Hey guys! So, if you’ve been keeping up on the blog or following me on social, you probably know that I consider myself an ex-cortisol junkie and that I struggled deeply through adrenal dysfunction for several years before finding recovery in diet and meditation. If not, feel free to READ HERE to catch up on my journey. Today, it’s my mission and flat out passion to help other women who are stuck in the quicksand of stress, fatigue and all manner of other physical symptoms get their heads above water and get back to living a healthy and vital life. I know for a FACT that if I can do it, anyone can. As cliché as that might sound, just go ask any of my friends or family who watched the fight during my darkest days. They certainly weren’t pretty, and some would have called them downright ugly. But, in the midst of all those awful symptoms, I started slowly employing the tips I’m about to give you and began to see some major shifts in my body and mind that eventually led to my full recovery. Keep in mind that there is not one single approach to recovery that will work for everyone. Each of us is uniquely different in our body chemistry, which is a beautiful thing called bio-individuality, but that also means that what works to heal my body may not work for yours or vice versa. All this means is that getting in tune with your body’s signals will be the best tool you have for finding a long-term approach to health that works for YOU. So, with that in mind, you may not need every single one of these tips in your arsenal, but I would give them all a try and see what feels good to your body. Perhaps a mix of gentle exercise, meditation and cutting the caffeine will do it, or maybe yours is more about regulating your sleep and cutting out food sensitivities. Whenever I am working to do some healing, I try my best to look at it as fun research and take a curious approach which helps to mitigate disappointment if for some reason my body doesn’t respond the way I’d hoped it would. In other words, if you’re feeling like shit right now, stay hopeful J Ps. These are in no particular order or level of importance.
Ten Tips for Surviving Adrenal Dysfunction
1. Get a Handle on Those Emotions Girl Part of dysregulation in our stress system (aka adrenals) is about the level of emotional and mental stress that we feel in our lives. Notice I said feel, because simply put, stress is all a matter perception. Not quite convinced? One of my favorite books on the subject is called “The Myth of Stress,” by Andrew Bernstein. In it, he explains how if we become present with what is ACTUALLY happening in our lives instead of our THOUGHTS about what is happening, we can move forward to a place of calm, reality-driven action. For example, if you were to wake up in the middle of night to a tall, dark object at the end of your bed, you might panic thinking a burglar is trying to harm you. But then, upon waking up a bit more, you remember that you left your suitcase one your ottoman because you were too tired to unpack and your panic might even turn into humor and laughter. The point here is, nothing about the situation changed. In both cases, there was no actual harm present. What did change, however, were your thoughts about the situation and, upon your determining, the scenario changed from one of fear to one of humor. If we choose to utilize this reframing method when experiencing emotional or mental stressors, it will automatically down-regulate our cortisol production and put us into a para-sympathetic state – which folks, is exactly where you want to be.
2. Heal your Gut – We’ve talked about this quite a bit, but eating foods day in and day out that are irritating to your body is extremely stressful and raises cortisol levels in an attempt to soothe inflammation in the gut. The most common food intolerances include gluten, dairy, grains, corn, soy, nuts, eggs, alcohol and sugar but sometimes other things arise while doing some investigative work. I usually recommend that my clients cut them all out for a period of at least 30 days to give the body a chance to heal and then reintroduce them one at a time to see how the body handles that food. But, if you suspect a certain food group bothers you, start slow and just cut that one for now and see how you feel. Personally, I suspected gluten first and it was another few months before I even attempted to look at how my body processed those other items. The idea is to get rid of stress, not add more, so take the time that feels right for you.
3. Eat your fats Far too often, I see clients (*women) who have been on a reduced or low-fat diet for years and years. Sadly, post-World War II dietary advice falsely demonized fats in every form and admonished people to eat highly unstable, processed and industrialized seed oils in place of healthy animal fats. This left our bodies starving for the very nutrients that make up our cell membranes and compromised at least 10 vital processes in our body from hormonal synthesis to the inflammation response. Fats are necessary to stabilize our blood sugar and to keep us satiated after meals, which can both be a problem during adrenal fatigue. I remember days where it felt like there was a bottomless pit in my stomach gnawing and growling until I fed it once again. When I began to add more healthy fats into my diet, I found that my in-between meal time increased, my nervous system felt soothed and I felt able to keep up with the energy demands of constantly high cortisol and stress.
4. Get horizontal No, not like you dirty girl, although that doesn’t hurt either if you have the energy or desire for it. What I really meant though was to work on those sleep cycles and allow for plenty of rest as your body needs it. Even the simple act of lying down for 10-15 minutes can be extremely valuable when your body is craving some rest. If you can, try to head to bed before or around 10 pm. Your level of cortisol begins to rise after midnight, which means that your best sleep is done in the hours prior. If you have a difficult time falling or staying asleep, which is often the case, try eating a small snack before bed, like a bit of coconut oil or some nuts, to keep blood sugar levels steady and melatonin levels nice and high. The hours of 7-9 AM seem to be extra restful for those experiencing adrenal fatigue, so if sleeping in is a possibility, by all means do. No one was ever called a hero for skimping on sleep, although you’d think that was a pre-requisite for the job with how much we glorify it.
