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I was 25 when I first experienced the shattering affects of Adrenal Fatigue – the fallout of a highly stressed, fast-paced lifestyle.
Most of my stress came from my desire to be a high achiever in my career in the branding and packaging design industry.
Like most of us, I acquired the belief at school that my test results determined my value.
The better you perform, the more perfect you are, the more you’ll be validated, accepted and respected, right?
When I entered the workforce, I feared people would think I was inadequate if I wasn’t anything but the ‘best’.
I never turned down taking on a new project or client, as I defined my worth by what I did, rather than who I am.
I willingly entered ‘Perfectionist Prison’, becoming hostage to my unrealistic perfectionistic expectations.
Fuelled by the ever dangling carrot of the next promotion or opportunity, for many years I sacrificed rest and relaxation for burning the midnight oil at the office.
After years of this workaholic lifestyle, I started experiencing crushing fatigue, brain fog, low mood and dizzy spells. My GP prescribed regular B12 injections (they helped a little and hurt a lot!) and I reluctantly tried antidepressants (only for 1 day because of how weird they made me feel!).
Adrenal Fatigue was never mentioned, as it isn’t recognised as a medical condition, so my stressed out adrenal glands continued under strain without the support they desperately needed.
One Autumnal day I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed.
Any effort felt like I was pushing against an invisible force. I had physically, mentally and emotionally flatlined…
No other option existed other than to stay in bed… and there I stayed for two weeks!
I felt i’d failed… My body let me down (I really thought I should work like – and be as robust as – a robot!) and I was ashamed!
Head down like a guilty, berated puppy, I returned to work and gradually slid back into my modus operandi. My lesson had not been learned!
Years later, the same warning signs returned, demanding my attention.
I knew I needed to make drastic changes if I wanted to prevent burning out again, so I left my career of 15 years to study nutritional therapy and naturopathy to discover how to restore my health – and help others do so as well.
When I learned about Adrenal Fatigue during my studies, the constellation of signs and symptoms I had experienced were all there.
I felt I’d found the golden treasure – a guide that could serve as a wake up call to those under chronic stress, plus nourishing solutions for stressed out adrenals (the glands responsible for the stress response).
So here, my stressed out friend, are the top 10 signs you’re heading towards adrenal fatigue, plus 10 ways to help you avoid burnout.
10 signs you’re heading towards Adrenal Fatigue
- Low stress tolerance. You’re no longer handling your stress-load as well as you used to. Your tolerance to certain people, places and circumstances has weakened.
- You’re more emotional. Cracks are showing in your armour. You’re having emotional outbursts, often at things that usually don’t bother you/ Perhaps you’re crying in the bathroom at work.
- You feel tired most of the time. You have trouble getting up in the morning, as your sleep doesn’t seem to refresh you. You’re likely a chronic snooze button hitter. You feel most awake in the evenings.
- You need caffeine or other stimulants to keep you going. You can’t live without caffeine in the morning and often reach for more mid-morning and afternoon.
- You crave salt and sugar. You’re reaching for sugary and salty snacks each day, especially mid-afternoon.
- Your once sharp mind isn’t what it used to be. You experience brain fog, poor concentration and memory. This isn’t due to getting older – it’s the effect of long term stress on the brain.
- You feel you’ve lost your mojo. Your general drive for life reduces. You have little desire or energy to do much of anything! This also includes having a low sex drive.
- You often feel dizzy and lightheaded. You may also experience regular headaches, aches and pains and dark circles under your eyes.
- You have a low mood and/or depression. You may have mood fluctuations or feel constantly low.
- You get sick easily. You’re always catching the latest cold or flu going around. You generally feel rundown and it takes a long time for you to recover from illness.
If these symptoms are familiar to you, know that it’s much easier to restore adrenal function before getting to adrenal burnout stage (ask me how I know!). Here are some ways to help prevent adrenal fatigue that you can start implementing now.
10 ways to care for your adrenals and avoid Adrenal Fatigue (AKA burnout)
1. Create space in your life for non-negotiable YOU time
I bet you’re last on your to-do list – if you’re on your list at all? Let me remind you – YOU are your most important asset.
Persistent long term stress increases your risk of diseases like cancer, auto-immune conditions, cardiovascular disease and diabetes… Without your health, your to-do list will most certainly take a back seat (and what I found through experience, the world won’t end!).
How can you carve out 20 minutes of non-negotiable, guilt-free YOU time each day?
An effective strategy is to make this time the same each day, attached to habits like your morning or evening routine, so your YOU time becomes ingrained in your lifestyle.
2. Develop an emotional resilience strategy
Our emotional tolerance becomes frayed when the balance between what we perceive as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ emotions tips toward undesirable feelings dominating.
If you’re having a slew of bad days, weeks or months (or years!), creating an emotional resilience strategy can help you get out of a funk and recalibrate your emotionally stability (=less emotional outbursts).
Beyond simply ‘caring’ for yourself – ask yourself these questions:
When was the last time you felt blissfully relaxed, happy and at peace? What were you doing? How can you replicate that experience in some way – and incorporate it regularly into your life e.g. each day, or one Sunday per month?
What emotions do you want to feel – and how can you experience them every day?
What daily activities can you do to nurture your emotions?
Examples are: getting more sleep, listening/dancing to your favourite music, being in nature, reading a novel in your favourite genre, meditating, getting a massage, talking with a friend who makes you laugh out loud. Many of these can be achieved within your daily YOU time.
