Burned Out – Healing from Adrenal Fatigue… Naturally
Healing adrenal fatigue naturally
- Are you constantly stressed?
- Do you try to do everything, for everyone and not let anyone down?
- Do you feel like you’re running on empty?
- Is your life lived at high-pace, racing here and there?
- Do you regularly feel overwhelmed? But find it hard to stop.
- Are you tired all the time and try to distract yourself from how exhausted you feel with caffeine, sugar, a glass of wine, the internet or TV?
- Have you had major life events recently?
- Do you feel like you’re pulling yourself through life with your fingernails.
- Are you struggling with alternating between anxiety and feeling wired on adrenaline?
- And though you know you should, do you tend not to prioritise self-care, because you don’t have time… or it seems selfish?
- You keep getting sick… and just can’t get recover fully.
You’re burned out my love. Chances are you’re dealing with adrenal fatigue – a physical manifestation of an over-stressed body – leading to the total depletion of your inner energy system and physical body.
How do I know? Because I’ve been there too! I didn’t know WHAT was wrong… just that something was seriously not right… and that I couldn’t carry on the way I was.
I’ve had to do all the research the symptoms of adrenal fatigue and learn about healing adrenal fatigue naturally. I’ve uncovered the lifestyle, nutritional, herbal and supplement cures that work… and I want to share them on with you, so that you don’t need to do all that hard work yourself.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms, known as a syndrome, that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level. Most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, it can also arise during or after acute or chronic infections, especially respiratory infections such as influenza, bronchitis or pneumonia… you live with a general sense of unwellness, tiredness or “grey” feelings. People experiencing adrenal fatigue often have to use coffee, colas and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to prop themselves up during the day.
Now before we continue, you need to know that it’s not a “thing” that your doctor will diagnose. Unless you have the most severe form of it – Addison’s disease – which can be fatal.
No, our dear medical system does not recognise the preconditions that lead to a deadly disease…
On Holistic Primary Care.net Dr Michael Greer refers to adrenal fatigue as:
“The ‘waiting room’ for type-2 diabetes, hypothyroidism and heart attack… it is a strong indicator of which direction a patient’s health is headed; namely, down.”
So we need to take this seriously… even if our doctors think it’s not a real thing. So that’s what I’ve done, collating all the information I could find through research and intuitive connections . The following has been pieced together through research and self-observation. It is my totally non-doctor approved, non-peer reviewed overview of healing (adrenal) burnout…
Causes of Adrenal Fatigue
- Major shock or trauma
- Poor diet, substance abuse, too little sleep and rest, or too many pressures
- Severe illness or repeated infections especially respiratory tract infections: coughs, colds, flu, bronchitis or pneumonia
- Prolonged situations that you feel trapped, helpless or overwhelmed in (bad relationships, stressful jobs, poverty, imprisonment)
- Maternal fatigue during gestation/ early motherhood
- Type A personalities – those with perfectionist tendencies.
“The adrenal glands respond to all types of stress in the same way… It is important to know that all stresses are additive and cumulative. The number of stresses, whether or not you recognise them as stresses, the intensity of each stress, and the frequency with which it occurs plus the length of time it is present, all combine to form your total stress load.”
Dr James Wilson Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome
These sound VERY familiar parts of my life over the past few years. How about you? Sound familiar? See how many of the following symptoms you’ve got…
- constant tiredness and fatigue,
- need for extra sleep,
- inability to cope with stress,
- reduced libido,
- low body temperature,
- excessive hunger, cravings for sweet foods,
- erratic blood sugar levels,
- low back pain in the area of the kidneys,
- sighing, yawning,
- recurrent infections or chronic illness,
- increased fear and anxiety,
- increased frustration, irritability, moodiness, depression,
- hair loss,
- weight gain especially belly fat and around the sides of the face,
- poor memory, difficulties concentrating,
- difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness,
- difficulty getting up in the morning – but then feel more awake, alert and energetic after 6pm.
