I’ve had a few patients in lately who are at the point of adrenal exhaustion. Many have done too much and have reached the point where their bodies have just said “enough”. I see others who are at risk of getting to this point. So, what is it and how do you get there?
Let’s start with some basic biology. In times of stress or when very active, the body’s adrenal glands kick in and secrete a range of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol that help the body to deal with stressful situations. In nature, stress is generally short-term – for example, an animal is startled by a predator – and the adrenals release hormones to prepare the body to run, fight or freeze and also ready it to fight infection.
In the modern world, these basic animal reactions are starting to backfire on us. We are all taking on a lot of stress, and that could be at home or work, as well as exercising, probably not getting enough sleep, maybe studying as well. If you don’t get enough sleep and are tired all the time, it’s your adrenals that keep you going. If you consume a lot of stimulants such as coffee, tea, cola or alcohol, then you are constantly working your adrenal glands. A diet high in sugar and refined carbs will also have a negative effect on your adrenals and that has the added problem of adrenal states tending to bring on cravings for a quick energy fix – that is, sugar, which will then bring on more adrenaline. A vicious circle indeed.
So what does all this mean for you? It’s important to look at life, evaluate and rationalise a bit.
1) Is work or home really stressful? What can you do to change that? If nothing, what can you do to ameliorate the stress levels?
2) Exercise produces serotonin that helps mitigate adrenal reactions but be careful not to go overboard as exercise is also a stress for the body. I have patients who feel lazy if they’re not doing something intense every single day and it is easy to push too hard. As a general rule anaerobic exercise (weights, fast sprints etc) takes longer to recover from than aerobic (jog, slow swim, slow cycle) and so you should consider having a rest day after anaerobic work, whereas you can probably do more gentle cardio work daily. If you really must do something on the off-days, consider yoga or Pilates that can almost act as a moving meditation, or maybe a walk.
3) Are you getting around 8 hours sleep a night? If not, see about getting more rest.
4) Are you consuming a lot of stimulants? Cut down (out if you’re really serious) your coffee, cola, tea and alcohol. Replace with calming teas and water.
5) Are you eating lots of sugar or refined carbs? Replace these with lots of vegies, protein and if you must have bread, rice, pasta etc then make them wholemeal and have less. Also look at if you have food reactions – an intolerance or allergy is an immune reaction and is a further stress on the body. Consider working with a nutritionist or naturopath on overhauling your diet and getting vitamin, mineral and herbal support.
6) If there is a lot of mental or emotional stress then talk to a counsellor, psychologist, hypnotherapist or kinesiologist to help you work through it with less negative impact on your health.
7) Make time for you – don’t be everything for everyone. That may mean a veg night with a DVD, or a bath or a day at the beach (reclining, not running around or being really active), or meditating, or reading or something that is about you.
8) Keep a connection between your mind and your body. Forget mind over matter – that is a denial of what is real. If you’re tired, you’re tired. Don’t push through because your brain wants to. We live in a world where it seems to be compulsory to be a high achiever in all fields and being good at something isn’t enough – people are always pushing with marathons, ultra-marathons, triathlons, study, extra projects and it is often too much. We’re even doing it to our kids – how many little Sallys or Toms have music lessons, sports, ballet, language lessons etc every day?
9) Are you overstimulated? I’m sure you all seen a little kid who’s been wound up at a party or had too much sugar or really just needs a little nap. That is the state in which many of us now exist. Rest, take a break, get away from the electronic devices and all the people.
And finally, if you’re already there then it’s time to bring in the health professionals. In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, Bowen is great for this. It’s not an overnight sensation as it’s often taken years to get to this point but Bowen can help the body to reset and restart the adrenals and support all body systems in gradual improvement. It is important at this time to not get overenthusiastic though – a little improvement should not bring on a two hour run or a return to six weights sessions a week. Slow and steady does it. Start fresh and enjoy life at a slower pace.