3. Avoid energy vampires
What people, places and circumstances are sucking your energy dry? You’ll recognise energy vampires as your body likely constricts, your heart rate may increase (a sign of stress) and you’ll feel drained after being around them.
Remove as many energy vampires from your life and create boundaries to protect yourself from situations or people you can’t escape.
4. Build a support network
I know, you’re likely not one to ask for help given you’re the one that usually does everything.
However having a good support network around you who understands your needs is crucial to reducing your stress load. No woman is an island!
Speak candidly to close loved ones and family members and tell them you’ll be taking things down a notch or two to take care of yourself, and that you may not be able to meet certain commitments you’ve promised.
No doubt they’ll be relieved to hear you’re finally going to take care of yourself (and if they don’t, it’s unlikely they’re considering your welfare. Are they an energy vampire perhaps?!).
Consider online groups where you can share your stresses and get support. Get help from professionals where you need it.
5. Start your day in a nourishing way
How you start your day determines whether you start off stressed and frazzled, or feeling calm, energised and focused.
For already stressed out adrenals, starting your day with coffee can put you in the fast-track lane to adrenal fatigue, as coffee stimulates adrenalin release, which can leave you feeling more unsettled and anxious that you would be naturally.
Also, many of us delay or completely skip eating breakfast, which can cause cortisol to rise as our blood sugar levels drop – further stressing the adrenal glands.
It may seem like your body is craving coffee (or sugar), yet our bodies are truly craving magnesium, zinc, vitamin C and B vitamins.
These nutrients are involved in the stress response and energy production process, so try replacing your morning coffee and breakfast with protein based green smoothies that contain these nutrients, so you can feel calm and energised each morning.
Smoothies are the ultimate fast food as they can be prepared within minutes – or ingredients can be prepared the night before, ready for blending in the morning.
Check out my Ultimate Green Smoothie Formula and recipes here.
6. Take adaptogenic herbs
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and Rhodiola rosea are in a class of herbs called ‘adaptogens’ that possess the incredible ability to ‘adapt’ to your specific needs to improve your resilience to stress, while giving you stamina and endurance, as well as boosting brain function.
Ashwagandha has even been shown to reduce damage caused by stress to the brain!
Dosages are 300mg of Rhodiola in the morning and 500mg-1000mg of Ashwagandha in the evening.
These herbs are generally safe to take long term, although please check with your GP before taking if you have any health conditions.
If there’s one tip I’d make mandatory, it’d be this one! Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, increase your resilience to stress (so things that used to stress you have less of an impact), boost mood, boost immunity and so much more…
Meditation needn’t be complex to master – its power lies in its simplicity. Invest just 5-10 minutes of your day to perform this simple practice.
Put a timer on your phone for the desired time you want to meditate for (with a soothing alarm tone of course!).
Sit in a relaxed position with your eyes gently closed, breathing deeply into your belly, focusing on the in and out of your breath.
When you finish, perform some deep breathing and stretching to send oxygen to your brain and muscles, so you’re feeling more energised and focused to move forward with your day.
This simple practice can be used anywhere, anytime the effects of stress or overwhelm start to take hold.
When we’re in a state of chronic stress, our breathing tends to be shallow and restricted.
Breathing deeply into your belly and expanding your abdomen activates the parasympathetic nervous system – the ‘relaxation’ state that switches off the stress response, giving your adrenal glands much needed rest.
Whenever stress levels start to rise, take 5 deep belly breaths to return you to a state of calm.
Simply inhale for 5 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, then exhale slowly for 7 seconds.
Try this now and feel how much more relaxed you are!
9. Escape Perfectionist Prison
The pursuit of perfection is endemic and a huge cause of stress in society, especially among women.
The crazy thing is that perfection is a mirage.
We each have our own talents, successes, handicaps and struggles. And no one is good at everything all the time.
Perfectionism rarely achieves those impossible standards we hold in our mind. In fact it causes stress, stagnation, guilt, self blame and even self loathing.
A diamond with a flaw is worth more than a pebble without imperfections – Chinese Proverb
You don’t need to be, do or have anything more or less than what you are to be worth of love, acceptance and respect. You are perfect as you are, flaws and all. Yes, you.
How can you start accepting yourself and your circumstances just as they are – and breathe a little easier knowing you are perfect as you are?
Seriously. Get as much z-time as you can.
Nothing is better for a body under stress than sleep. Check out my top 5 tips for a deeply restorative sleep.
Also, consider taking the Adrenal Stress Test through a naturopath or nutritionist.
This test involves you collecting samples of your saliva throughout one day, and will show you how your adrenal glands are functioning and at what stage of adrenal dysfunction you’re at.
Each stage requires a different health protocol, so knowing what stage you’re at helps create a targeted health plan to get you feeling better quicker (you can also take my quiz to get a good indication).
Finally, take one day at a time. One step at a time.
Listen to the callings of your mind, body and emotions at each moment and you’ll be on the track to recovering.
Do you know someone who might be heading towards Adrenal Fatigue? Help them avoid burning out by sharing this article.
Melissa is a naturopathic nutritionist, coach and speaker who helps exhausted businesswomen reclaim their energy to maximise their effectiveness and success in business and life.
Her unique approach combines naturopathy, nutrition, positive psychology and lifestyle strategies to nourish and energise women from cell to soul.