A bit of a happy dance for me today! Last year was incredibly hairy. I actually did a bit of a number on myself and hit total burn out. Not fun, at all. The positive is, that after a fair bit of work, the adrenal fatigue I was diagnosed with is now a thing of the past. I thought I would share some of what I did to get on top of things.
First of all, adrenal fatigue is the curse of the A-type personality. The perfectionist who seems to think they can do it all, always stressed, always full of (borrowed) energy, until eventually, things catch up, and you crash and burn. Your body simply can’t sustain the long-term stress and the adrenals start to protest. Cue a whole host of awful symptoms:
- Trouble dragging yourself out of bed in the mornings
- Waking up feeling exhausted
- Craving sweet or salty foods
- Feeling like rubbish if you skip or miss a meal
- Lack of energy throughout the day, a real need for Nana naps, especially around 3pm
- Loss of mojo
- Terrible PMS
- Decreased ability to handle stress (road rage was a big one for me – my partner hated getting in the car with me because I sped around like a crazy person and would get in a huff every time there was a car in front of me – more so than my usual Virgo self!)
- Difficulty focusing
- Fuzzy memory
- Absentmindedness (I would sometimes put things in weird places without even thinking – a toilet role in the fridge for example)
- Feeling light headed when you go to stand, low blood pressure
- Feeling down in the dumps, and teary
- Feeling like you have a short fuse, and even the smallest of things bother you
- Panic attacks
So, the first thing I did was partner with a great Integrative Doctor who also worked with herbs, and got a whole heap of blood tests to confirm where I was at. From there, we made a plan, involving dietary and lifestyle changes, herbal support, supplements, and a short course of hormones. I did a lot of things, because I was quite severely burnt out.
Things I did:
Intravenous Vitamin C infusions:
These were given via a drip in the arm, and contained a concentrated mixture of vitamin C, magnesium, the B vitamin group, and glutathione (an antioxidant). Vitamin C is extremely nourishing to the adrenals, and stimulates the immune system. When it is given intravenously, you can receive a much higher does than if you take it orally. The B group vitamins are important for energy production. Magnesium ignites your adrenals, and is essential for enzyme and energy production.
Vitamin B12 injections:
In the butt. Yep. B12 injections are absorbed straight into the bloodstream for an energy boost.
Herbal supplements to nourish the adrenals:
I took a three month course of herbs specially formulated to heal the adrenals. The group of herbs that nourish the adrenals and help the body adapt to stress are called adaptogens or tonic herbs. A few of the herbs I took included:
Siberian ginseng: physical strength, endurance, promote healing, ability to adapt to stress, immune modulator, regulate metabolism.
Panax ginseng: anti-fatigue, supports the adrenals
Licorice root: the ‘Great Harmoniser’, increases vital energy, digestive and metabolic support
Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera): an Ayurvedic herb to help recover from stress and insomnia, restore libido, increase energy and stamina, normalise cortisol levels
Rhodiola: improve energy, support the immune system, strengthen the nervous system
Herbal supplements to encourage restful sleep:
A big part of burnout (and the resulting adrenal fatigue) is not getting enough sleep. I was tired, but wired, and spent hours tossing and turning throughout the night, only to drag myself out of bed in the mornings feeling like the tank was empty. Getting quality sleep is essential as this is the time when your body repairs itself. There are a few things I did to get a good sleep pattern back. The first, was take some beautiful herbs to quieten the nervous system and allow the mind to shush before bed. These included:
Bupleurum: helps to harmonise the body and stabilise the emotions, detoxifying
Chinese peony: anti-inflammatory, helps promote sleep
Dong quai: the ultimate herb for women, relaxes muscles, promotes sleep
The other thing I did to get my sleep groove back, was to create a new sleep ritual. It went like this:
- 7pm: NO MORE WORK. Of any kind. And especially no computers. Working too late was hyping my mind up.
- After dinner: NO SUGAR, or CAFFEINE. Of any kind. I realised I had a habit of making a scrummy bowl of berries after dinner, with a sprinkle of cacao and maybe a little maple syrup on top. Not the smartest idea. Cacao is a very strong stimulant. And sugar alone will keep the mind racing.
