Aka Vital Exhaustion, Chronic Fatigue, Adrenal Fatigue, HPA Dysfunction
Heads up guys, this post is EPIC. It’s long, and it’s personal. Stick with me!
Burnout. It’s real.
If you’re reading this your probably experienced it, or are experiencing it. It seems like a never-ending hole, that is just soooo exhausting to try to climb out of.
And how do you even do that?
If you talk to your doctor, you’re probably told it’s all in your head, or your thyroid is fine, or you just need an antidepressant. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things missing here. One of which is getting an actual diagnosis, and a plan to work your way out of it.
You’ve probably heard the term Adrenal Fatigue, or Adrenal Insufficiency, or Burn out, by now.
But what does that really mean? Generally, it’s not accepted as a diagnosis by the allopathic (conventional) medical system, though I suspect one day it will be. Until that time though, what are we really talking about?
Adrenal fatigue is a set of symptoms that go along with a decrease or change in cortisol production, your body’s stress hormone.
Usually these symptoms look something like this: you’re tired all the time, or you’re tired but wired (ie tired all day but can’t sleep all night), you have energy crashes in the afternoon and just want to have a nap. You’re more irritable than normal, or you’re even depressed. You might have anxiety. You probably have brain fog or just difficulty for focus or memory. And you’ll probably find your tolerance for stress or stressful situations are low.
Or let me put it this way. You just feel so tired and overdrawn that your joy for life is low.
Things that should be fun just feel like a burden. You don’t want to walk the dog, you are annoyed with your children just because they make noise. Cooking dinner seems like the most difficult thing to do, even if it’s just one quick dish. Going to a social event feels like “do we really have to?”. You’re not specifically depressed in the traditional clinical way, but there is definitely an overlapping feeling of just being low. If you could have a nap in the afternoon that would lovely, but most days you just have to drag yourself through. The housework is slowly falling apart because it’s just too much to handle. Some days even having a shower feels overwhelming. Exercise? Who has time for that really?
Or how about this.
You are go go go, and you get everything done, but at the end of the day you are really wiped out. You get to your exercise classes and work super hard, and yet that fat still sits on your midsection and you’re having difficulty building muscles in your arms and legs. After you do a great workout you feel exhausted, but you know, it must have been good for you, right? You assume you’re just not working hard enough and if you do a little more eventually everything is going to feel good and look the way you want.
So how do we categorize this more effectively.
There is a more appropriate term to use which is HPA dysfunction, or Hypothalamus Pituitary Axis Dysfunction. The signaling pathways that control the responses of your body that involve any type of hormone are regulated at some level through this system. The reason why it is important to categorize Adrenal Fatigue under HPA dysfunction, is because it is generally not a stand-alone issue. Through this system regulation, we are also going to see issues with hormone imbalances, and thyroid function, and then other body system imbalances as a secondary consequence of those systems working improperly. So where does it come from? How does it happen? Well one of the major contributors to this imbalance is long term, ongoing stress. When your body constantly maintains a stress state, from external or internal sources, it leads to differences in the function of this system and an imbalance in cortisol. Secondarily it can happen when we have a primary hormone imbalance, like during menopause, or if we have another cause, thyroid disease, as these systems all works together so intricately. When cortisol is too high or too low, it causes issue with fatigue, memory, weight gain primarily around the abdomen, blood sugar imbalances, cholesterol imbalances, low immune system function, changes in melatonin production (sleep wake cycle), muscle wasting (loss or muscle tone in arms and legs), and can also cause issues with allergies, metabolism (thyroid function), mood, fertility, and sex drive. And that is only the tip of the iceberg!
Often time I will hear a lot of people tell me “I don’t have any stress”.
