Did you know that gaining weight around your belly could be a classic sign of adrenal fatigue?
And that chronic stress can directly block your ability to lose any weight at all?
If you have too many adrenal hormones they go straight to your waistline. Your body gets stuck in “high alert” mode and stress hormones are released over and over due to constant daily pressures, they can cause adrenal exhaustion. It’s one of the most common hormonal problems I see. Yet, many women and their doctors don’t recognize the warning signs of adrenal fatigue until it’s far too late. Addressing stress responses is one of the most overlooked natural ways to balance hormones, achieve stable weight, a healthy immune system, good sleep, and stable moods.
Does Your Day Look Like This?
Have the words “I’m so stressed” and “I’m exhausted” become daily mantras? Do you often feel teary and tense and think, “I can’t handle this pressure anymore”? If stress calls the shots on your life, it’s highly likely you’re suffering from adrenal burnout. Or you’re well on the way there. Meanwhile, it will also cause symptoms of hormone imbalance.
Over time, as your adrenal fatigue worsens, it can totally compromise your natural hormone balance, which may lead you to experience enormous energy fluctuations that look something like this:
- 6-8 am Energy Slump On Waking: You struggle to drag yourself out of bed and can’t get going without a strong coffee or two (or three).
- 9.30-11am: Energy Low: Your body still feels like you’ve got no gas in the tank.
- 12-2pm: Energy Rise: After lunch, you finally feel awake enough to get more done. But the energy doesn’t last.
- 3-5pm: Energy Slump: At work, you keep wanting to put your head down on the desk. At home, you’re so exhausted you have to have a quick nap.
- 6-9 pm: Energy Rise or Continued Dip: You slowly recover from the afternoon energy trough. Or if you’re seriously fatigued you actually have to have a nap when you get home.
- 9.30/10pm: Energy Low: You’re tired, even nodding off, but you’ve been rushing all day so you want to sit up a bit longer to feel you actually have a life.
- 11 pm: Energy Rise: You suddenly get a second wind and end up reading for hours or watching back-to-back episodes of the latest ‘it’ series on Netflix.
- 1-2am: Energy Dip: You finally feel tired enough to sleep.
- 3-5am: Energy Rise: You wake from sleep feeling suddenly alert or very tense. You don’t fall back asleep quickly or only manage to nod off again shortly before it’s time to get up for the day.
These constant slumps and dips are signs that your adrenals are really struggling. Adrenal fatigue is one of the biggest cause of hormonal imbalance in women.
What Causes Adrenal Fatigue?
Your adrenals are two walnut-shaped glands that weigh about 0.2 ounces or 5 grams each and sit on top of your kidneys. They produce hormones that have a range of functions in your body, but one of their most important jobs is to ramp up production of stress hormones when you’re under duress.
A few weeks or months of stress are all it takes to start taxing your adrenals and ramp up signs of hormone imbalance. The trouble is – your brain and body don’t register the difference between a true health threat (a poisonous snake crosses your path) and a flip out over something in your day (your computer just shut down due to a virus). It treats that argument with your partner, social anxiety at the dinner party and overwhelms you feel about your ‘to do’ list the same as if your life was under threat from a pack of hungry wolves.
The Stress That Kickstarts Adrenal Fatigue Can Be:
- Physical: You experience infections (like Lyme, EBV, herpes etc) or suffer allergies and food sensitivities. Excessive sports like marathon running and over-exercising can cause or worsen adrenal fatigue.
- Emotional: Caused by issues like work pressures, financial or relationship problems. Past unresolved trauma and abuse. Feeling unworthy, not good enough, pushing yourself to over-achieve all the time. (That was certainly me!)
- Chemical: Your liver is overloaded by toxins coming from xenoestrogens, antibiotics, prescription drugs; or you have lived or worked near places (like factories or farms) that are highly toxic. Chemo and radiation can also contribute.
- Spiritual: You feel a lack of purpose or direction in life.
