Conquering Stress and Burnout
A blog by Danielle Lindsay from @Thyme_to_nourish
Stress is something we all deal with in our day to day life. Just like anything in life it is normal to go through cycles. Sometime you will experience periods of high stress and sometimes periods of low stress. BUT what isn’t normal is feeling a heightened sense of stress ALL THE TIME. Experiencing high amounts of stress for long periods of time definitely isn’t a fun experience and it also creates complete upset in the body and can lead to adrenal fatigue.
Now you may or may not have heard of or know what adrenal fatigue is, so before I go on I will give you a rough overview and explain.
Adrenal fatigue is a term used to describe when the adrenals (little hat like glands that sit above your kidneys) have been overstimulated by too much stress for some time which then causes them to either over secrete or under secrete the hormones/neurotransmitters (like cortisol) that they are in charge of. The inappropriate secretion of these hormones can be seen in such symptoms as;
- Brain fog
- Autoimmune like conditions
- Hair loss
- Abdominal weight gain
- Thyroid issues
- Decrease in sex drive
- Reproductive illnesses
- Moodiness, depression and irritability
- Unbalanced blood pressure leading to lightheadedness
- Cravings for salt and sugar during mid afternoon and late at night
- Insulin resistance
- Sleep disturbances
Now cortisol is a hormone that actually gets a really bad reputation because of the high stress environment that we now live in. Cortisol used to really help us out in primal times when we would need to run away from a tiger, fight off an attacker, and make it through food shortages/starvation. It helped us do all of this by triggering a series of systems in the body to take the blood flow/nutrients away from the internal organs of the digestive, reproductive, and lymphatic systems and redirect it to the cardiovascular/respiratory systems and extremities so that we could make it through whatever it was we were facing by running faster, jumping higher, or becoming superhuman in strength. Cortisol is also in charge of our natural wake/sleep cycle and is naturally at its highest during the morning so that we feel more awake and alert.
Here is the thing, when you experience high amounts of stress for long periods of time it’s not like you go from a normal human to a burnt out zombie overnight…. No, in fact there are actually different stages/phases that you will go through before you actually achieve total burnout; 1) wired and tired, 2) stressed and tired and 3) burnout. In the first stage you will probably feel too energized which can make you jump at weird things/loud noises, cause insomnia, and lack of appetite/sex drive are often reported. The second stage will be more of waking early in the morning (like 3/4am) and not being able to fall back asleep, feeling sluggish throughout the day and feeling the need to consume LARGE AMOUNTS of sugar/caffeine mid afternoon to keep going. And stage 3…well it’s pretty self explanatory, it is the total feeling of day after day complete and utter exhaustion and burnout!
BUT GUESS WHAT?!?! Adrenal fatigue is totally treatable no matter what stage you are at! Actually adrenal fatigue is something I have now dealt with twice in my life time and I’m only 30!!! The biggest thing to know about recovering from adrenal fatigue is that the recovery does not happen overnight, just like the adrenals did not burn themselves out overnight either. Recovering fully can sometimes take a year or two, depending how bad it was in the first place, but it is possible.
Bellow I have put together some of my favourite tips for recovering from adrenal fatigue and to also just use during times of high stress so you don’t burn yourself out….because let’s face it stress is apart of all our lives!
- Sleep is necessary. So often these days you hear everyone and anyone talking about how little they slept the night before or how they are not sleeping properly. Seriously! It’s even bragged about and almost worn like a badge of honour in our society. But here is the thing….you literally need to sleep! Sleep (especially good quality sleep) is so important to both the body and mind on an everyday basis BUT it becomes even more important when you are going through periods of high stress or are experiencing burnout/adrenal fatigue because lack of sleep actually triggers more adrenaline/cortisol to be released by the adrenals. To make sure you are getting good quality sleep try keeping yourself on a “bedtime schedule/routine” so that your body/mind get the memo to start winding down. Try implementing; no screens 1 hour before bed, sleeping in complete darkness (Blackout curtains and eye masks are amazing), and not drinking alcohol within 2 hours of turning into help make sure your getting the best sleep possible. If you are still struggling or need a little more, herbal teas like camomile, lavender, lemon balm and valerian can all be very relaxing and calming to the body and nervous system.
- Hydration is ALWAYS key. Whether your experiencing adrenal fatigue or your adrenals are just working a little harder because your under a little more stress it is super important to make sure that you are keeping hydrated. Making sure that you are drinking at least 2.5 litres (or more depending on your weight/height/activity level) is crucial at any point but when there is a little extra stress on the adrenals this can become even more important as these little guys actually govern the hydration levels within the body. Basically keeping yourself hydrated keeps these guys from being put under even more stress so they can just focus on what’s really important at the moment!
