I had a terrible time of it post pregnancy. You’ve only ever known me as a glass overflowing, charge ahead, boundless energy kind of girl, but boy were the 2 years after my pregnancy hard. I was experiencing anxiety – a permanent pang in the middle of my chest, and a feeling like I couldn’t ever take a big enough deep breath to relax. I found everything hard and yet couldn’t stop myself from being busy. I was incapable of taking a nap when the bub slept, ending up being just more frustrated that I’d got nothing done. I found ditching the weight impossible. I couldn’t handle another person saying ‘being a mum is tiring. You’ll get used to it’. I knew this wasn’t the ‘me’ I was meant to be and this was definitely more than tiredness.
What then ensued thanks to my amazing naturopath, was a near 2 year long recalibration journey to get my shot-to-pieces hormones, thyroid and adrenals back to a place of normal, which meant ME feeling like ME. Everyone deserves that feeling and only you can know if you’re not feeling entirely YOU. Not everyone’s body gets thrown by pregnancy like mine, so no need to worry of course if you feel fine and really are just a bit tired. Often pregnancy will highlight an underlying problem that existed pre pregnancy and that was the case with me.
Your adrenal / anxiety issues might not even stem from parent hood or pregnancy, so read on as the tips are for everyone.
Something I want to mention… I do love how much real, nourishing food and low tox living can support one’s wellness and make a difference to how we feel, but if there’s a complex issue, we have to take the time to look at our individual story with the help of a practitioner and a detailed pathology and case history assessment. We also have to deal with our stress / adrenal responses and work load we put on ourselves. You can eat all the kale chips or drink all the chicken broth in the world, but it might not be enough if there’s a bigger issue at play.
Let’s take a look now at our adrenals and some great tips to ensure we’re staying mindful of this important little organ and its role in our overall sense of wellness. This is not just for parents. You could be in a stressful executive job, trying to make partner in a law firm, training for a sports event, trying to do too much in general, coping with a divorce. This is for many.
What exactly are adrenals?
Your adrenals are an organ pair, that sit one each above the kidneys, and are a key part of your endocrine system. They are responsible for producing various hormones, but the major ones are adrenalin and cortisol – the stress hormone. We’re wired to cope perfectly well with occasional stress. The odd bit of stress helps us perform, and back in the day, helped us survive. Stress day in, day out however, we were not wired for, and while your adrenals can produce elevated cortisol levels to help you get through brief times of stress, if you sustain periods of stress into weeks, months and years, you could start experiencing adrenal fatigue symptoms, that if left ignored will only get worse, as your adrenals find it harder and harder to produce the stress hormones you need. I always say, ignoring when something’s up with your adrenals is ignoring your need to nurture yourself. How on earth can we believe we should ignore ourselves? Well, hopefully after today, there’ll be a few more of us on the ‘me me me’ bandwagon when it comes to personal TLC.
What are some of the symptoms of early to moderate adrenal fatigue?
Constant sleepiness, zero sex drive, weight gain or not being able to lose weight, feeling like everything’s hard, unable to relax, anxiety, depression, cravings for super sweet or salty foods, finding stressful situations impossible to deal with, feeling like it’s a massive struggle to get out of bed.
What if I ignore my adrenals?
Adrenals aren’t too good at giving you lots of chances. You’ve got to listen up as over time you will be unable to cope with stressful situations, might become insomniac, experience breathlessness, palpitations, extreme anxiety, chronic disease… sounds like something we want to AVOID, doesn’t it?
But how do I ignore everything that needs doing?
Well, we have to be selective, and we have to ask for help. Our modern nucleus lifestyles don’t do us any favours when it comes to stress. Why do we feel so guilty asking a friend to babysit if we’re broke, or getting a cleaner in, or taking time for a weekly night out, or heck, even saying ‘I’m out of here for a walk by the beach because I need it.’ These things aren’t luxuries and shouldn’t be considered luxuries either. Do not feel guilty about nurturing yourself and start building a community of people around you where you can all help each other with what you all need and not feel guilty or ashamed of wanting to nurture yourself!
So what are some tips for keeping my adrenals healthy?