- Dietary: A period spent overloading on caffeine, carbs and high-sugar foods can stimulate repeated cortisol release, setting up the adrenal fatigue pattern. Chronic gut issues like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, IBS, “leaky gut” and unaddressed food sensitivities can also cause adrenal fatigue.
Whatever the trigger, if the resulting hormonal imbalances are not corrected and the stress continues, your adrenal glands may end up completely and utterly taxed and worn out. Then the very hormones meant to give you energy and keep you alive if you’re under threat, can start to compromise your health. And eventually, they become depleted.
Your Body On Stress – Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
You’re about to go for a job interview. Your body treats this as a perceived threat and triggers a powerful “danger” signal. This activates your HPA (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis), a feedback loop between your brain and other organs such as the kidneys. Your hypothalamus is like the command center and its job is to send urgent “Watch Out” messages to your pituitary and Adrenal glands. Within femtoseconds, your fight or flight response kicks in. This preps you to defend yourself or flee. So you experience a rapid cascade of other stress responses:
- Your adrenal glands quickly pump out adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. Part of their job is to ensure that glucose is quickly dumped into your bloodstream to give you energy and focus to handle this emergency.
- Breathing and heart rate speed up in order to pump oxygen and nutrients to your brain (for quick thinking) and to your muscles, which tense up at the ready, in case you have to sprint away.
- Your mind and hearing zoom in on sensory information, but you could not focus easily to write a report or read a book.
- Blood-clotting clotting ability is heightened in case you sustain an injury.
- Perspiration increases to help prevent your body from becoming overheated if you have to make a quick getaway.
- Your pupils dilate and let in more light to sharpen your focus for fighting or fleeing.
- Everything that’s not essential shuts down so your body can mobilize all it got to keep you alive. That means that to conserve energy, important bodily functions such as digestion and tissue repair are delayed while your immune system and reproduction go on “slow-mo”. This article helps explain why women who are chronically stressed to the max often find it difficult to become pregnant.
What is Adrenal Fatigue – Understanding the Phases
If you have too many pressures in your life and constantly push yourself too hard, you can end up with health problems, even if you are doing everything to ensure you are balancing your hormones through diet. The over-triggering of your HPA axis can lead to one of three phases of adrenal fatigue:
Phase 1. On High Alert
When you’re meeting a huge deadline for work or you’ve been up all night with a very sick child, you enter this first adrenal phase for a short period of time. Elevated stress hormones initially power you up with energy and then drop you down, leaving you feeling more worn out than usual. But your body is still able to make all the hormones it needs to respond to stress effectively and to energize you to get through the day.
Phase 2: Tired But Wired
Once constant pressures or a taxing situation puts you under chronic stress, the repeated triggering of your adrenal glands can cause high cortisol release one moment and low another. You can’t get going so you start to rely more and more on coffee and tea to try to boost your flagging energy levels. But this article explains why the caffeine only causes further hormonal imbalance.
How Stress (Cortisol) Steals Your Other Hormones
Normally pregnenolone works as a precursor hormone to help produce testosterone, estrogen, progesterone and DHEA (which has anti-aging benefits). When your body is struggling to keep up with stress, it diverts an important hormone called pregnenolone to making more cortisol instead of progesterone. This reaction is known as the “pregnenolone steal” – see the chart below:
The classic example is a woman stressed about getting pregnant (she experiences pregnenolone steal) who then adopts a child; as her stress levels go down with the new baby, she gets pregnant with her own child. I’m sure you have heard (or know) of stories like that. As her pregnenolone is not longer directed to over-produce cortisol, she can now also produce sufficient progesterone and get pregnant.
Phase 3: Burnout
Your adrenals have been overtaxed for an extended period of time by the constant triggering of the body’s stress response – which has become like an over-reactive alarm. Recognizing that you shouldn’t have so much cortisol in your system, your body becomes cortisol resistant, shutting down some of its cortisol receptors to try to help you get better hormonal balance. As a result of this shutdown, instead of your cortisol level rising in the morning and lowering in the evening like it used to, it no longer peaks first thing in the morning to give you energy. Instead it just flat-lines all day, which is why you feel so incredibly fatigued all the time.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
Traditional allopathic Western medicine doesn’t recognize adrenal fatigue, even though the changes it can cause are now starting to be confirmed by science. Referring to it as “exhaustion syndrome” research from Umeå University in Sweden has found that people suffering adrenal fatigue have lower activity in their frontal lobes (which are involved in emotions, memory and decisions) and also altered regulation of cortisol.
