One of the promises I made to myself as I was recovering from Adrenal Fatigue was to focus on the positive whenever possible. Since I am predisposed (both through personality and genetics) to be susceptible to stress, the habits I formed during my recovery have become part of my every day life, in an effort to not end up in the same position I was 8 months ago.
Being positive is a natural tendency for me (save for a short period of time in my life when I was dating a positivity-vampire), however when life gets stressful, you can fall into a negativity pit without even realizing and it can be a struggle to climb out. In an effort to not let that happen, I continue to make little changes to my life and add small habits that contribute to positivity and happiness.
One of my recent new habits was to subscribe to the podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin. A few years ago I read Rubin’s first book – The Happiness Project – which was a wonderful, systematic discussion of her personal journey to becoming happier. There were a couple of key takeaways from that book that I’ve held on to, my favourite being to always Be Gretchen (or in my case, Be Amanda) which means just because most other people enjoy something doesn’t mean that I have to. So when I heard that the author had begun a weekly podcast, I instantly subscribed.
I love love love podcasts! My husband can attest to that since most of our conversations these days begin with me saying “today on a podcast….”. I listen to them while walking the dog, doing laundry, cleaning up around the house and most importantly (from a happiness perspective) driving. I never worry about traffic anymore, because being in the car is now sacred me time, where I get to listen to whichever podcast suits my fancy that day!
On one of her earlier podcasts, she spoke about the power of a One-Sentence Journal, which instantly piqued my interest. I love the idea of journaling, but in practice, it feels very overwhelming. The whole idea of logging a major entry every day is enough to put me off the concept altogether. However, the concept of writing down one sentence seems totally manageable. So I instantly went to amazon and bought her One-Sentence Journal: A Five-Year Record.
What I liked about her book is that each page is reserved for one day, but it contains 5 years worth spaces to fill in. So in theory, on this day next year, I’ll be able to reflect back on what happened today! The idea is that by writing down a memory from today, you will (a) be more likely to remember it simply through the process of acknowledging it and writing it down and (b) you will have a hard copy of your real life everything from major milestones to simple moments.
So I’ve been one-sentence journaling for a few weeks now and here’s what I’ve noticed:
It’s easy to remember to do – I leave the journal beside my bed and quickly jot down a memory from the day before I go to bed.
The act of writing down something that makes me happy before bed, is a great way to finish the day. I am routinely turning out the light with a smile on my face.
This is something I did not expect to happen…all day I am looking at the different moments, aspects, routines – all seemingly mundane and unimportant – as possible journal entries! I seem to be looking at my life with happiness goggles on! Every minute is an opportunity to be happy and I am seeking out all the happiness!!
There are no rules, and that’s a good thing! Some days there are big ticket items like a wonderful dinner with friends, but other days are as simple as being grateful for enjoying an extra cup of coffee on a Monday morning with my husband or watching the first snowfall of the season.
As of right now (only a few weeks in), I can see myself doing this religiously. If for nothing else than the excitement of coming full circle a year from now and seeing what I was writing about, and how things have changed. But most importantly, I hope this new habit allows me to keep these happiness-coloured glasses I have become so fond of!
So tell me, do you journal? How does it work for you? Any tips to share?
Do you listen to podcasts? What are some of your favourites? Share below!
What is Leaky Gut – A compromised digestive tract lining that can lead to a whole host of health concerns from minor allergies to full-blown autoimmune conditions
What Causes a Leaky Gut – Food (specifically wheat, sugar, alcohol, dairy, grains and legumes) stress, pharmaceuticals, GMO’s
My goal with this blog post is to give you a concrete plan for healing your leaky gut. Not sure if you actually have leaky gut? Odds are, you do. Still not sure? Read the above post on causes – if any of the causes are currently, or at one point in your life were applicable, you’ve more than likely got leaky gut. So this post is for you!
Aside from healing chronic leaky gut, the recommendations in this blog post can also be used in the following situations:
post “bombing” by a food trigger (i.e. “dairy-bombing” as I like to call it when I accidentally ingest dairy)
during times of serious stress and/or poor sleep
when you have been exposed to illness
if you feel like you are coming down with something
if you are sick!
if you have any GI issues ranging from irritation or discomfort to food poisoning or other “every body out” situations!
Step 1 – Eliminate Foods that Contribute to Leaky Gut
At absolute minimum, get rid of gluten, sugar and dairy. Unfortunately when we’re sick, we’ve been trained to want crackers or dry toast because they are “easy on the digestive tract”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only are they completely devoid of any nutrients, but they damage the gut, feed pathogenic overgrowth in the intestines and cause an blood sugar/insulin spike that contributes to poor health.