I’ve asked 3 wonderful professionals for their advice. My 10 year long naturopath, Christine Schwedhelm of Concept Holistic Health, my wonderful friend and amazing naturopath Tabitha McIntosh of Awaken your Health who i’ve featured here before, and holistic personal trainer to the stars Lian Monley, for their best tips to inspire us to all focus on this thing that we should not ignore. Here we go!
Christine gave me one tip only – a really, really good one. If you think you don’t have time, or can’t sit still or find it hard to relax during the day???? Then you are exactly the person that needs to implement this tip starting right now!
Find yourself 15-20 minutes and a quiet space to lie down. Best scenario is with a pillow under your knees / lower legs to get your legs slightly above heart level. Think about getting back to your body. Think about repeating a little mantra if you have trouble simply being still and breathing, such as ‘this is where I’m meant to be. Breathing happy. Relaxed. Being conscious of my body, my breathing and the feeling of being relaxed’. Put on meditative music – your favourite, peaceful kind. Not everyone wants pan pipes and wind chimes! If you truly commit to this activity – no phones, no TV, just being with you and stilling the mind, your adrenal recovery is as high as 90%. You will feel very chilled. If you work in an office, consider booking a meeting room or going down to your car and lying in the back seat for a bit.
- Address negative coping patterns for stress – recreational drugs, caffeine, alcohol & sugar reliance.
- Go for low to no caffeine to allow your adrenal glands to recuperate from the stress of overproducing adrenaline & cortisol. Go for lower caffeine drinks such as green or white tea; or caffeine-free alternatives such as Rooibos; and herbal infusions such as liquorice tea. Implement a weaning program off caffeine over several days to avoid withdrawal symptoms such as headaches.
- Implement sleep hygiene to ensure your sleep environment is conducive of a restful sleep. Minimise your electronics in the hours preceding bed time, and consider creating a sleep cue for your body (such as lavender bath, herbal tea, a shower, even classical music or a Yoga Nidra meditation) to help wind your body down. Both sleep quality and quantity are important for adrenal health: try getting into bed before 10.30pm and waking with the sunrise for some light to moderate, restorative walking in nature or yoga exercise.
- Regular protein at meal times is essential to maintaining tight blood glucose control, such that the energy levels are consistent and stress response is steady. A whole foods, colourful, nutrient dense diet is definitely a big help.
- Nutritionally, the big players here for adrenal repletion and maintenance are Vitamin C, a B complex, and Magnesium. Particular amino acids are also of importance.
- Speak to your Herbalist or Naturopath about the adrenal restorative herbal tonic medicines that are best suited to you.
1) The Adrenal Fatigue Diet
Increasing your levels of vitamin C (found in citrus, red bell peppers, papaya, and broccoli) and vitamin B5 (available in sunflower seeds, mushrooms, yoghurt, and corn) through your diet or supplements may help ease symptoms of adrenal fatigue. A daily teaspoon of organic coconut oil is amazing for adrenal fatigue
2) Herbs for Adrenal Fatigue
For herbal relief of adrenal fatigue, look to adaptogens. This class of herbs (which includes ginseng, ashwaghandha and rhodiola) is thought to build your resistance to physical, chemical, and biological stress, as well as boost your energy and vitality.
3) Support Your Adrenals With Stress Relief
Keeping your stress in check is key to alleviating adrenal fatigue. Research shows that yoga, mediation and tai chi can all help lower your levels of cortisol and decrease your stress. For optimal stress relief, include one of these tension-taming practices—or another relaxation technique, such as deep breathing—into your daily routine.
Exercise is also effective for managing stress, leaving out high-intensity cardiovascular workouts (such as running or vigorous cycling) as they may contribute to burnout in some cases.
My extra tips?
1. Say no to things that don’t serve you or don’t sit true. If someone asks you to do something and you ‘comply’ yet it’s not the right thing to do in your heart, then you are putting your body into a state of stressful discord. Sure, we might need to pump out some work that’s not our dream job to get some bills paid, but be strategic. Put a time limit on such times and create different opportunities for yourself down the track, where your head and heart are in line. The only thing in your way of relaxation and success in areas you want to be, is you.