The study also found that people more prone to this condition are often over-achievers and perfectionists. This is not news to functional and integrative practitioners who see women suffering from this problem every day. They arrive feeling absolutely at the end of the line and suffering from these kinds of chronic complaints:
1. “I can’t shed any pounds no matter how little or how well I eat.”
Blame it on: High and low cortisol
- Hate getting dressed in the morning because you have to find new ways to disguise the extra kilos that keeping appearing on your belly?
- Feel distressed by unpredictable fluid retention that makes you look puffy in the face, tummy and legs?
- Struggle to shed any kilos or even just maintain your current dress size even though you eat right for your body and exercise regularly?
- Complain that even if you ate nothing but air you still wouldn’t lose any weight?
Then it’s highly likely you have adrenal fatigue. It’s well accepted that stress and weight gain go hand in hand.
The culprit? Cortisol. The impacts of high cortisol can easily be seen in people who suffer Cushing’s disease, a condition that causes chronic excess cortisol. Cushing’s sufferers experience round puffy faces, high blood pressure and weight gain, particularly around the belly and chest.
But similar side effects can occur if you are exposed to sustained stress. Suddenly you pack on more pounds even though you’re not eating more food. And exercise doesn’t shift it either.
2. “Exercise doesn’t help me lose weight or even look more toned.”
Cortisol is a catabolic hormone. This means that when it’s released during stress it breaks down protein to use for energy. End result? Rapid and ongoing muscle wastage even though you are working out every day.
Cortisol is also released when you exercise and the higher the intensity or duration of your workout, the bigger the cortisol release.
Here’s what that means:
Cortisol from your life + Cortisol from exercise = Excessively high cortisol.
That’s why you may not be looking leaner or more toned after exercised – your high cortisol is actually breaking down your muscle to help give your body fuel because it thinks you’re in a life or death situation – 24/7.
3. “After a really stressful week my belly suddenly looks bigger”.
Even women who have a healthy weight, have excess abdominal fat if they’re stressed, shows research from the University of Yale:
This study also showed that women who reported more stress in their lives, also secreted higher levels of cortisol in response to doing stressful tasks.
Cortisol’s job is to ensure you have enough energy to get through an emergency. And when stress triggers you to release cortisol it remains in your system for around nine hours (or longer, if your body is not detoxifying hormones effectively). When in high circulation, cortisol can widen your waistline because it:
- Triggers gluconeogenesis: Cortisol wants high levels of blood glucose and other fuel sources in your bloodstream. Now. To produce that quick energy it triggers your liver and muscles to release and break down stored protein and fat as well as glycogen, so you have readily available blood glucose. But if the cause of your stress is a huge house repair bill or fight with your boss, you can’t burn up that blood glucose through fighting someone or sprinting away. So you end up with an excess of sugars in your bloodstream, which usually get stored as fat.
- Makes you store tummy fat: Cortisol tells your brain you’re under threat. If that threat appears day after day, it tells your body to lay down fat cells in your tummy and start storing fat there in case food becomes scarce. Those fat cells in your belly also contain more cortisol receptors.
So when you’re stressed, along with the adrenal glands, your fat cells release cortisol too (hello, more blood glucose and more fat storage).
Recently scientists have also discovered that there appears to be a signalling pathway where body fat sends messages directly to your brain and if there is too much fat stored, this may interfere with your body’s ability to turn the stress response off.
No wonder you can’t lose weight when you’re stressed out.
- Promotes storage of visceral fat: This is the dangerous fat you can’t see because it is laid down deeper in the belly where it wraps around vital organs like your kidneys and heart. Visceral fat is not inert. It pumps inflammatory chemicals and hormones like estrogen into your body, which can lead to estrogen dominance. And it continuously releases free fatty acids into the bloodstream. These goes straight to your liver where they can cause fatty liver and interfere with your liver’s detoxifying of excess hormones like cortisol and estrogen.