But when we really start to dig, there are a number of things causing stress. The issue is that not all things that your body responds to as stress, are things that we cognitively recognize. We might think relationships, or money, or work brings stress, yet our body also interprets things like ongoing noises, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, inflammatory foods, or lack of exercise and movement as stress as well. Other times people will tell me that they had a tremendous amount of stress but they were fine then and now it is over but they are feeling burnt out now. This one is interesting because basically the body manages to run on adrenaline and high cortisol to get through the situation, then crashes, where levels drop, afterwards. If only we had supported during the stress time, a full crash would have been less likely to happen.
I hate to say it, but I’ve let this creep up on me three times.
You would think that I could recognize the signs, and safeguard myself with all of my knowledge, but sometimes it is just so sneaky. It’s not always, the stress that you perceive that causes it. For example, once it was the stress of school along with opening my first practice all the same time. That is perceivable stress. It was huge, and nearly unmanageable. It was super obvious. Another time was actually before that, when I was younger and working on my first degree, sure there was some stress but it was more like just being overly busy. The main cause was actually my diet. I was consuming a number of foods that my immune system was actually reacting to, and that caused a low-grade ongoing stress on my body. This was not perceivable, it took years of education to find this out. Combine that with the typical lack of sleep of youth and it’s a perfect storm for burnout. The third time it was running my practice, while full, all on my own, with financial issues at the same time – also a stress that I could have seen, but rather than something huge all at once, it was just tiny things every single day, but it was a combination of ongoing stress with a poor living situation that involved heavy levels of mold in our home. That caused so much stress on my body that even though I was in fact doing things to safeguard myself that time, it wasn’t enough, because without extra guidance, I wasn’t doing the right things. It’s not always as obvious or straightforward as it seems, and the way back isn’t always easy or straightforward either. Trust me when I tell you though, I get how hard it is, but I also know there is a way out!
How do we heal?
Well primarily we need to spend more of our time in a relaxation, or parasympathetic state. So, step one is implementing great self-care, and daily practices of grounding the body to get into that relaxation state. Beyond that you may need in depth hormone tests, and someone who is trained to work on this issue. Long story short though. Don’t be satisfied with being told you’re just tired, its normal, you’re getting older. Trust your intuition and know when you need to seek help.
How about exercise? What should you be doing?
At this point it is all about nurturing your body and helping it to rebuild. You need to move and be active, but you also don’t want to put undo stress on your body. It is suggested at this point that you focus on activities that keep your moving but are more restorative, so you probably guessed it, but yes, Yoga is one of the best places to start. I would also recommend gentle walking, or if you have a piece of equipment at home, just sit and peddle, or take a light walk on the elliptical or treadmill. Over time you will work up to cardio, strength training, and more.
What else can you do if you’re in a full burnout?
You want to make sure that things are predictable for your body. As in it knows its going to get a certain amount of sleep at certain times, its going to get enough nutrition and specific times and never feel like it is starving. You can make sure that you’re not putting things into your body that cause inflammation, and therefore stress, and you can make sure you’re well hydrated so you body can process and cleanse properly each day.
I’m guessing though, that if you’ve identified with this article, then you are feeling like just having read this is overwhelming.
Where do you even start? What is actually manageable? If you’re unsure of what is happening for you, then I suggest seeing a Naturopathic Doctor, and putting together a game-plan to get you back in action. Or if you’re not ready for that yet, I have specifically designed my reset programs, which you can check out using the links, for people experiencing burnout that want to start to rebuild without getting overwhelmed. Make sure that you’ve got your free 6 day meal plan (click here) and your free health guide, the 3 health Keys (click here), which will give you something to start with while you are deciding what the best next step is for you.
I’ve also got the 21 Day Reset, the Little Black Dress Program, and you can find out more information about that here.
And you’re hearing it here for the first time – I am officially announcing the launch of my 90 Day program, a total reset and rebuild, specifically designed for those dealing with burnout, or just experiencing a ton of stress between family and work life, who want to prevent reaching burnout. If you want to hear more about this program, and get a free 1 hour class with some tips you can start to use IMMEDIATELY, sign up here!