- tendency towards inflammation,
- difficulty getting to sleep,
- startle easily with noise, bright lights bother you,
- low blood pressure,
- alcohol intolerance – compulsive desire for alcohol,
- other food intolerance,
- alternating diarrhea and constipation,
- lightheadedness, palpitations,
- auto immune diseases,
- having to push yourself much harder than others to accomplish ordinary daily tasks.
It’s always nice to know for sure what you are dealing with. And the obvious first port of call is …
Family doctors tend to do blood tests which are used for diagnosing Addisons – the most severe and often fatal extreme end of this illness- but tend to miss adrenal depletion in most people. Your adrenaline levels vary minute by minute, and your blood levels simply records a slightly lagging pin point of your levels at one moment of one day. Saliva tests are most recommended by those in the know about this syndrome. These tend to have to be done using private labs. I haven’t done these.
There is a great, long diagnostic test in Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome which I found very useful.
Linked to blood sugar regulation
What’s interesting to me is how adrenal fatigue is is inherently connected to blood sugar regulation:
“The hormonal and physiological processes underlying this condition are cyclic and inter-connected: increased cortisol leads to increased adrenaline, which over time leads to dysregulation of glucose metabolism.”
Dr Michael Greer
Which makes sense – as your adrenal glands are perched right on top of your kidneys.
So my previous habit of pushing on through, or soothing myself with sugar and wheat was fueling my adrenal issues… So cutting them right back, as I have been for most of this year, is a good way of supporting my system. Meaning that I cannot run on “false” energy. (I don’t do caffeine or cocaine or much alcohol which are other false energisers.)
Adrenal Fatigue and Highly Sensitive People
Now I just need to make a side note here to say that if you are in the 10-15% of highly sensitive population, chances are MORE likely that you will, at some point in your life deal with adrenal fatigue – as modern life tends to put your system into overwhelm more frequently, and severely. Your adrenaline is more easily activated and you respond more strongly to situations – positive and negative – because you are more aware of all the factors on every level – from biological to emotional. And you are then more likely to be stressed by your own response, which you will be highly sensitive to every aspect of. It can be a vicious cycle.
If you are a Type A personality you will no doubt be pushing yourself to live life in a way that a “normal person” would…on speed… whilst not giving yourself the degree of self-care that the average HSP needs. Because you don’t want to look like a loser.
It takes one to know one!
For more on this see the work of Elaine Aron – The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You
But once you’ve figured what it is you’re dealing with (FINALLY – it can be so good to know at last)… next is time to do the healing.
This is a complex multilayered process. AND I would add, one that will support and nourish your whole system whether or not adrenal fatigue turns out to ACTUALLY be the problem.
So this is what I have been up to the past month, and it is REALLY making a difference to me. I have gone from having panic attacks multiple times a week and three lots of antibiotics for major infections in 6 weeks. To three small colds in four weeks – the first lasting 4 days, the last just hours. My energy levels are coming back. And if I find myself getting stressed or over tired I recover move quickly.
It feels really good not to be sick and tired ALL the time.
Adrenaline and oxytocin – the connection
The basic premise being this: it is known, from research into human biochemistry (see the work of Kerstin Uvnas Moberg, and Michel Odent) that adrenaline (the “stress hormone linked to fight/ flight/ freeze”) and oxytocin (“the hormone of love and closeness”) cannot be produced in the body simultaneously. We can function under one regime… or the other.
Oxytocin is produced during breastfeeding, relaxed labour, orgasm, massage and loving interactions. It promotes a feeling of love and trust and relaxation.
The things that help its production – as any labouring woman knows – are a feeling of being unobserved, dark, a sense of safety, quiet.
These are all things that introverts and HSPs need bucket loads of. Because they are what create a CALM, functioning nervous system.
When are feeling watched and judged as we perform, if we are startled by loud noises, criticised or feel under attack or threat our adrenaline system kicks in.
What we are aiming at in our short term… and long term healing… is to activate the oxytocin system. To take the body out of overwhelm. Take it out of being adrenaline fueled – which burns through sugar, taking blood away from the organs and into the muscles ready for our escape. So we can feel safe, loved and can function healthily.
It is not – nor ever was – all in your head. What you are dealing with are the physical effects of the body’s basic biochemistry in action. What we need to do is to stop ignoring it… and start working with it.
