During the heyday of my business career, I was a self-professed workaholic. I put in long hours during the work week and regularly logged time during weekends. I traveled frequently and struggled mightily with jet lag. I short-changed exercise and had poor sleep habits. Sure, I felt rundown quite a bit of the time, but I prided myself on my ability to cope with stress. I’m not sure my body would have patted me on the back.
In Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, Dr. James L. Wilson explores the physiological consequences of life lived in the fast lane. He zeros in on the adrenal glands – a pair of tiny organs that sit atop the kidneys. They secrete hormones that influence several important physiological processes – metabolism, fat storage, blood sugar regulation, the immune system, cardio and gastrointestinal function. Through their production of cortisol, they’re key players on the body’s stress response. A surge of cortisol raises blood pressure, elevates sugar in the bloodstream, and shuts down nonessential repair and maintenance functions to prepare the body for flight or fight.
The body’s core design contemplates infrequent use of the stress response. After all, one run-in with a saber-toothed tiger might convince folks to set up camp at a safe distance. But in our modern day life, we’re repeatedly exposed to physical, emotional, environmental, and psychological stressors. When stress exceeds the body’s carrying capacity, the adrenal glands become fatigued.
- Difficulty getting up in the morning
- A feeling of fatigue or lethargy that is not relieved by sleep
- Increased effort to accomplish everyday tasks resulting in lower productivity
- Lightheadedness when standing up
(People with adrenal fatigue tend to have low blood sugar.)
- Less enjoyment or happiness with life
- Less mental focus and increased difficulty with memory
- Frequent respiratory infections with lengthy recovery periods
Fortunately, the body is quite resilient. With proper care and attention, we can restore our adrenal glands to good working order. Here are a few strategies that Dr. Wilson recommends:
Minimize stressors and “energy robbers.” For every stressful relationship or situation, we have three avenues of response: Change it. Change ourselves to adapt to it. Or, leave it. For circumstances we deem unavoidable, we can train ourselves to reframe or refocus our perception of the situation. For example, we don’t have to give persons or situations power over our inner thoughts. We can learn to detach and/or treat the circumstance as a learning experience for which we architect the lessons.
Learn to evoke the “relaxation response.” Courtesy of Dr. Herbert Benson and his colleagues at the Harvard Medical School, we now know that a daily practice of meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, guided imagery, and kindred disciplines slows breathing, lowers the heart rate, reduces oxygen consumption, relaxes muscles, and lowers blood pressure. The relaxation response is the perfect antidote to the stress response and requires just a few minutes per day.
Get regular exercise to include aerobic activity, strength training, and stretching. Exercise helps expel harmful gases and toxins, builds muscle, reduces fat, improves cellular function, and normalizes cortisol, insulin, glucose, and other hormones. When practiced faithfully, it also elevates mood.
Develop good sleep habits. Avoid exposure to blue light sources – notably TVs and other electronic devices – at least two hours before bedtime. (As an alternative, use blue blocker glasses.) Get to bed by 10:30pm every night to avoid the “second wind” that hits at 11:00pm. As needed, have a light evening snack to enable you to sleep through the night with waking to hunger pangs. If possible, avoid alarms before 8:30am to ensure that you get a full 8 hours of slumber.
Eat nutritious food. Good food provides the essential ingredients to meet your body’s demands. Small meals spread throughout the day helps keep blood sugar steady.
Dr. Wilson also provides recommendations regarding dietary supplements and hormone replacement therapy. I’ve chosen to explore these options in consultation with a naturopathic doctor. I want to make sure that I know my starting point, take the right levels of supplements, and monitor my progress all under the expert guidance of a trained professional.
Here’s to feeling great inside and out!