Visceral fat also stimulates excess glucose, which travels to the beta cells in the pancreas that control insulin function and it damages them. This can lead to insulin resistance, which again leaves more blood sugars circulating in your bloodstream (increasing the risk of Diabetes Type 2), and of course: worsen adrenal fatigue.
4. “I feel wired at bedtime but exhausted in the mornings.”
Blame it on: High and low cortisol at the wrong times of day
When you suffer adrenal fatigue:
You struggle to drag yourself from bed
Your body is clever and registers that your cortisol levels have been chronically high, so it tries to put the brakes on cortisol by reducing its normal daily production. Then instead of the normal peak of cortisol you would get in the morning, you get a flat line.
The impacts can be seen in people who suffer Addison’s disease, due to low cortisol and experience extreme fatigue, abdominal pain, depression, decreased appetite and salt cravings (which are common in women with adrenal fatigue).
Interestingly, John F Kennedy suffered from Addison’s disease but managed to keep it a secret throughout his presidency.
When on autopsy was conducted after his death his adrenal glands were in such a bad state, there was hardly any tissue left.
Interestingly, he also suffered colitis (inflammation of the bowel) which may well have been involved in triggering his thyroid issues (he also had Hashimoto’s) . Due to his ailments he took steroid drugs which over many years, affected his bones. The resulting chronic back pain led him to wear a back brace to support his degenerating spine.
You’re exhausted and drained, but can’t sleep.
The problem? Your cortisol levels are rising at the wrong time of day and night. Even though you are not making your usual amounts of cortisol for daily energy, your adrenal glands are constantly pumping out cortisol to help you deal with each crisis. So by nightfall, when cortisol should be dropping, it is high from the accumulated stress. Then cortisol tells your brain you are under threat, so it is not about to let you get into a deep sleep. That’s why you keep getting woken by the slightest sound. It’s also why you wake in the night feeling alert or experiencing feelings of stress or panic.
5. “My face, legs, feet and hands are often puffy and I get lightheaded”
Blame it on: Aldosterone
Some women complain that they can swell up with fluid within minutes of feeling stressed. This is not their imagination.
Or, their fluid retention may creep up after repeated stressful triggers over the course of the day. Here’s why:
When your body flicks on the fight or flight reaction, it pumps out a chemical called aldosterone. This hormone has the important job of regulating levels water and electrolytes (including sodium, potassium, magnesium and chloride) in your blood and your blood pressure.
But when you’re under duress, aldosterone sends a message to your kidneys to retain salt, so your body retains as much fluid as possible.
This sodium retention is a survival strategy, just in case you need that fluid on board to face any emergency. This not only leads to puffy face, ankles and tummy, it can also lead to the appearance of cellulite in areas like the thighs, because the high levels of sodium there is pulling more water to those areas.
Frustratingly, this water retention can make you feel like you’ve gained weight, even though it is all fluid. Yet you may also find that you need to get up go to the toilet at night. This can happen because it’s the first time in the day when you’re not rushing so your body feels safe enough to not have to retain as much fluid and starts to release some of it.
Over time though, as you enter the second and third phase of adrenal fatigue and your body struggles to produce enough cortisol, your aldosterone may sometimes drop far too low as well. Then you can have periods of too little sodium in your system – which is why women who are chronically stressed often experience cravings for salt.
Since aldestrone also regulates your blood pressure, exhausted adrenals can also translate to getting light headed when getting up from a bed or chair.
6. “My stomach is usually sore and bloated, particularly after food.”
Blame it on: High adrenalin and cortisol
These two hormones can wreak havoc on your digestive system.
- Reduction in stomach acid: You know how you just can’t eat when stressed out? This is partly due to a primal response of your body to shut down the digestion so you are light to escape and deal with danger. In modern times, this low stomach acid can translate to feeling overly full and bloated after a meal, indigestion, seeing food particles in your poop, bad breath and nutritional malabsorption. This is some information about acid relux, stomach acid and some solutions.
