I'm so glad you're here. Thank you.
In case you missed it, here's Part 1, my introduction on how I was diagnosed with Adrenal Fatigue and how I healed myself in just 10 months.
This is a serious subject (and deeply personal to me), but I want to write this article with some semblance of fun in it, so let's talk through 20 WAYS TO GET ADRENAL FATIGUE, as if it's something we desire. (It's not).
I'm lucky I was only in Phase One of Adrenal Fatigue (feeling wired, tired + exhausted) when I found out. You can learn more online about the adrenal burnout and flatlined hormonal symptoms of Phase Two and Phrase Three. There's a ton of good work out there on the internet, so I suggest you read up and write down your specific symptoms before you speak to your doctor.
Warning (!) my traditional Primary Care Physician completely dismissed my question about high cortisol levels BACK IN 2013. I was pretty hurt. It wasn't until two years later that I decided I'd had enough of feeling so stressed and overwhelmed and somewhat burnt-out all the time. I deeply knew SOMETHING WAS UP and found a functional medicine doctor who would listen to me.
You don't need a doctor though, you can start healing on your own. Read up below!
Back to You
I created this list based off my own experience and there are definitely points I'm missing. Feel free to add your own and really think about this issue through a new lens.
Notice your patterns, tick off which ones you're currently exposed to, and we'll talk about ways to unwind these issues and other aspects of stress throughout the rest of my blog series.
This blog is quite casual and conversationalist - so pardon the tone - I want to get it out in the world now and edit it for clarity and formal publication at a later time.
I do hope this could be a wake-up call for some of you. But please be kind to yourself. This might really touch a cord on a very deep level.
Remember, I'm with you!
20 WAYS TO GET ADRENAL FATIGUE
Let me be clear, I was doing ALL of these things. In many ways, I created the perfect storm for stress in my life. If just a few are happening for you, you're going to be OK!
So here we go, a list of the big triggers to watch out for:
1. Skimp on Sleep. Sleep only 4-6 hours a night when you know you should be getting 7-9 hours of shut-eye. I'd set my alarm for super early AM workouts, clocking in 5-7.5 hours of sleep. Now I sleep 8-9 hours and feel amazing.
2. Drink 3-5 cups of Coffee a Day to maintain alertness and mask your symptoms of deep fatigue and burnout. I was at 3-4 cups of Coffee per day before I quit Finance. Now I have one cup a day and life is good! If I find myself reaching for two cups of coffee a day, I know something is UP and I need to take a hard look at my schedule, take something off my to-do list and rest more.
3. Eat a ton of sugar. And packaged foods that cause significant stressors within the body. Thankfully I've always had a pretty sugar-free and clean diet, but sugar is a HUGE stress on the system! Look for hidden sugars, be a sugar detective.
4. Restrict Carbohydrates. Long-term restriction of carbs (i.e. Atkins type diet or extreme South Beach Diet) can put pressure on your system and your hormones, especially females and those who exercise frequently. Your body needs good complex carbs for fuel and muscle recovery! Include oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes etc. in your diet, along with 2-3 servings of fruit per day. Don't try to trick the system. You can't outsmart your body with a severally low-carb diet for ten years like I did. It's fine to go low-carb for a month or two to lose weight, but then start including complex carbs back in to your lifestyle. They're not scary, I've now made friends with them!
5. Don't breathe. I always labeled myself as a terrible breather, breathing upwards from my shoulders rather than belly breaths using my diaphragm. Deep belly breaths reduce the stress-response and activate the parasympathetic "rest and digest system." Learning how to breathe was freaking hard. You can learn though! It takes time and practice. I have a bunch of tips and tricks I use with my clients now.
6. Drink Alcohol to "Reduce Stress": I definitely did this when I felt stress building in my body. A couple glasses of wine on a Friday night to chill-out, a happy hour with finance colleagues, a Saturday night free-for-all etc, etc. Alcohol might push off the feelings of stress symptoms for a few hours or evening, but it only makes it worse the next day and adds to chronic cortisol elevation over time. It's the old "kicking the can down the road" scenario.
7. Promise Unrealistic Deadlines: I worked through this during my years in Finance. Saying enthusiastically, "oh I'll get you this by end of day, and then frantically scrambling to get everything done by a certain time" can leave you with feelings of panic, a tension headache, or worse, long-term stress. Learn how to under-promise and over-deliver to build in more time and cushion for your projects.
8. Stress by Email: Emails are going to kill you. Guess what, they're NOT. It's just an email. Reframe your thought process. What's the worst that can happen? Will this email matter in five years?
9. Over-schedule your life! Say yes to everything and plan your life down to the minute. I didn't even realize I was doing this! Now I build in unstructured time and evenings and entire weekend days with zero plans. I need it to unwind.
10. Look at technology right before bed and first thing when you wake up: Zing, stressor! Now I try to put my phone away to charge by 9pm and depending upon my morning, wait until 8am or 9am to check my emails or texts or Instagram updates. This allows me time to tech detox every night, rather than having stress build in my system from technology overload. It helps me unwind in the evening, process my own thoughts from the day and sleep better too.
LET'S TAKE A LITTLE BREATHER, count to three. Think of something happy. OK, you can continue now!