- Make friends with a BALANCED diet. The reality is that we live in a society where there is always some fancy new diet that will fix all your alignments, cure every disease, and make you look like your a fitness model….insert eye-roll here. But here is the thing, MOST of those diets are all about restricting one form of food or another, OR sometimes even entire food groups (eg low carb). While they may work short term they are not a long term answer for oh so many reasons, but one of the biggest ones is that restriction of food groups often leads to nutrient deficiencies and creates unwanted stress upon the body. So if your stressed out, burnt out, or in a state where you are trying to heal your adrenals DITCH THE DIET! Instead focus on including an assortment of of whole real foods in your diet. Focus on bringing in lots of vegetables, high quality protein and fats, and then also include some good quality grains like; beans, legumes, yams, quinoa, potatoes and kamut. Try to avoid or omit processed breads, sugar, and trans-fats as these all put extra stress on the body and the adrenals. And please please do not be scared of healthy fats…they are actually your friend!
- Salt is your friend! For so long we have been told that salt is so terrible… and well ya too much isn’t great for you BUT too much of anything is bad for you….Like seriously you can actually eat to much kale too! But salt actually has some really amazing minerals in it that do the body, and the adrenals wonders. Just make sure you aren’t using normal table salt, as it has actually been high processed, and stripped of all minerals (except iodine). Instead opt for either a high quality sea salt or himalayan salt!
- Exercise properly. Alright I am definitely going to blow your mind just a little here…..exercise is stress on the body. It is mostly a good stress, and yes there is such thing as good stress and bad stress BUT GUESS WHAT…..the body/adrenals literally do not know the difference between the two. Now I am not telling you not to exercise/be active because that is just as dangerous health wise! BUT what I am telling you is to choose wisely and listen to your body when it comes to exercise. Choosing activities that are lower impact (but still for a 30 minute duration per day) will help to get your heart rate up but also not wreak havoc on the adrenals during high stress times unlike high impact endurance activities.
- Reduce your stress. Okay now this one is huge!! Let’s face it you will never fully heal your burnout/adrenal fatigue if you never learn how to properly manage stress and reduce it in your life. Part of stress reduction is learning to let go of expectations of yourself/other (which can be REAL difficult). Things like lessening work loads, and learning how to ask for help are also great, especially if you are in a time of true healing. BUT stress reduction also is about becoming more mindful in your life over all. Becoming aware of your thoughts, actions, emotions and how it all impacts your body/daily life. Learning to tune into, or become more mindful in, all of these signals not only can help to decrease your stress level over all but it can also give you a good idea about what kind of stresses you can handle and under what circumstances. Having a daily mindfulness practice can be a huge help when learning how to bring about mindfulness into your day to day life, and there are so many to choose from! Having a daily mindfulness practice (no matter which one it is ) will also put the body into a parasympathetic state when being practiced which is the state you want to be in more of the time if you are experiencing adrenal fatigue/burnout.
- Make room for ADAPTOGENS. Now I am sure that you have heard this word buzzed around and are wondering what the heck it means. Well to put it into the simplest terms (because it’s actually pretty complicated) adaptogens are herbs that work to balance the cortisol levels in the body. They work to lower cortisol when it’s too high and increase it when it’s too low….because yes we actually do need some cortisol pumping through our systems on a regular basis, its actually healthy! Some of my favourite adaptogens to take during times of stress and adrenal fatigue are; reishi mushroom, ashwagandha, wild oats, rhodiola, siberian ginseng, astragalus, schisandra berry and holy basil. You can easily find any of these in tinctures, pill form or even in teas/elixirs at most local health food stores or online!
- Supplements. Now this one kind of ties in with the last category but also deserves a category of it’s own. If your a healthy individual you don’t really need to supplement on a daily basis because you should be receiving all your required nutrients from your diet as well as retaining them properly. BUT the thing is with high stress times and adrenal fatigue your body actually requires even more nutrients to help the adrenals out because they are working over and above. During this time you also may not be absorbing/retaining them as well as you would normally either. Vitamins like C, B5, B6, B12 and minerals like magnesium are being used and in high demand during stressful times by the body and the adrenals. I really recommend supplementing with these on a regular basis until you are fully healed of your adrenal fatigue OR until your high stress time comes to an end. You can even find supplements that are adrenal specific, like Megafoods Adrenal Strength, that have all these vitamins, minerals and even some beneficial herbs in the right amounts in ONE CAPSULE which makes it super easy and convenient to work into your day. I actually personally take Adrenal Strength any time I am feeling stressed. I also recommend taking an omega 3 and vitamin D liquid to help fight inflammation (as stress adds even more inflammation to the body) during this time to help combat all the extra inflammation!
Danielle is a nutrition and life space coach ( CNP, and BSc Psychology) whose focus is on mental health, and balancing the thyroid and adrenals. When Danielle isn’t working with clients or facilitating workshops you can find her cooking up a storm in her kitchen, getting lost in the woods or spending time back in Alberta with her niece and family.