Our bodies respond to various types of stress in the same way. Relationship tension, work overload, screaming babies (experiencing this one myself, at the moment), physical injury and illness, spiritual disillusion, chemical exposure, improper nutrition, and more, all take a toll and deplete our hormones. Chronic stress can result in adrenal fatigue, a place no one wants to be and where being tired is the status quo. It’s not surprising that millions of people suffer from this every year, to include exercise professionals like me seven years ago.
Here’s what you need to know to help yourself get unstuck from the spiral of exhaustion and how to get back on track with your wellness.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a state of constant tiredness due to chronic stress overtaxing the adrenal glands. These glands impact hormones such as DHEA, epinephrine and cortisol, to name a few. Even sleep doesn’t seem to fully help people suffering from this type of fatigue. These people also have a hard time getting out of the bed in the morning (different from hitting the snooze button because it feels good), are tired all day, crave salty foods, have weakened immune systems, and have a difficult time managing stress in general. For more information about the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue: Adrenal Fatigue Solution.
Should I Get Help from a Doctor?
If you feel that you’re suffering from a state of constant fatigue, you should do everything possible to set yourself back on the path of wellness. I know from experience that it isn’t always easy and that it takes a lot of dedication. Trust me though, it’s worth the effort. The tricky thing about adrenal fatigue is that it isn’t easy to diagnose, so much of the medical community will not readily recognize it as a condition, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consult your doctor about it.
Addison’s Disease is a form of severe adrenal insufficiency (cortisol levels are extremely, dangerously low) that has been recognized for a long time by both doctors and insurance companies. Adrenal fatigue is a lesser form of this serious disease, where hormone levels may very well fall into a “normal range” during a diagnostic test, but may not be in an “optimal range.” For this reason, adrenal fatigue isn’t easy to pinpoint and insurance typically won’t cover treatment. Additionally, antidepressants and other medicines that a doctor might prescribe to treat some of the symptoms aren’t fixing the underlying causes of fatigue, which are generally related to lifestyle.
I’m no doctor, but I’m a health professional who can say with certainty that just because someone doesn’t have a full-blown disease, doesn’t mean they don’t need a little help. Even if your doctor says you’re perfectly healthy, if you don’t FEEL that way, you need to take responsibility and action. For example, if a person has been through a traumatic accident but isn’t clinically suffering from PTSD, she can still endure quite a bit of subsequent stress and anxiety that can add up over time, especially if there are other areas in her life about which she is chronically stressed or overwhelmed. Similarly, if a woman is overweight but does not meet BMI standards for being obese, it doesn’t mean she should sit back and suffer from less-than-optimal health. Taking control of your life is possible and beating chronic fatigue is too. With or without doctor’s orders!
How to Feel Energized Again
Treating chronic exhaustion follows much of the same protocol as naturally balancing our hormones. Here are some things to try…
Getting at least 7 uninterrupted hours of sleep every night is essential for your wellbeing. A consistent bedtime routine and regular sleep/wake times help your overall “sleep hygiene.” To promote a relaxing transition into sleep, limit screen time for 30 minutes before bed (and DON’T check your phone or other screens during the middle of the night!), do something relaxing for an hour before sleep, adjust the bedroom temperature to your liking, and avoid sleep-reducing foods like alcohol, caffeine, spicy stuff, and dark chocolate.
If sleep is evading you, try distracting your mind with 20 minutes of enjoyable reading, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, a little stretching or a sleep-inducing snack like milk, bananas or turkey.
Specific Kinds of Regular Exercise
Regular exercise that isn’t too late in the day can help you sleep at night and get back into a place of feeling energized. I advise people suffering from chronic fatigue to avoid the following when it comes to exercise (at least until good, consistent energy has been reestablished for a while): HIIT workouts or anything that revs the heart rate up and down from near-maximal range, endurance performance training (marathon running or anything with extreme distances and hours upon hours of training involved), and aggressive weight loss programs.
Losing weight and exercising will certainly help you reduce exhaustion and balance hormones, but if you are already worn out, aggressive workouts and exercise goals can do more harm than good. Stick to a balanced routine of moderate cardio and resistance workouts for a while. It’s probably a good idea to cap your workouts between 30-60 minutes and to give yourself a couple days of light movement (i.e. walking, stretching, gentle swimming or biking) or full recovery every week to aid in overall energy restoration.
Healing via Nutrients and Nutrient Timing
Reducing the amount of sugar, caffeine, alcohol, dairy and processed foods in your diet and replacing them with whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods is one of the best ways to fuel your body for adrenal recovery and hormonal balance. If you find that you are sensitive to any specific foods then avoiding them is also advised as this will help you reduce overall inflammation and stress on your body. Most people are aware that healthy fruits, veggies, fats, whole grains, and lean proteins are going to help their wellness; however, a lot of these healthy-eating people may accidentally mess up good nutrient timing.
Most of our daily energy and activity happens earlier in the day and gradually reduces towards nightfall. In American culture, a large dinner is a staple for the end of the day, but we need this energy from food earlier than we get it. “Front-loading” or eating more calories towards the beginning of the day and gradually tapering towards dinner and bedtime is a great way to get the energy from food when you need it most. This will help you stay fueled at the appropriate times of day and will keep your metabolism “awake.”
Other Lifestyle & Wellness Factors
It would be remiss of me to avoid mentioning that the social, emotional, spiritual, occupational, and intellectual components of your life that play into fatigue are important too. Unfortunately, there are too many factors to touch on in just one article, so suffice to say that if you’re overwhelmed or depleted in a certain area of your life, it’s important to be forthright and address it. It’s not always easy to get out of bad relationships or jobs, and it’s intimidating to confess spiritual emptiness and social isolation, but if we don’t meet these challenges head on, even proper sleep, exercise and diet may not be enough to help us feel great. We are WHOLE beings who need health, joy, love, faith and hope.
I hope you can feel energized and well for your entire life. It’s possible if you put in the effort, so never accept feeling less than you deserve to be!
Yours in health and wellness,