my coffee, by making it Bulletproof and organic (due to it being a heavy pesticide crop).
3. Move, but go slow – an already stressed body doesn’t need the added burden of an intense 7-day a week exercise regime. Nor does it help to be completely inactive. Reserve a few days a week for low-intensity activity, including beach or bush walks, yoga, or simply getting outside and gardening, or playing with some of those bouncing, high-energy balls (kids) in your life.
4. Get acquainted with herbs – a great therapeutic option to support adrenal function are ‘adatogens’ given by naturopaths. Licorice root, Siberian ginseng, Chamomile and Ashwagandha all naturally stimulate the adrenals and help with balancing cortisol levels. Sometimes, gentle healing can come from nature’s best medicine.