2. Make a list on a Saturday morning of everything that’s on on the weekend, and cross two items that are for others’ benefits OFF THE LIST and outsource or delegate them. Replace them with at least 2 opportunities for YOU to be nurturing YOU.
MORE. OF. THIS. FOR. SURE.
As with all times when knowing change is afoot and needed, DO NOT PANIC about what you’re *not* doing – you’ll produce too much cortisol 😉 If you think I’m going to bed before 10.30 every night or doing the lie down thing every single day, you’d be wrong! I am however focusing more on nurturing myself and getting to bed at least half the week a little earlier and lying down a good 3-4 days a week for 15 minutes and definitely being more strategic about where I want to be, what I want to be doing and what work makes me happy – You guys are a big part of the happiness that I am working on putting more of my time into.
Get excited about incorporating a couple of new strategies into your day or week, and consider seeing a holistic professional to get any additional supplement or tonic support you might need. We’re all totally individual, and given the endocrine system is such a labyrinth, if other parts aren’t working well that feed in or out from your adrenals, then those will need to be addressed too, to get some body synergy happening. And when it happens, by gosh you won’t recognise yourself.
Take it from someone’s who’s been on the journey. Have you? How do you nurture yourself to keep stress at bay? Share your tips so we can all support each other to make this a priority in this crazy, busy world of ours.
thanks Alexx – I have suffered in the past and slowly getting better but these tips will help too 🙂
I still remember that night on FB saying I was in the middle of writing my adrenal post – I think that was 6 months ago. Finally done and out there to help us all remember US x
This is an excellent article & I will definitely using some of the advice given. Thank you
Super welcome Kerry! 🙂
Some great tips – especially for reducing our to-do lists and minimising the number of stressors in our lives.
It is important to take a holistic approach to adrenal fatigue and determine the underlying stressors – each person will be different and respond in a different way.
However, most will benefit from avoiding stimulants, eating healthy and using adrenal boosting supplements. To your list we would definitely include Siberian Ginseng and also Liquorice root extract, Tyrosine and Chromium Piccolinate. All would help support the adrenal glands and help regulate blood sugar levels, lift mood and increase energy. We have had good results on the case studies we have done.
Thanks for the interesting read!
THanks Mark. Both Tabitha and Lian mention supplements being needed depending on individual case. I certainly needed them. It comes down to the individual case study and their practitioner’s recommendations and that’s awesome you guys are having success with those. Chromium is gift of the gods I agree! 🙂
Great article! You know, your whole first paragraph could have been directly been written by me…down to being fine pre-pregnancy to being overwhelmed with fatigue, stress, depression and being unable to cope with a lot of things. Its taken a long time (my daughter has just turned 3) but I am finally on track to being back to my normal self again. For me this has taken a journey with a psychologist to look at my mindset and to learn about things like mindful meditation, and now seeing a naturopath and working on my diet and fixing all the deficiencies that I seem to have developed. I make sure I take regular time-outs for myself now, whether that is an hour at the gym, or getting up half and hour early for a cuppa before the little one wakes, or a night out with friends. Finally starting to feel great again now 🙂
Thanks so much and YAY to you finally feeling great again. Never ignore not feeling *you* I say. Investigation, determination and commitment offer us the sweet rewards of feeling awesome. Very worth it! 🙂
Rushing woman’s syndrome is a must read book in the topic too. Making some BIG lifestyle changes here to combat this myself. Feeling so much better for it. You are so right, food and face cream are a drop in the ocean compared to getting this sorted. Stress and adrenal fatigue is more toxic than any cream or trip to the golden arches.
Awesome Jo. Thanks. Shall read that book for sure as I am rather passionate about this subject (could you tell? hehe)
Hi Alexx, I found your blog via Sonia Natural New Age Mum. These are all great tips. I really need to focus on the relaxation and sleep one!
I suffered a nervous breakdown with adrenal fatigue a couple of years ago. It’s a constant challenge to repair the damage and alter the habits that put me there in the first place, but I’m a million times better. There’s still a weakness there though, but at least now I’m very aware when I need to slow down and look after myself.
