Have you ever felt exhausted for a day or more after a stressful event? During the event, energy was plentiful. You danced at your son’s wedding or handled a crisis with ease and grace. That night, sleep came easily. The next morning, however, you awoke tired and foggy headed. Days later you your body still felt limp with fatigue and your mind sluggish. You had that “I can’t get out of this chair” feeling in spades.
What you likely experienced was an adrenaline hangover. In stressful situations, good or bad, our body goes on high alert. Adrenaline gives us that boost of energy we need to take care of business. Once the event is over, the body takes time to return to its normal state.
Chronic stress has become a way of life for men and women of the 21st century. This is especially true during the midlife years when daily demands intensify. Everything hits at once. Not only are we going through the decade plus process of perimenopause and menopause and its enormous physical and emotional impact, we are also navigating several other significant life-changes. Our parents are aging and increasingly dependent. Our children are temperamental teens and making major life choices where our guidance is necessary. We are mid-career, navigating relationships and so much more. No wonder somewhere along the line our body says, “Hey! Wait a minute!”
Chronic stress can do serious damage, not only to our enjoyment of life, but to our long-term health. The longer we live, the more likely we are to experience prolonged periods of unabated stress and to eventually experience adrenal burnout. Caregivers are particularly vulnerable to this condition, as day after day, week after week, month after month, they put the needs of their loved ones above their own. Those with chronic illnesses or unhealthy lifestyles are also more susceptible to this condition.
Our adrenal glands produce hormones that mobilize our body to deal quickly and aggressively with unexpected danger. In today’s world, the dangers we encounter are primarily emotional, psychological, physical, such as job stress, family dynamics, a poor diet or lack of sleep and exercise. We may no longer need to run away from wild animals, but we sure might want to run away from our job or home life.
The fact that we no longer need to fight or flee in physical sense, our bodies have no way to dissipate the chemicals released during a stress response. We rarely get into a brawl with our stressors or sprint ten miles down the road to get away from it (although this is a good argument for running for exercise!)
To complicate matters, stress has become a chronic way of life for many of us. As a result, our adrenal glands work overtime for years before we realize there is a serious problem. Overuse of the adrenal glands can cause them to fatigue or burn out entirely. Bouncing back becomes increasingly difficult and we become less and less resilient.
Many factors contribute to, and exacerbate adrenal burnout. A poor diet, lack of sufficient sleep over an extended period of time, a history of substance abuse, repeated infections, chronic medical conditions, emotional problems, such as depression or anxiety, financial difficulties, a stressful work environment, are all likely culprits. Treatment requires addressing each issue one at a time.
SIGNS OF ADRENAL FATIGUE
The following are common symptoms of adrenal fatigue:
- Loss of motivation or desire to do things you previously enjoyed
- Feeling tired and run down
- Low grade depression
- Difficulty getting up in the morning even after a good night’s sleep
- Feeling overwhelmed and like everything is just too much
- Things once done easily take more effort
- Craving salty and/or sweet snacks
- Difficulty getting strength and energy back after an illness
- Feeling better after 6 o’clock at night than any other time of the day
- Nothing seems fun anymore
- A cloudy, foggy brain
THE FIRST STEP TO RECOVERY
The very first step to recovery is recognition of the problem. When you are able to hear and acknowledge what your body is telling you, you can then take action and begin taking the steps you need to take to recover.
There isn’t a quick and easy answer to adrenal fatigue. Alleviating adrenal fatigue is a process that takes time and a one-step-at-a-time approach. There are likely long-standing habits of thought and behavior that have laid the groundwork for an adrenal crisis.
The first step to recovery and the best line of defense for prevention is making sure you are getting sufficient rest and relaxation, and eating a healthy diet. Rest is not always easy to come by at midlife, but it is essential. If you do not rest, eventually your body will find a way to make you rest. Prolonged adrenal fatigue can lead to adrenal burnout making recovery more and more difficult.
When I was on my path to recovery I found a great soup that really works. I make an effort to eat it whenever I feel fatigued and I always notice a boost in my sense of well-being. It’s a great place to begin any recovery or prevention effort. Be sure and leave a comment below if you have any thoughts or questions.
16 oz. green beans
1 cup chopped celery
1 zucchini, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup tomato juice
1 cup spring water
2 tbsp. raw honey
1 tsp. paprika
1 cup chicken broth
3-4 garlic cloves, minced (optional but good for the immune system)
Combine ingredients and simmer for one hour until vegetables are tender. Pepper to taste.