- Reduce blood flow to your gut: Your body doesn’t need you to digest food or ovulate when you’re stressed, so it quickly shuttles blood away from organs like your ovaries and gut, to organs like your heart. This means that your digestive system gets far less blood and oxygen to nourish it. This can lead to chronic inflammation, which compromises the protective functions of your gut wall. As a result, your stomach may become over-sensitive and develop food sensitivities or you may suffer discomfort every time you eat. Meanwhile, you are absorbing less nutrients, which only makes you more exhausted.
- Encourage gut bacteria to grow: Studies show that when adrenaline is added to gut bacteria in a Petrie dish in a lab, the growth of bacteria like E.Coli increases substantially. This makes sense as low stomach acid creates a “perfect” environment for the pathogenic bacteria to grow.
So getting stressed gives your bad bacteria a boost. As good bacteria helps produce serotonin (the happiness hormone) and melatonin (the sleep hormone) in your gut, an unhealthy gut microbiome reduces your levels of these important hormones, which you need to promote calm and rest. This worsens your adrenal fatigue even more.
7. “I get chest pain and heart palpitations.”
Blame it on: High adrenalin, cortisol and aldosterone (but can also be cardiovascular disease or overactive thyroid)
When you’re feeling wired your stress hormones:
- Move blood out of some organs to others so your heart has to work harder to shift the blood around.
- Make your blood vessels constrict so that you don’t bleed as readily should you suffer a wound. This too puts pressure on your heart.
The end result? You may suffer everything from chest pain to heart palpitations (and these flutterings may occur more often when you lie down). You may also find it hard to get up the energy to exercise, because your heart is already working harder 24/7 just to get through the day.
8. “I can’t think straight, I’m foggy-brained.”
Blame it on: High cortisol and its effect on the hippocampus.
Ever noticed how hard it is to keep your mind operating on all four cylinders when you’re having a heavy-duty day? You sit at the computer but can’t focus, go to the shops but forget what you need to buy, misplace your keys or wallet or both. This mental meltdown is a direct result of adrenal fatigue.
Stress induced brain drain is caused by the hippocampus, a little seahorse shaped organ in the brain involved in our short term memory. With too much cortisol in the brain, dendrites (the little branches which connect brain neurons) start to shrink and don’t work as properly.
9. “The smallest things now make my anxious or make me want to cry.”
Blame it on: High adrenalin and cortisol
When you have adrenal fatigue you are functioning with a chemical soup of high stress hormones constantly circulating in your system. This keeps your body on red alert so things that used to stress you a little bit (such as almost dropping your glass) can cause a stress response totally out of proportion to the trigger. Crying can then occur as a stress release.
Meanwhile, your body thinks it is in a state of emergency so it:
- Dumps calming minerals: These include magnesium and zinc – after all – your body doesn’t want you to be calm and relaxed right now, it wants you to be ready for fight or flight. Unfortunately, without magnesium you will feel more anxious. And with less zinc, your immunity will drop.
- Retains more copper: This is due in part to the drop in zinc. And elevated copper levels cause excitability and agitation in your brain, worsening your adrenal exhaustion.
10. “I’m always getting sick” or “I take a long time to recover.”
Blame it on: High adrenalin and cortisol
Apart from stress management, the adrenals are also responsible for regulating your immune system. Remember a problematic project at work or a family crises that took time to resolve? You had sufficient energy and focus to get through the hard time (attribute that to the adrenals). But, as soon as it was over, you fell sick. Sound familiar?
Ongoing stress can weaken the adrenals so much so that they are not able to sufficiently stimulate the immune system to keep you healthy. I’m not just talking here about superficial conditions like cold and flu but more serious ones like cancer or autoimmune conditions.