Activating the oxytocin system
One of the main things you need to do is to focus on damping down the adrenalin system, and encouraging the oxytocin system. Decreasing stress, anxiety-making events, finding ways of feeling safe moving out of your head and panic mode and into your body. You need to:
- Reduce stressors, and learning to manage stress responses – easier said than done. Create a daily life which feels safe and secure.
- Spend the majority of your time in calm surroundings
- Be with people – or animals – that you trust
- Receive massage or other hands-on, healing bodywork.
- Sex and orgasm – by yourself or even better with a caring partner – if it is loving, gentle.
- Get gentle exercise every day
- Do meditation or mindfulness practice I am really bringing myself back again and again to the idea of myself as a stream, and just watching…
- Get plenty of sleep. Power down phones and computers by 9pm. Do everything you can to get yourself into a state of relaxation before bedtime: chamomile tea, a warm bath, reading something soothing, gentle yoga…
- Low GI diet – being pretty much wheat-free and low sugar has helped me enormously. And cut caffeine out if this is one of your crutches.
- Ensure plenty of protein. Have a small protein rich snack after 8pm to sleep to stop you waking at 3am with nightmares or anxiety – which can be triggered by low blood sugar levels.
- High dose Vitamin C is vital as it is used voraciously by the adrenal glands. I take this at even higher levels the moment I feel cold symptoms coming on.
- Vitamin E.
- B complex – take in the morning as it can be over stimulating at night.
- Magnesium – 400mg – after 8pm. NOT with protein. OR as a skin spray which is absorbed better by the body.
- Zinc – take minerals with acidic drink – like apple juice.
- Many people take a supplement made from dried, ground pig adrenals/ thyroid – not something I want to try!
Herbs to treat adrenal fatigue are used in two different ways – firstly to regulate adrenal secretion and secondly to increase the body’s ability to respond to stress.
- Siberian Ginseng – not really a ginseng… nor from Siberia! Good for boosting energy and the boosting the immune system in a gentle way – good for women and men.
- Fresh ginger
- Gingko Biloba – elevates the mood and lowers mental fatigue.
- Ashwagandha -(also known as Indian ginseng, though again, not really a ginseng) this Ayurvedic herb has been used for over 1000 years.
- Gotu Kola – or goat cola as we affectionately refer to it here!!
- Licorice – I can’t stand it personally- but am taking it as part of a great supplement: Biocare AD206 Adrenal Support, which contains many of the vitamins, minerals and supplements listed here (thanks to Veronika Robinson for the heads up on this)
To boost the immune system:
- Astragalus, Eleuthero and Echinacea are often combined in formulas and are recommended for those who are run down and experiencing recurrent respiratory infections.
- And of course high dose Vitamin C.
- Plus elderberry (which contains a now-patented active ingredient which kills flu virus) -taken as a syrup or in supplements.
- Kombucha or kefir, cider vinegar and live natural yogurt to help the body’s good bacteria.
- I tend to make myself a smoothie in the mornings with fruit and live yogurt and add in elderberry syrup and echinacea at the first tingle of a cold symptom.
- I also make myself a tea of echinacea root, manuka honey, freshly squeezed lemon, grated ginger and cider vinegar as a mid morning drink if I feel cold symptoms.
- For lunch I will make a lentil soup with lots of garlic, ginger, onions, fresh chicken stock and turmeric to help fight infections.
How Long to Heal?
I have a tendency to stop the instant I feel a slight boost, this is something that you cannot do with adrenal fatigue – you’re in it for the long haul – though I was amazed just how quickly I have experienced big changes.
I also have a tendency to skimp on supplements – wanting to eke them out, as they can be expensive. But again, I’m not doing that now. Ill health is a far bigger cost on every level to me.
Dr Greer cautions that “treatment takes 30-60 days to have an effect. As adrenal fatigue is something which builds up over a long time, it also takes a long time to heal.”
A further post here on Dreaming Aloud, From Burnout to Brilliance
For those going through big transitions – my post on self care for metamorphosis
The Adrenal Fatigue Solution – e book only
Natural Approaches to Healing Adrenal Fatigue – paperback only