The past year has been stressful in ways no one could have predicted. Life has been turned upside down, and as a result many people have felt overwhelmed and exhausted. Even those who are normally buoyant, enthusiastic, and positive have described this period as difficult and draining, like air slowly leaking out of a balloon.
So how have you been feeling? Are you a bit teary, stressed and run down, experiencing brain fog, and low energy? Are you wired at bedtime but exhausted in the morning, tired but can’t seem to sleep? Do you experience anxiety, have panic attacks and palpitations? Maybe you feel flat and sluggish and lack enthusiasm at times. Or you feel unwell when normally you feel healthy. Perhaps you just don’t feel great.
After months of trying to keep your head above water financially and emotionally, maybe supporting other family members in distress, homeschooling, trying to remain positive and upbeat and making the best of this difficult situation, you are just very weary. You may have adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue occurs because of prolonged stress over a long period of time. When stress is ongoing, your body gets stuck in high alert mode and stress hormones are being constantly pumped out by your adrenal glands. The adrenals start to struggle to keep up with constantly releasing hormones and adrenal fatigue sets in.
Many different types of stress can trigger adrenal fatigue. These include:
• Mental/Emotional: this includes work and family pressures; financial or relationship problems; unresolved trauma/abuse; feeling unworthy; low self-esteem; and pushing yourself constantly.
• Physical: such as chronic or acute illness; allergies and food sensitivities; poor sleep; injury; or pain and exhaustion from sport, over-training or over exercising.
• Toxic chemical overload: including exposure to xenoestrogens, antibiotics, prescription drugs, radiation; or living near or working in toxic locations.
• Dietary: a poor diet, including too much caffeine, carbs and high-sugar foods can stimulate repeated cortisol release, setting up the adrenal fatigue pattern. Chronic gut issues like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, IBS, ‘leaky gut’ and unaddressed food sensitivities can also cause adrenal fatigue.
Months of stress and anxiety arising from uncertainty, worry and lockdowns have created a subcategory that combines many of the stress triggers listed above, and for some, a type exhaustion that feels hard to shift.
What can I do?
Here are some suggestions:
• Improve your diet and nutrition include good proteins, healthy carbs and fats, and fibre, to improve energy, and support gut health and your immune system.
• Do a health detox and reboot your body by eliminating or reducing possible problem foods such as gluten and dairy, and processed sugary and salty foods, caffeine and alcohol.
• Adopt healthy sleep habits, as quality sleep and rest is key to recovery.
• Try some moderate and gentle exercise such as walking, moderate weight training, slower bike rides, dancing, swimming, yoga and tai chi.
• Don’t engage in intense exercise every day as intense exercise (marathons, HIIT) increases cortisol levels.
• Enjoy relaxing activities such as watching films, reading for pleasure, listening to music, and using mediation apps with relaxing soundscapes. Book a massage or acupuncture session. Don’t feel guilty about relaxing.
• Meditation & Breathing – try some Apps: e.g., Headspace; Calm; Smiling Mind; Relax Melodies etc. on iPhone or iPad). Belly breathing switches on the parasympathetic nervous system (calming). Place hands palm down on the lower belly, breathe in and out through the nose if possible. Breathe in for 7 seconds, hold for 2-4, breathe out for 5.
• Enjoy a relaxing aromatherapy bath – add some candles and close your eyes.
• Ensure adequate intake of vital nutrients via diet or supplements such as Vitamin C, an important building block in recovery from adrenal fatigue; B vitamins which are vital for the nervous system but rapidly depleted when you’re stressed; and Magnesium: a calming mineral to help relax both your nervous system and muscles. Other important nutrients include Vitamins E & D, Omega-3 fatty acids, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, and Co Q10
• Include some adrenally restorative herbs such as Licorice, Rehmannia, Withania, Siberian ginseng, Skullcap, Passionflower, Melissa, Bacopa, St John’s Wort, Panax ginseng, Oats and Rhodiola.
• See a mental health professional if serious concerns arise.
• Make an appointment with a naturopath or nutritionist to discuss any of the above information plus any other health concerns.
Pamela Nelson is a Naturopath and Clinical Nutritionist at Health Space Clinic Lane Cove