- 9pm: Start getting ready for bed. No more TV, no more reading. It was also really important to sleep in a dark room, to help get my body back in tune with my natural circadian rhythms. Beside my bed, I kept a note pad and pen. When I had moments of chronic list-making for the next day in my head, I would grab the pad and scribble everything down, so that it was out of my head and on paper, and then I could forget about it and relax. I highly recommend this – it worked a treat. Also, a quick shower, a five minute meditation, and an inversion to get the blood flow back to the core (read my post on the benefits of putting your legs up the wall, literally, to counter stress, here).
- 9.30pm: BED, and no later, as a second wind would come sweeping in, keeping me up till the wee hours.
Eat a protein filled breakfast:
This was an important step. I am usually quite comfortable with a green smoothie in the mornings, but including some protein with breakfast helped to balance the blood sugars and prevent the tiredness. I added raw, sprouted brown rice protein to my smoothies when I had them, and other days, mixed the protein into a bowl of organic overnight oats (which are fabulous for the nervous system).
I replaced the exhaustive running and dance classes with some leisurely walking in fresh air.
I made a conscious effort to cut back on sugars, even fruit sugars. I cut out all caffeine, and increased the amount of plant based protein in my diet.
The blood tests were quite revealing. Very low progesterone (sex hormone), DHEA, and hydrocortisol. I took a low dose, short course (three months) of these to kick-start the healing, but not until I had tried a month of the herbs and supplements. I always like to try and treat things as naturally as possible, first.
I started a practice of self-love. Something I had deprived myself of all year, because I was so preoccupied with study and business-brainstorming. Self-love puts gas in the tank. For me, it was simply setting aside one whole day to myself a week, to do whatever it is I felt like, without feeling guilty. Beach walks, reading non-work or study related books, and getting the odd massage.
I know I was a monster for a few months there, but, thank you…couldn’t have done it without you!
Adrenal fatigue and burnout are not something you can recover from overnight. After four months of diligently following the programme above, I am finally feeling normal again. I still have my moments of not sleeping, but this has been a bit of a thing for me even before adrenal fatigue.
There is nothing worse then that total feeling of overwhelm, and that nothing you do is working or getting you better. But hopefully by sharing some of this, you may be able to get your own groove back, too, if you are going through something similar.
Finally, here are a few useful resources that will be helpful in healing:
- Cut out coffee
- Cut out sugar
- Eat more protein
- Practice meditation and deep breathing
- Get to bed early
- Eat a good breakfast
- Work with tonic herbs
- Take quality supplements
- Find balance, reduce stress, say no
- Practice self-love
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
A good few years have past since having this adrenal fatigue, and I'm now almost qualified myself as a Naturopath and Medical Herbalist. Knowing what I do now, I still believe the protocol above to be sound. Just a note on the hormones however - I did not just have low adrenal function, but quite severe adrenal fatigue. Hormone therapy is not something you rush into. Though it seemed to serve me well at the time, if I was in the same position again, I would work with the herbs more even though they are slower to get the results. I like the gentle way in which they nudge the body back into balance.
I also want to add that whilst the vitamin C infusions were helpful, you could get also get a great result with the lypo-spheric vitamin C sachets - they are incredibly well absorbed and assimilated.
Above all else, I have come to see the importance of self-care and stress management in healing. In fact, when I looked up 'adrenal problems' in Louise L. Hay's book, 'Heal Your Body', I had a chuckle to myself as I read out the probable cause behind the physical manifestation of this condition - 'Defeatism. No longer caring for the self. Anxiety.' Of course! The body is constantly sending us messages - many of which are incredibly literal - if only we could slow down enough to listen. It's funny - I was just the other thinking how far I've come - and how that A-type personality is simply not me anymore. I live a much slower paced life - particularly, mentally.
Finally, I just want to finish by saying, though I saw an integrative doctor at the time, Naturopathy and Herbal Medicine as modalities, in my opinion, are perfectly equipped to support someone with this condition. If the list of symptoms at the top of this post seem like you at present - please slow down and be gentle with yourself,