Testing for Adrenal Fatigue – It Can Be Tricky
If you go to a traditional doctor to see if your cortisol is skyrocketing or flat-lining, they will order a blood test. Unfortunately, this can give a very inaccurate or incomplete picture. It might show that your cortisol levels are fine in the morning, but won’t show that your cortisol levels may be barely there by 3pm when you are having an energy crash. Also, blood tests only show the “total” value of cortisol and not the “free” value which is what your body utilizes.
Urine or saliva testing is a far more accurate way to check cortisol levels. Good tests will check your levels around four times over the course of the day.
I’m also a fan of the DUTCH test.
Instead of collecting many samples, you need only one sample – which involves placing urine on filter paper and letting it dry.
You can also check your adrenal function at home.
Try This Quick Iris Test:
Your eyes are not just the window to your soul, they are also the window to your levels of arousal and stress. An article by Scientific American magazine, gives a good rundown on the science of pupillometry.
A similar study is also looking into this area.
But you can also conduct a simply little eye experiment at home. Here’s how:
- Go into a dark room that has a mirror (or take a hand mirror) and allow your eyes to adjust for a few minutes – this allows your pupils to dilate.
- Stand close to the mirror or hold it close to your face.
- Using a penlight or a weak flashlight, shine light across your right eye.
- Watch your right pupil for about 30 seconds to see what happens.
It should quickly contract when exposed to the light. If, within seconds, it dilates again, this is a sign of adrenal fatigue. Rest your eyes, get accustomed to the dark again and repeat with the other eye.
Adrenal Fatigue Treatment: How to Break the Cycle
Of all the hormonal balance problems that I’ve worked with, adrenal fatigue takes the longest to heal (sometimes one to two years) and is the toughest to reverse. That’s why it is important to embrace solutions as soon as you can.
When combined, the following strategies can balance hormones naturally and increase your energy and calm, to break the cycle of adrenal fatigue:
Get Enough SLEEP
This is key to your recovery. No amounts of supplements and herbs will help adrenal fatigue if you are not getting 8 to 10 hours of quality sleep and rest. When I gave up my job in advertising and took a few months off, I slept 10 hours per day for 2 months.
- Set healthy sleep habits: For more about how to do this, take a look at my posts on sleep, here and here.
- Live on less than six hours sleep. Sleep is one of the best antidotes for adrenal fatigue. So get as much as you possibly can. To heal from adrenal exhaustion you should be in bed by 9 to 10pm every night.
Follow an Adrenal Fatigue Diet
- Eat regular meals: This not only keeps your blood sugars and energy stable, it also reassures your body that you’re not in crisis. The opposite happens when you skip meals – particularly breakfast. Once your blood sugars get too low your body identifies this as a threat and triggers adrenaline and cortisol.
- Eat right for your body: Food sensitivities and unhealthy food choices can add another stress load. To ensure you are eating foods that balance hormones for your body, I invite you to check out Cooking for Hormones Balance to learn how to use food to regain energy.
- Minimize sugar intake: Cut back on sugar in all its different forms including honey and agave syrup. Watch out for hidden sources of sugar in packaged foods such as dextrose and maltose. And, minimize your intake of fruits, giving preference to lower fructose varieties such as berries and kiwi fruit. Very sweet foods put your body under the stress of having to quickly pump out insulin to lower the high blood glucose levels. Your body regards blood sugar crushes as a threat and you guessed it – will trigger more stress hormones in response. It’s a vicious cycle.
- Breakfast like a queen: Enjoy a hearty, preferably savory breakfast, to help increase your cortisol levels at the beginning of the day. You can learn how to add more hormone-balancing ingredients to your meal with our free 15 Breakfasts to Rebalance Your Hormones guide here.
- Eliminate suspected problem foods: Common culprits include wheat, soy, dairy, corn and eggs. Cut them out then reintroduce one at a time and watch for physical reactions to see if they trigger health issues. Food sensitivities can create an adrenal response. Addressing these issues can help ensure you are eating the best diet for hormone balance.
- Live on caffeine: That cup of Joe may perk you up but have you stopped to think how? The reason a caffeine hit wakes you up is because it rapidly sends your adrenal hormones skyrocketing. This causes adrenaline to rise by around 32% and noradrenaline to spike by around 14%.