Adrenal fatigue is what lead me to starting my blog. If you’re interested here’s a post I wrote on AF:
Hi Laney, Yay. I think we met briefly at Problogger last year? That is so wonderful that you’re recovering so well and I agree – it is super hard to make the changes long term if one has a tendancy to ‘go that way’. I really have to force myself to choose relaxation. It just doesn’t feel natural. BUT, it does get easier, so I suppose after a couple more years, it really will feel natural with more dedication… Thanks for sharing. I’ll hop over now and read! xx
I had a CT scan recently due to widespread lymph node swelling. The scan revealed a 4+cm cyst on my right adrenal gland. What are you thoughts….should I get it removed?
Oh you poor thing. While I cannot of course say what you should do, if it were me, I would get a naturopathic assessment of the situation as well as an endocrinologist’s opinion and then see which one sits right with you!
I LOVEb this Alexx.
What a wealth of information.
After my second baby (who is 2 &1/2) I have had an emergency appendix removal, autoimmune disease, nasty virus, messed up hormones and thyroid and blood cell counts and been very, very tired until recently!
I love what you say here because I was eating so well and exercising but it wasn’t enough like you say here when bigger things are at play. And it means the world to feel like “me” again, I am still on that journey to pre baby vibrance.
Thank you for this fantastic post XX
Thanks Bek. Am so glad for you you’re on the fast track (taking it slow of course 😉 to feeling YOU! xx
Hi Alex. Just found your blog and have your coconut cupcakes in the oven;) so glad to find this post, I’m currently working with my naturopath to overcome this very problem. I’m finding it difficult to give up coffee though :/ look forward to exploring your blog. Kelly x
How did you like them Kelly!?? I went cold turkey on caffeinated coffee. I found a handful of brands who’s decaf is Swiss Water Process filtered (ie, the non chemically way) like Republica Coffee and Sacred Grounds and have a strong decaf long black with a splash of cream every day. I realised it was totally psychological in the end and after a few months, realised just what it had been doing to me – especially to my concentration / anxiety. Good luck on your journey with it. It’s quite a long slow one, but so, so worth it! Alexx x
The cupcakes were very yummy, and 3 out of 4 kids liked them! (yet to find any recipe they all love ). Where can you buy those coffee brands? I had been steering clear of decaf because of the chemicals, but that might be my answer. I think it’s also a phsycological thing for me too, I’m such a creature of habit! Thanks for all the great info 🙂
Fantastic! Republica is available through it’s Facebook page’s online shop for their decaf beans and in supermarkets for their decaf instant. Sacred grounds is a bit harder to find. Mainly health food shops. About Life in Sydney for example. https://www.facebook.com/RepublicaCoffee
Thanks for this article- I am going through this right now. Went to a naturopath for the first time last week. He said it wasn’t good- i knew that, but didn’t think it was that bad. I too am post pregnancy (a 14month ball of energy- love her to bits). I’ve been given b vitamins, metox, probiotic tablets and some herbal medicine- I can’t get it down!! I literally vomit trying to get the medicine in- tried it in water, juice, food- it’s so overpowering! Is there anything I can mix it with to make it digestible? I really want to commit to my healing but I just can’t drink the damn medicine!!!
All I can suggest is perhaps a tonic that’s preserves with pear juice and not alcohol. They have the choice to do either. this will give it a sweetness and hopefully make it bearable. Or, you could do what I do with my son if I have to give him something yukky, which is serve it in a spoon full of rice syrup or honey washed down with coconut water. Good luck on your journey. It’s so super rewarding is all I can say! Alexx
Excellent post Alexx. You have clearly spelled out exactly what I am still going through – resting is not my strong point! But you have inspired me to make some time each day to put my feet up – I feel guilty even just writing that which is something else to overcome! Congratulations on your book too by the way x
Thanks Nikki – I think a lot of us grapple with guilt for taking time to do nothing, but here’s the thing: We can do more if we sometimes do nothing 🙂 🙂
This is such a great post and I think I also remember the podcast episode. Can anyone please recommend to me some specific supplements for adrenal fatigue that you take? I just did a quick search and I do not know what is the best available in Australia. Thank you.