5. Chill Out At the gym that is. If you’re currently facing adrenal dysregulation, there is a good chance that when it comes to your workout, While I totally understand how addicting a good, hard workout can be, if you are trying to reduce stress in your body, competitively CrossFitting 6x a week isn’t going to be the kind of thing that allows your system any time repair. Put this kind of physical stress on top of a sympathetic state of being, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster. You may see things like major fatigue and other nasty symptoms of overtraining such as frequent illness, slow healing times and slow recovery start to pop up. If you’re noticing that, despite putting in extra effort, you’re not getting stronger/faster/ thinner etc. it may be time to take a look at your training and reduce your load. Keep in mind, (as you start to panic about time off) that, technically, progress and growth only occurs during rest as the body puts itself back together.
6. Get those Nutrients! If I could recommend one supplement to every person on the entire planet, it would be Desiccated Liver from Grass-Fed Cows. Obviously, the real food form is even more superior, but if you’re like me and gag at the very smell, let alone the taste of organ meats, desiccated pills are the next best thing. Liver is the world’s most perfect food in my opinion with perfect combinations of vitamins and minerals. Liver is extremely high in B vitamins, which are calming to the nervous system, as well as vitamins A, D, E and K, Fatty Acids, copper (necessary to adrenal function), zinc, and usable iron. I remember when I was still in the middle stages of my healing feeling like something was still a bit off. I had heard about the benefits of iron being supportive during stressful times and decided to give it a whirl. Almost instantly, I noticed my energy levels were higher, my brain fog felt lifted and my mood was happier and lighter. I still to this day continue to supplement with liver and use it as my whole-foods version of a multi-vitamin. So, in other words, go eat your liver!
7. Give yourself permission to heal Now, please don’t take offense to this. One of the hardest conversations I have with clients begins right here, but it is also the part that finally springs them into healing if they haven’t been seeing success. So listen closely – if you are struggling chronically with a condition, it might be because you aren’t ready to move on. Somewhere in the back of your subconscious mind, this illness/ disease/ condition/symptom is benefiting you in one way or another. I realize that if you’re sick, and have been for a while, this might sound like crazy talk, but stop for a moment and just be open to the possibility. What is it about letting go of your symptoms that is scary? Perhaps they’ve been there so long, you aren’t quite sure what life will look like without them? Or maybe you are the kind of person who has a difficult time saying no and it allows you to finally take some time for yourself? There are a thousand different faces this could take, but I encourage you do sit with the idea for a little bit and see what comes up. And the best part? You probably don’t even have to do much. Often times, recognition is enough to move us forward.
8. Get Rid of the Vices A lot of times, if you ask someone is they experience fatigue or energy dips, that person will say no way. Take a look at their diet, and they are simultaneously hopped up on sugar and caffeine all day. Ask them about their sleep, and they will say they fall to sleep easily. Again, scroll through their food journal, and they have 2-3 drinks every night before passing out after a long day. While it may not seem to be a problem on the outside, if we get rid of all the substances keeping us awake and forcing us to sleep, we finally see how dysregulated we have become. Ask yourself if you can function without that coffee in the morning? Can you resist those sugar cravings in the afternoon? Will you be wide awake without that second glass of wine to calm you down? If so, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but the system is broken and in need of repair. While these mind-altering foods can be pleasurable additions infrequently, if you can’t exist comfortably without them, you would do well to cut them out and let your system reboot. How will you ever know what level your body is functioning at if you are constantly blanketing it with cover-up solutions and soldiering on?
9. Have Some Fun! I know that this can be much harder than it sounds. You might even be thinking, “I would love to have some fun Sy, but I have xyz to finish and the house needs cleaning and I have to get ready to my work trip and the kids need to finish their homework and on and on and on.” Don’t worry, I get it. Life is busy, and you are probably a go-getter on top of that. I know you are hard on yourself and you expect the best out your life. And I am not here to tell you that you are bad for wanting an excellent, extraordinary life. What I am here to tell you, is that part of living a wonderful life includes enjoying it. So many times we get busy but forget why we are doing it and begin to look at life as mundane, hard and exhausting. I personally find that a meditation practice is what allows me to practice being present, so that when my family is on vacation camping and having some drinks around the fire at night, I am right there with them instead of thinking about the emails that are piling up as I’m away or the presentation I have next month that I’m nervous about. Start small and do something everyday that you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be something crazy. Do you love writing? Reading? Cooking? Running? Dancing? Yoga? Sports? Being outdoors? Playing with your dog? What is the thing that when you do it, you feel like a kid again? Do that thing for 5 minutes today and see how the rest of your day unfolds. Science says those endorphins will be extremely healing.
10. Boost your Immune System Last but not least, make sure you are providing your immune system with plenty of energy stores. Immunity and your adrenal glands take a big hit when under chronic stress. Vitamin C is stored in the adrenal glands, but if they are constantly working to pump out stress hormones, these stores can become depleted making it harder for your body to fight infection and free radicals. By taking Vitamin C 2-3 x a day, morning-noon-night, you supply your body with the necessary ingredients to maintain a healthy repair system in the body.