Adrenal fatigue or burnout is a condition that is not always recognized by western medical doctors. I see it on a daily basis, particularly amongst women and I’m hoping that this article can provide you with the insight to identify where you are with regards to your energy and make the necessary changes to prevent or reverse the fatigue.
What causes burnout?
Stress has always been around. The caveman experienced the stress response also known as the ‘fright or flight’ response when he was being chased by a lion. This occurred once in a while and during the episodes, he returned to enjoying his life in nature with his family.
Today, our stress stems from getting a work promotion, buying a bigger house, traffic, dealing with the kids’ homework, meeting the perfect partner and a whole lot of other stressors that don’t have anything to do with living or dying. Our bodies go through the same ‘fright/flight’ stress response several times a day.
In small amounts, stress is a good thing as it protects us from danger. The adrenal gland is a small gland that is situated on top of the kidney and is responsible for secreting cortisol that helps us cope with the stress. Chronic stress, however, wears this gland leaving us feeling physically, mentally and emotionally depleted.
How can we diagnose adrenal fatigue?
An astute clinician can pick up specific signs of adrenal fatigue during a clinical examination. Furthermore, specific fatigue questionnaires as well as blood tests (cortisol, dhea, insulin/glucose, etc) are useful tools to assist the practitioner.
The problem is that too few women label their symptoms as plain stress and don’t seek out the necessary medical attention. In extreme cases, these people are labeled as having a nervous breakdown, depression or anxiety and are put on medication that worsens their fatigue.
Important symptoms to look out for with burnout:
- Fatigue – You find it hard to wake up in the morning, prefer to lie in – You experience a crash in energy between 2PM-4PM – You feel more energetic after 6PM – Exhausted by 8/9PM but get a second wind after 10PM – Fall asleep easily but wake up in the middle of the night
- Diet – Use caffeine to drive yourself – Crave food high in salt – Feels better after a fatty meal
- Decreased sex drive, depression
- Muscular weakness
- Decreased ability to handle stress
- Increased apathy in general
- New allergies or sensitivities to food, environmental allergens
- Low resistance to infections
- Lower backache or headaches
- Hard to gain or lose weight
“ Stress is only pressure. It’s how we react to that pressure that determines whether good or bad thing s will happen. Stress tells us that something needs to cha nge- that what we’ve been doing may not be in line with what we should be doing.”- Daniel Weber
How to assist the body to heal from adrenal fatigue:
Recovery from adrenal fatigue varies with each person, some people even taking two years to recover. Therefore, it is crucial that the root cause of the stress be identified and be dealt with.
Fluids – avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugary drinks including fruit juices, energy drinks.
Diet – Eat a diet high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, moderate in fat and protein. Green juices are beneficial
Sleep – aim for a minimum of eight hours a night. Herbal sleep aids like valerian root and passionflower can be used safely. Magnesium is useful too. Other sleep aids that are non-addictive will be prescribed if the above fails. Pharmaceutical sleeping tablets are not recommended.
Exercise – 20-30 minutes a day of walking helps to break the cycle of adrenal fatigue.
Nutritional supplements – omega 3 is essential. Depending on the earlier diet other vitamins/minerals may be added. Herbs like Rhodiola Rosea, Ashwaganda, Ginseng, Licorice, Tulsi and other supplements are useful in different stages of burnout which an integrative assessment will determine.
Energy medicine – Infra-red laser therapy, acupuncture, reflexology, breathe workshops and massages work on a different level from supplements and are useful.
Stress busters –Psychology/life coach therapy sessions, mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, meditation, grounding, emotional freedom technique (EFT) all are extremely beneficial.
Focus on fun – Once you’ve healed, do the things that bring joy to your life. This will prevent you from reverting to autopilot mode where your focus is only on your responsibilities and not your loves, dreams and hopes. It can be easy to fall back into the same rut but it is just as easy to change direction once you realize where you are.
“In the depths of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” Albert Camus