11. Don't chew your food. Ok, please, CHEW. I would eat my massive Chop't Salads for lunch at my cubicle while writing back to "stressful" emails, and use seltzer water to help get the food down my eating pipe. I would barely chew because I had this crazy notion that if I didn't chew, my system would have to work harder and I'd burn MORE calories. THATS CRAZY and NOT TRUE. I'd also eat part of my breakfast as I was fast-walking to the subway. Your digestive process essentially comes to a complete stop when in an alert, stressed and sympathetic nervous system state. Cue, bloating, inflammation and more stress on the system.
12. Do Metabolic Conditioning 5x a Week: I would sometimes do five high metabolic intensity workouts a week, at 6am, and then rush to work. Recipe for disaster. High-intensity metabolic conditioning is fine (bootcamps, interval sprints, spinning), but aim for two a week, max. And try to build in ten minutes after your workout to stretch and unwind and let your nervous system calm down, rather than grabbing your keys and booking it out the door and rushing to your next thing. Add in slow, steady and HEAVY strength training and give yourself breaks between sets to breathe, get water, stretch for a minute.
13. Workout at 6am on an empty stomach: If you're going for a long-walk on an empty stomach or a yoga class or a slow jog. FINE. Do it on an empty stomach if you want. But a bootcamp or high-intensity workout on an empty stomach for "fasted cardio"? Your body thinks you are 1) starving and 2) running away from the tiger. Eat something small (about 100-150 calories) pre-workout so your body knows fuel is available and nearby.
14. Live in New York City: Yup, had to include this zinger. This place is absolutely nuts and a feeding-ground for stress. Being in nature can automatically bring your stress-levels down 15-20%. That's HUGELY SIGNIFICANT. How can you bring in nature to your life? Schedule hikes outside the city? Walk along a beach? Put in ear-phones and walk along a river? Buy a plant for your window?
15. Rush to Work. Every day. For years: This one kills me. I would clock my minute by minute rush to work. It would essentially create a 30+ minute stress-response in my life every single day. For over six years. If could do it again, I'd truly build in that ten minutes of extra time. Or better yet, have a very candid conversation with my boss about how if I got to work at 9:01am, or 9:10am or god forbid, 9:15 or 9:30am, I'd be sure to stay later in the day to wrap up my work. I turned myself in to a basket-case exercising in the morning and then sprinting to the subway to get to my desk by 8:57am to avoid getting spoken to.
16. Work until you are sick. I now believe in taking a day-off BEFORE YOU GET SICK. You can tell when this is happening. You know when a cold is coming on or the flu. Why don't we have pre-sick days rather than sick days? If everyone took two "pre-sick" days a year, and rested and putzed around the house in sweatpants, went for a walk, read a book and got a massage, we'd all be a lot healthier.
17. Work until you are burned out. I used to go pedal-to-the-metal for five weeks, and then experience a huge crash where I'd have to cancel all my weekend plans and have a "Michelle Weekend" where I'd sleep, hole up in sweats, go to the gym or yoga, do errands, re-set my life and not see a soul. My friends came to expect this of me, and I of myself. I'd work, work, work, and then crash. That, my friends, is burnout.
18. Be a perfectionist. Still working on this one. Dealing with failure or constructive criticism or criticism in general is really hard for me. I rarely ask for feedback (Business 101, FAIL). But seriously, perfectionism is the root of many stressors in life. Can you be good-enough? Can you lower the bar? Can you aim for B's instead of A's? Can you also realize that your 85% perfect is someone else's best effort? You're doing great, be content.
19. Numb your Body: If you really listen, your body is telling you you're stressed. Here are some physical signs :: tight or ridged torso, migraines, tension headaches, restricted breathing, skin breaking out, a deep feeling of fatigue, feeling "wired and tired" at night, not being able to get out of bed in the morning, lying wide-eyed at night not able to fall asleep, feeling like a run or a glass of wine is the only thing that's going to chill you out. Here are some mental signs: anxiety, overwhelm, hopelessness, wanting to cry, feeling depleted, feeling constantly busy. This is stress in the body and the mind. So don't numb yourself with food, alcohol, caffeine, constant busyness, over-scheduling, over-work, bad relationships or technology-addiction. Go for a walk and listen to what your body is trying to tell you.
20. Be Hard on Yourself: Always aim for the next best thing, punish yourself with workouts, push yourself to eat a certain way. NO. Be gentle, learn to mother yourself, be kind to what your body needs, realize that what you might need will change day-over-day. You are your own best cheerleader, your own best advocate, so love yourself up and I promise you, it will help.
Well, now you know!
That felt extremely personal to write and if I helped one person, I'll consider this a success.
I hope I didn't overwhelm you!
This is a lot to take in, I know.
Remember this took me years to figure out.
And now I work with many of my private nutrition clients - in personalized programs of just six months - to improve their eating patterns, lifestyle habits AND stress-responses.
It's all part of our health folks.
The first step in anything is truly recognizing the symptoms and modes of operation internally. You can start working on this NOW. Take your own notes. YOU are the CEO of your own health.
I bet if you really listen in, you'll know.
Having a coach can really help. Drop me a line here to tell me what's going on for you : firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd truly love to hear.
Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing (please share!), and stay tuned for the rest of my blog series Adrenal Fatigue (Part 1) and tips that will work for you.
Carry-on self-care warriors!
You ARE Calm & Strong.