Stress, adrenal fatigue, exhaustion
As an executive coach I work with many individuals who suffer from exhaustion. Symptoms include;
- Waking up in the morning but not feeling refreshed
- Brain fog – struggling to find appropriate words
- A sense that someone has fed them sleeping tablets at certain points in the day (usually afternoon)
- Colds or chest infections that take a long time to shift
- Recovery time after exercise last days rather than hours
- Sensitive tummy/digestion with IBS type symptoms
- A feeling of being wired and tired
- A need for caffeine to keep going
- Constant state of exhaustion – permeating every part of you
If this is you – chances are you are suffering from something called Adrenal Fatigue. And I’d know – as this was me.
What causes Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal Fatigue is when we experience either long term stress, or traumatic stressful events. The former may be long term stress as a result of work, relationships or illness. Traumatic events may include an accident, loss of a loved one or an operation.
Each of us have two adrenal glands, located in our middle back near our kidneys. These glands are key to our bodies operating effectively. When we are under stress these adrenals pump out adrenalin to keep us going. They are part of our fight, freeze or flee response to stress. The problem is that if our adrenals are already fatigued, or they are required to pump out adrenalin over a sustained period of time they tire.
When our adrenals tire, our body goes into survival mode. In order to try to protect us, the body slows down. Less blood sugar, lower blood pressure, slower digestion… slower everything. That’s when we start to notice it. Often we start consuming stimulants like caffeine to get over slumps – which in effect is like trying to jump start the adrenals. So they pump out more adrenalin… further depleting them.
The end result is the list above. Left unchecked, we become bed ridden (resulting in symptoms such as ME or chronic fatigue). Serious cases are hospitalised and can cause death.
How do I overcome Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is generally caused by stress. The first step in any process is to see your doctor. The problem is that unless the doctor is aware of adrenal fatigue they may suggest antidepressants, blame it on a recent event or any other number of issues. Very few doctors are aware of Adrenal Fatigue – though awareness is increasing.
Stress is all pervading. And stress can be good and bad. Exercise is a good form of stress – provided it is not done to excess. Abuse is an example of a bad type of stress. As is working long hours, being in an unhealthy relationship, money problems etc. (See my article on five steps to reduce stress.)
In order to address adrenal fatigue we need to address the causes. Better management of time, being more assertive in relationships, increased delegation, change jobs, work smarter, remove yourself from toxic situations, better work life balance – these are the typical areas I work with as an executive coach.
For some the stress is caused by being a top athlete. I’m working with a young mixed martial arts/kick boxing champion (he represents the UK across Europe and the World). Six months ago he become so fatigued he couldn’t train, never mind fight. He lost his voice and became listless. I met with his dad and recommended a series of actions. Within a month he’d regained his energy and was fighting again. He and his family are convinced it was because of the advice you will find below.
Adrenal Fatigue – Vitamin C
The general consensus to deal with adrenal fatigue, other than to address the causes, is to change your lifestyle to become more healthy. Our bodies require more vitamin C when under stress (google it). Vitamin C is essential in recovery from adrenal fatigue (see www.drlam.com).
A good natural source of Vit C include red bell peppers – which contain far more vitamin c than oranges. Click here for a top ten sources of vitamin C. Don’t drink fruit juices as these are full of sugar – even if they are 100% pure.
Salads, greens, veggies are all good sources of Vitamin C as well as important nutrients and minerals.
My personal suggestion is to take vitamin C tablets (something like these) which are kind on the tummy and have extras to help absorption. Unless you are very poorly, start with 1 gramme (g) with breakfast for 1-2 days, then add another 1g mid afternoon ideally with a snack. Each 2 days, increase by 500mg (1/2 a 1g tablet) in the morning first, then two days later increase afternoon dose. You want to be on 2g morning, 2g afternoon. If you get diarrhoea then go to zero for 24 hours and start at a 1g morning and afternoon again.
In addition to the tablets I recommend taking vitamin C in a nano state – something called lipo spheric or lipo nano vitamin C. Examples include something like Liveon, or Lipolife liquid. There are other alternatives too. If you go with Lipolife, start with 1/2 teaspoon morning for a few days then add the same against in the afternoon. It can be added to a glass of water of juice and sipped through the day – just not hot liquids. After a few days increase to 1 tea spoon (5ml) as per tablets until you get to min 1 teaspoon morning and afternoon. If you use the Liveon gels – the same approach. Use 1/2 a gel morning and afternoon, a few days later increase morning, then afternoon until you are taking 1 morning and afternoon. If you get diarrhoea then go to zero for 24 hours and start at 1/2 morning and afternoon again.
Vitamin C can be a mild stimulant which is why it’s not recommended to take after 4pm – but if you have no problem sleeping you can take later – though not recommended.
Adrenal Fatigue – Other Do’s and Don’ts
Provided you have low blood pressure – salt is your friend. Not the refined table salt type, but sea salt or rock salt. If you can add to your breakfast (1 teaspoon equivalent) you will feel the benefits. I add salt to anything savoury (all meals) – and I add a lot.
Buy (organic) almond nuts with skins on. Soak in water for 12 hours, then drain and store in air tight container in freezer. Eat 8 or so before going to bed. They will help you sleep and for longer.
Alcohol, caffeine, sugar are all stimulants – try to avoid.
Rest and relaxation is key. If you are able to lie down for 20-30 minutes morning or afternoon do so. I’m told that Nelson, Churchill and Thatcher all took a power nap in the afternoon. Personally if I’m a bit tired a 10-15 snooze in the afternoon works wonders. Do not drink caffeine to keep you awake as this just further depletes your adrenals. (I say this as a coffee lover).
Go to bed early and try to lie in as long as possible.
Weekends – try to rest a little more – lie down when you feel comatose even if you don’t sleep. If you do sleep make sure you are awake before 4pm or it effects your night sleeping pattern. Be nice to yourself. No judgement.
Go on a restful break/holiday – though a lifestyle change is required rather than a sticking plaster.
Final comment: Any advice I give from a nutrition or health perspective is based on my own experience only. I am not a doctor nor qualified nutritionalist and I recommend taking advice from a suitably qualified professional.
Author: Mark Bateman, who suffered a burn out in 2007. And has fully recovered and now works with executives, directors and senior managers to help them be more effective at what they do.
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