Feeling burnt out? After the stressful year that we’ve had, it’s no surprise.
Adrenal fatigue is a very real and prevalent health issue, especially in these uncertain times. This year, I’ve seen extremely elevated levels of cortisol in my clients’ bloodwork results.
Chronic stress from added worries, long working hours, sleeplessness and performance anxiety can all place enormous pressure on us, and if not managed properly may lead to adrenal fatigue.
What is adrenal fatigue?
Your adrenal glands are small glands situated above your kidneys. They produce hormones that help regulate your metabolism, immune system, and blood pressure. They also control your stress response hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, which are released as part of your “fight or flight” response.
If you experience chronic stress over a prolonged period of time, it can place a continued strain on your adrenal glands and may lead to excessive rises and falls in cortisol levels. Your adrenals can burn out from producing too much cortisol – and ultimately adrenal dysfunction or ‘fatigue’ can follow.
With the adrenals having so much to do with healthy immune function, blood sugar balance and brain function, and with thousands of cortisol receptors in every part of the brain, it’s important to keep your adrenals in check.
3 stages of adrenal fatigue
Stage 1: ‘Wired and tired‘
During the first stage, cortisol levels are elevated – especially at night. This can lead to sleeplessness, insulin resistance and an increase in abdominal fat, often first noticed as a ‘muffin top’. “People often feel energized but in an edgy ‘wired’ way, ” says Dr Berzin.
Stage 2: ‘Stressed and tired‘
During this stage, cortisol peaks in the early hours of the morning – many people find they’re awake around 3 a.m – and struggle to fall asleep again. Cortisol levels can then also elevate again around midday or early evening when some form of stressor comes into play.
Stage 3: ‘Burnout‘
Once people have reached this stage, they feel exhausted despite how many hours of sleep they’re getting . “This stage is characterized by exhaustion regardless of hours slept, a flat cortisol curve, and in some cases low DHEA and thyroid hormone levels,” says Dr Berzin.
Adrenal fatigue is not something that happens overnight, it’s a slow process where symptoms creep in through the various stages of burnout. Sometimes these symptoms are hard to recognise, but your body will give you warning signs. Here are a few to watch out for:
- Chronic fatigue
- Insomnia or sleep issues
- Brain fog, like lack of focus or forgetfulness
- Poor health – frequent colds or other immune-related medical problems.
- Depression, feeling sad and hopeless
- Feeling anxious, worrying and on edge
- Tension and irritability leading to anger
- Resistance to socialising and detachment
- Pessimism and negative self-talk
- Lack of productivity and poor performance
- Non-specific digestive problems
- Increased weight with increased waist gain
- Libido drop
- Craving snacks – salty foods
- Lack of energy
- Food intolerances
How to recharge your adrenals
- Get your hormones checked. Have your bloodwork done to check for any hormone imbalances, once you know what you are dealing with, your healthcare practitioner can advise you on what necessary amendments to make to your health and lifestyle.
Particularly look at cortisol and thyroid function blood tests, as cortisol can affect thyroid function. Plus, as we age, our thyroid function naturally declines.
- Don’t over-exercise. Literally running yourself into the ground and constantly obsessing about burning off calories can increase your cortisol levels.
- Go to bed early. If your hormones are out of whack, good sleep hygiene is a must, as a lack of sleep is a common precursor to burnout.
- Reframe your view on the world. Focus on the positive and practice gratitude, it is known to keep stress away. Try mindfulness techniques, listen to your body, slow down if you feel stressed. During times of stress, ask yourself, “Am I in imminent danger?”
- Pause. Take breaks during your work day. Whether it’s a mindful walk, meditation or even just a simple relax with no agenda, find time to find calm.
- Seek support. Often it’s the last thing you want, especially as you distance yourself socially, but sometimes spending time with friends and family will help you get a load off, bounce concerns and offer a fresh perspective.
- Invest in your nutrition. Don’t add fuel to the fire by eating processed or refined sugars and unhealthy carbs, they will make burnout worse. Eat a whole-food nutritious diet, organic where possible, with loads of greens to make sure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to cope.
- Investigate natural supplements. Sometimes we need to support our nutrition with targeted supplements – people’s requirements may differ and its always best to work with a healthcare practitioner to identify what’s best for you. I’ve found the following to be really helpful:
Vitamin B Complex – supports a healthy nervous system.
Magnesium – for sleep and anti-stress.
CBD – promotes and lowers anxiety.
Saffron – helps with mood and calm.
Rescue remedy – helps maintain composure for every day stressful situations.
Iron – check iron levels, tiredness can also be a sign of depleted iron levels.
Tuning into the signals that your body is sending you – and addressing them as soon as you can in the best possible way – is one of the best investments that you can make in your health and longevity.