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.