If you are caffeine sensitive, that adrenal rush may be accompanied by shaking, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping and a general sense of anxiety. So if possible, cut caffeine out. Or at the very least, cut caffeine intake right back. Instead, try my matcha latte – it has less caffeine so it is a much gentler stimulant.
- Drop your carbs too low: Research shows that ketogenic-style diets that cut right back on carbs and increase protein, can increase cortisol levels by 18% while also reducing the thyroid’s T3 hormones.
You don’t need extreme measures to ensure you are balancing hormones with food – so make sure you eat some healthy carbs such as buckwheat, quinoa and sweet potato.
Exercise Smarter but Not Harder
- Walk briskly: Studies show that walking has many, many health benefits.
And the scenic stimulation of blue sky and nature, means that you come back from your walk usually feel uplifted, not depleted.
- Move at a moderate pace: I recommend exercise like weight training, use of kettle bells and dancing.
- Do more gentle forms of exercise: It may seem counter-intuitive to slow your exercise pace to get more benefit but it really is important. Think about animals – they don’t go on marathon runs or head to the gym every day.
- Calm your brain with yoga: Yoga is like a moving meditation that connects your mind, breathe and body and induces a relaxation response which helps lower your cortisol levels. At the same time it boosts your alpha brain activity, which promotes greater calm.
- Engage in intense exercise every day: I’m not a fan of exercises such as jogging and cycling or anything that gets your heart rate into the 70% zone. Intense exercise actually increase your cortisol levels, which does not do your waistline any favors. Science is now starting to confirm that in people who have gained weight, doing intense workouts may actually be counterproductive because it raises stress hormones: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140512101406.htm
- Exercise until you hurt: Repeating those squats or burpies until you burn, is stressful, so your body will release more cortisol. Same goes for marathon running. I’ve had a number of marathon runners seek my help to balance their hormones. Unfortunately, they had to give up the running because our bodies are not designed to sustain hours of exercise. Marathon running and exercise that depletes you so much that you are in pain or can barely keep going, trigger the adrenal glands to pump out stress hormones to energize you when you’re running on empty.
- Engage in HIIT workouts every day: High Intensity Interval Training, which includes short but taxing bursts of activity can make some people feel energized. If it works for you, aim to do it twice a week. If it leaves you absolutely worn out, try something gentler. Also remember that HIIT workouts are not supposed to be done for lengthy periods. So aim for a 10 – 15 minute HIIT session, not one that lasts 30 – 40 minutes.
Become a Pleasure Seeker
When you add oxytocin-releasing (the pleasure hormone) activities to your like, it helps rebalance the adrenal deficiency. What makes gives you lots of joy? Here are a few ideas:
- Watch a comedy series or film: Not only does laughter boost your immune system, it directly reduces levels of cortisol and epinephrine.
- Use music to calm you: Try some classical or ambient music. Or just put on a CD of soundscapes from nature.
- Enjoy a relaxing aromatherapy bath: Add some candles and close your eyes. Enjoy!
- Schedule a massage that gives you lots of pleasure. If you have limited funds, think about doing a “massage swap” with a friend where you do it for each other.
- Orgasm on a regular basis: that gives us a HUGE oxytocin release.
- Embrace a child or a pet: regular touch is very healing.
- Do the twist: Take up dancing – join a class or follow online tutorials at home. Research shows that taking up tango dancing can relieve stress more than meditation.
- Make yourself the last priority – as women we tend to put everyone else first and only when we hit the bottom, we start looking into our own deficiencies. When I polled our community on “what is the one health advice you would yourself a few years ago,” the most common answer was “take better care of me.”
- Make your weekends too busy: Make sure there is down time just to kick back with a book as well as social time to catch up with friends.
- Say “yes” to social events you won’t enjoy: Your leisure time is precious – and when you have adrenal fatigue your leisure time is important for rebooting – so spend it doing something that nourishes you.
Try a Variety of Relaxation Approaches
- Keep your focus here and now: Try to live through your senses, not just your head. The more mindful you are, the more this will help to reduce your cortisol levels.
