As we are well and truly in the swing of 2015, I have noticed a huge influx of tired, anxious, overworked and stressed out patients walking through my door over the last month. Everyone seems to have knuckled down for the year and is bogged down by their overly busy working week. Many are feeling flat, exhausted, wired and on edge- not a good combination when you have a lot to get through in your home and/or work life. Poor sleep, frequent infections, weight gain, digestive issues and headaches can all result from high stress levels.
The name of the condition that leaves us feeling these symptoms after prolonged stress is ‘adrenal fatigue’. Our adrenal glands are responsible for releasing the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and are found in our kidneys. Adrenal glands are responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ response- or the physical and biochemical response that takes place when we are under pressure or stress. This response is designed so that if we are in some sort of life threatening situation, we can fight or ‘flight’ (run) for our lives. While we need some cortisol and adrenaline to get through a busy or stressful time, prolonged high levels can cause symptoms such as poor sleep, anxiety, irritability, poor immunity, difficulty switching off and fatigue. It is easy to get caught up in a busy life, with little time to relax or refresh, but eventually your adrenals WILL suffer. We need to look after our body and take time out to allow our adrenal glands some balance. This ultimately helps you to handle stress better, and make it through a busy week with more ease.
Here is a list of my top tips for nourishing your adrenal glands:
- Get enough sleep. Sounds easy, but often adequate sleep is the first thing that goes out the window when we are busy. Aim for 8 hrs sleep each night, ideally between the hours of 10pm and 6am. Prioritise getting to sleep rather than finishing work or household errands. You get much more out of your sleep if you get to bed early, and get up early rather than sleep in, which is so tempting when tired. Sleep is the easiest way to allow your adrenal glands to re-calibrate.
- Turn off the technology before bed. Put away those laptops, ipads and mobile phones and disconnect yourself from social media and emails for at least 30minutes before bed. This gives our brains time to unwind and switch off from our day. It also means we are exposed to less light, which aids melatonin release. Melatonin is our sleep hormone and its secretion is suppressed by light. So, if we are in a brightly lit room and surrounded with light emitting from our computers and smart phone, we are not giving our brain the chance to get our melatonin levels up for good quality sleep.
- Start the day with some gentle exercise. Hard-core cardio workouts, while amazing for our health, are not very restful or restorative for someone with adrenal fatigue. Gentle exercises like yoga, swimming, pilates, stretching or walking give both our minds and our bodies the break they need. Morning exercise has been shown to be more effective for combating stress than evening exercise.
- Eat breakfast. Don’t rush out the door without some breakfast! This is one of the cues that our body uses to regulate cortisol levels. It is also important to kick start blood sugar regulation for the day. Aim to eat within 1 hour of waking.
- Find 1 hour of time out for physical rest on both a Saturday and a Sunday. So many of my patients spend their weekends rushing around from one thing to the next. Catching up with friends, meeting for coffee, doing some shopping or taking the kids to school sport can be good time out from work, but is not restful for our adrenals. Have a nap. Read a book. Head to the beach. Read the paper front to back. Watch a movie. Whatever it takes to give your body some down time.
- Cut the caffeine. While easy to resort to coffee for energy, the caffeine stimulates an already overly stimulated system! It makes your brain scattered, leads to poor concentration and poor sleep quality. Limit to 1 coffee a day, as early in the morning as possible.
- Nourish your adrenal glands with herbal medicine such as liquorice, rehmannia, rhodiola, Siberian ginseng or withania. Herbal medicines in the class of ‘adaptogenic’ herbs help your body to better regulate your stress response and handle pressure more effectively. They aid energy levels, cognition, concentration, memory and help your body to switch off at night. They are a fantastic addition to your daily supplemental regime to keep you on top of your game!