Exhausted, irritable, overwhelmed with life?
These can all be signs of becoming burnt out or also under chronic adrenal stress. The common naturopathic term for this is ‘Adrenal Fatigue’, but we have a new fancy name called Hypothalamus- Pituitary- Adrenal Axis Dysregulation aka HPA Aix Dysregulation. Hmmm sexy isn’t it..
Essentially what we are saying is the communication between the brain (specifically the two areas- hypothalamus and pituitary) and the communication with the adrenals is not working well, causing high or low, or unbalanced levels of cortisol being produced by the adrenals. The reason for the name change is essentially the adrenals have not stopped working, as in they are fatigued, they have just changed their pattern of cortisol output. Cortisol should generally be highest in the morning (around 6am) and lowest at night (10pm). When someone is under chronic stress, the message sent to the adrenals can cause constant high output, an abnormal pattern of low in the morning and high at night or just a constant low output. Because other hormones are also secreted by the hypothalamus and the pituitary other organs can also be affected including our thyroid, ovaries or testes, insulin release and hence blood sugar dysregulation and digestive function.
It can look and feel like:
Tired but wired
Moody swings- angry sad, teary
Foggy brain, poor concentration and memory
Changes to menstrual cycle in women (see my post on how it affects womens and mens fertility
Erectile dysfunction in men
Cravings for high energy foods such as sugary foods, caffeine, chocolate, fatty foods or alcohol
The people most at risk of adrenal fatigue or HPA-axis dysregulation are:
- Business owners: inability to switch off from work
- Mother, particularly ones with more than one child: inability to switch off ever, waking through the night
- Shift works. Working through the night disturbs normal circadian rhythmns and cortisol output.
- People in health care or caring roles/ professions
- Everyone?? I kind of feel anyone is at risk these day. The need to be “on” all the time is crazy. We never unplug from technology, emails, socials medias. There seems to be a climate of do more, have more around.
It is important to remember that if you are experiencing the above symptoms your body is not failing you… It is trying to send you are a message. And that is STOP!
Our body and mind always wants to keep us safe, so when it is constantly perceiving a threat, it will try to stop you in your tracks and make you stay at home- which feels like fatigue, low mood, low libido etc. Once you have realised your symptoms are a cry for help, you then need to make some changes to help support your body and build it back up again.
Some steps you can take are
- Learn to say no. This is an important one. You don’t need to be doing everything and be everywhere. Be realistic about what you can actually do in a day and stick to it. When those jobs are done, that is it. Be happy with what you accomplished and then enjoy the rest of your day.
- Be prepared. Help yourself when you are feeling fatigued or your brain isn’t functioning so you are not going into stress mode. If you are always running late, leave 5mins earlier so you aren’t needing to rush. Make your appointments later in the day if you find it hard to get going in the morning. Prepare your lunch the day before so you have some nourishing food to eat.
- Set a routine. As part of the above, create some routine to your day. Our HPA-Axis loves routine, as it knows what is coming every day and doesn’t need to stress about what may happen. Set the same wake and bed time, similar meal times. Treat your body like you would a little child for now.
- Make sure you are feeding your body correctly. Fill your plate up with lots of colourful veggies, 1 palm sized portion of protein such as chicken, beans, fish, red meat, tofu. Plus a fist sized portion of complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, sweet potato, quinoa and some good fast such as olive oil, nuts or avo. This will help keep your blood sugars steady and prevent a rise in cortisol when they drop from not eating regularly or living off caffeine and sugar.
- Exercise, but the right kind. If doing high intensity exercise and you are left feeling depleted and exhausted, it may not be the right thing for you right now. HIIT increases adrenalin and cortisol which when you have minimal reserves, may push you over the brink. Lighter exercise may be better for you right now such as yoga, pilates, walking. If you love running or intense exercise, then make sure to balance it out with meditation and stretching every day to calm the nervous system, so you’re not staying up in that high adrenalin state.
- QUIT COFFEE. I can here you swearing at me through your screen! Sorry, but if you are suffering from chronic stress the caffeine needs to go. I know it seems counter intuitive when you are feeling flat and tired, but the caffeine is just draining you further. This is particularly important if you are suffering anxiety and/ or insomnia. Yes, it will be hard. I know I have been there. The first few days I quit coffee I had horrendous headaches, but now 2 weeks into quitting I feel so much happier, have sustained energy through the day and no more anxious thoughts.
- Don’t forget to breathe. When we are in constant stress we breathe into the upper lungs. By taking deep breathes into your belly and long exhales out, this encourage the rest-and-digest or parasympathetic nervous system to switch on, calming us down. Aim for 5-10, two times per day.
- Check your social media usage. Constantly scrolling through other people’s lives is not a good way to get your stress under control. People are only putting the best of their lives for show, and this can make you feel discontent about your own life. Never use your phone, emails or social media within an hour of waking and sleeping. Spend that time for yourself or with family.
- Schedule in time doing something you love every day. You want to bring the energy back to yourself, and this requires self-care. It may be exercise, a 10min nap, having lunch outside in the sunshine. What ever fills your cup up.
- And if you think you have no time, I suggest you download an app called Moments that tracks your phone and app usage. I think you will be unpleasantly surprised how much time you are spending on devices. And if you still have no time, you need to get some support. Particularly Mums out there. Speak to your husband/ partner about what roles they can help more with. Talk to friends or family members about how they could help. Maybe you could do day swaps with a friend where you have their kids one day and then next they have yours so you each get some free time. Humans are social creatures, and we weren’t meant to do everything alone.
- Get some beautiful medicinal herbs. As a naturopath I use adaptogenic herbs a lot in practice for chronic stressed and depleted patients. Adaptogens essentially help you adapt to life, and increase your resilience when stressed. Certain herbs will also help lower cortisol when too high, while others will increase cortisol when too low. My favourites are withania, rhodiola, rehmannia, licorice and holy basil
- Supportive nutrients for stress are magnesium to calm the nervous system, B vitamins for energy and mood support and vitamin C to nourish the adrenal glands.
We are never going to live a perfect life stress free. Well maybe there are the zen walking among us (teach me your ways!). It’s about building resilience in your body so you can adapt and deal with stress when it comes. By following the above techniques, you are building resilience, teaching yourself to not sweat the small stuff and supporting your body through diet, lifestyle choice and supplementation so you can handle life.
If you feel you need some help getting a handle on your symptoms or would love to see how herbal and nutritional medicine can help you, you can contact me to make an appointment by emailing email@example.com or book online here
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