- Take a break in nature: This can not only reduce your stress hormones, but also boosts natural killer cells that increase your immunity.
- Enjoy regular touch: Through hugs, making love or enjoying a massage. Enjoyable physical contact triggers the release of oxytocin, which has calming impacts.
- Persist with meditation if it’s not working for you: Try visualization or listening to soothing music with your eyes closed. Chanting for just 12 minutes a day can also reduce stress levels and lower inflammation in people who are stressed.
- Slouch: Instead strike a power pose. Try the victory pose (with hands raised above your head in the air) and the wonder woman pose (legs slightly apart, hands on your hips). Research from Harvard University shows that these kinds of poses, drop your cortisol and raise your testosterone, so you feel more in control and more able to handle risks and tricky situations. Amy Cuddy, who is an expert in this area, gives a fantastic Ted talk about the impact of body language on hormones and emotional states.
Address Root Causes of Your Stress
- Seek counseling: if you need to help heal from unresolved trauma or need support for depression.
- Reduce life’s daily stressors: These can add up to big adrenal impacts if they continue day after day. That might mean you get up just 15 minutes earlier so you don’t have to rush and have time for breakfast. Or it might mean that you try pull back your mortgage payments so you have more money to get through the week.
A while ago, a woman from our Hormones Balance community contacted me for help with stabilizing her hormones. When she wasn’t improving we tried to identify hidden stresses that may be standing in the way of her hormonal balance. She identified that she was suffering stress every morning when she had to walk through an area where she didn’t feel safe on her way to work. Once she took a different route, even though it took her a little longer, her stress levels significantly reduced and her hormonal health substantially improved. It’s a potent reminder of just how much we are hardwired for survival and as a result, how big even seemingly small stressors can be.
- Address relationship problems and potential abuse: Make time for more intimacy and improved communication with your partner. If you’re not in a good place together, read some self-help books together or attend couples counseling. I did a call about abusive relationships (are you in one or are you the abuser – you will be surprised by the signs), watch it here.
- Stay in a job you hate: Start applying for other jobs and look at any training you can do to help give you wider job options.
- Hold on to the day’s stress: Keep a journal to help you debrief from days where you’ve had wall-to-wall stress.
- Withdraw when you feel stressed: Reaching out to share your feelings or seek support can boost your oxytocin levels and lower stressful feelings.
Adrenal Fatigue Supplements
These can give your stressed out body support but will only help if you are also taking steps to address and reduce some of the major stressors in your life. Try:
- Herbal Adaptogens:
For Phase 2 Adrenal Burnout: Hormone balancing herbs can really help settle cortisol issues for some women. Use adaptogen herbs in a tincture (which works faster then pills) to re-balance your hormones. I like products from herb pharm. Try these:
- Ashwaganda: Often called “Indian Ginseng” this herb is used in Ayurveda medicine to lower stress hormones and stabilize thyroid hormones.
- Rhodiola: Has great energy-boosting actions and has long been used in Scandinavian countries to boost energy and counter adrenal fatigue.
For Phase 3 Adrenal Burnout: Try licorice, which may help boost cortisol levels when they are flat lining.
- Vitamin C: Your adrenal glands utilize vitamin C and store it too. So take a good vitamin C in powder form or powdered camu camu, a Peruvian berry that contains more vitamin C than oranges.
- Vitamin B: When you’re stressed you burn through your B complex vitamins, so a good B complex is important.
- Magnesium: This important calming mineral helps relax both your nervous system and muscles.
- Herbs for Sleep: These include valerian, skullcap, passionflower and tilia flower.
Try: For a complete Adrenal Repair Kit, please see our own Wellena line of supplements. The kit includes:
- Adrenal TLC – a combination of standardized herbs and nutrients that may support and nourish the adrenal glands. Also available separately here.
- Magnesium Replenish – a highly absorbable form of magnesium chelated to two molecules of the amino acid glycine. Available separately here.
- Essential Omegas is a high potency fish oil delivered in the natural triglyceride form. Available separately here.