Even better – get off all grains and legumes as well. While whole grains and legumes have some nutrition (especially if they’re actually prepared properly), the nutrient bang-for-your-buck is woefully inadequate compared to whole foods such as eggs, meat, fish, vegetables (both starchy and non-starchy) and healthy fats. And with a compromised digestive tract, you don’t want to make it work extra hard to actually obtain nutrients from these foods.
For most people, adopting a grain, legume and dairy free diet is plenty. But if you have underlying health concerns or a history of severe digestive and/or autoimmune symptoms, the following should be avoided as well:
Omitting the eggs and nightshade vegetables are only recommended for people following an Autoimmune Protocol – a very strict, but incredibly effective dietary intervention. It is usually not necessary for the majority of the population.
Step 2 – Focus on Nutrient Dense Foods
While the gut is very quick to start healing itself (new cells replace old ones in as little as 3 days!), many nutrients are required to become the building blocks of those new cells. Foods to focus on are:
wild caught seafood
pasture raised pork
pasture raised egg yolks (unless following AIP)
healthy fats (avocado, olive, coconut and grassfed/organic ghee if tolerated)
vegetables, both starchy and non starchy
A quick note about vegetables – if you are experiencing digestive symptoms (not always the case with leaky gut, many symptoms are found on the skin, brain, joints or organs), you may do better with cooked vegetables than raw. Serious digestive damage can be made worse by raw vegetables, so choose soup over salads.
Step 3 – Add in Super Foods
The number one food you can add in to your diet to heal leaky gut is Homemade Bone Broth. Not only is it high in minerals in an easily absorbed form, but the gelatin found in homemade broth is critical for healing the digestive lining. Bonus is if you are experience any other connective tissue symptoms (joints, skin, vaginal lining, bladder, brain…), broth can help there too! Read my post on Bone Broth for a detailed explanation of the science behind this powerful food!
Next up – LIVER! This polarizing food is one of the most nutrient dense foods you can put in to your body. Now I get it – I wasn’t raised on liver, so it has taken me a while to get to a place where I actually enjoy it. But I worked at it because I knew how important it was to include in the diet. This Chicken Liver Pate from Balanced Bites was the first way I actually enjoyed liver, but now I can eat it fried with onions, and bacon of course! Worried about the toxins that are “stored” in the liver? Lucky for you, this isn’t actually how physiology works. The liver processes or neutralizes toxins, but it doesn’t store them. If for some reason it cannot excrete them through bowel movements and/or urine, it will store them in the fatty tissue of the body (another reason for choosing grassfed/organic/pastured meat products). It does, however, store a huge variety of vitamins and minerals, including important ones that are otherwise hard to get from our diet like Vitamins A, D & K, as well as folate and iron. (UPDATE: want to know more? I wrote an entire post on liver – found here!)
Another group of foods that you want to include in your healing protocol (actually you want to include these all the time) are foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. The most concentrated sources are cold-water fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel and even trout and tuna. This is followed by all other seafood and shellfish, which still contain loads of omega-3’s, at a slightly lower concentration. Bonus is seafood-based protein is exceptionally easy to digest. Worried about toxins in fish – read this and this. Additionally grassfed beef and pastured egg-yolks contain some omega-3 fatty acids. Finally, you want to avoid consuming large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids (vegetable oils, grains, conventional chicken) because this contributes to inflammation and further increases our need for omega-3’s – we’re going for optimal balance between omega 3’s and 6’s.
NOTE: plant-based sources of omega-3’s donotcount. They are a different form of omega-3 (ALA), which the body has a very difficult time converting to the form we need (EPA or DHA). That means flax, chia, walnuts and any other plant-based “omega-3” is not helping you out!
Sea greens such as kelp, dulse, nori and other seaweeds are an easy way to get healing minerals in to the diet. Add to homemade broth or soup, or buy flaked sea greens and shake on to meals before serving to add a good hit of nutrients.
Finally, fermented foods. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt (if dairy is tolerated), and kombucha are a fabulous source of probiotics. In fact, fermented foods blow probiotic supplements out of the water when it comes to the number and variety of probiotic strains they contain. Why are probiotics so important for gut health? Well that’s a blog post in and of itself – but the main reason is the health of your gut bacteria is the largest indicator of the health of your body, across the board. Regardless of what you’re trying to recover from, you need to nourish your gut bacteria. You do this by eating lot of vegetables, avoiding gut-harming foods (grains, vegetable oils, sugar) and regularly inoculating the gut with healthy bacteria in the form of fermented foods. Now, this recommendation may time some time to work up to. If you are experiencing major gut pain, you are going to want to start very slow. I’ve had clients need to start at ½ tsp of sauerkraut liquid and slowly go up from there. If you are new to fermented foods, I recommend starting at about 1 tsp, once or twice a day. More is not necessarily better when it comes to fermented foods. Diversity, variety and frequency is more effective.
Step 4 – Get Your Lifestyle in Check
Stress, intense exercise and less than 7 hours of sleep all cause leaky gut. So you can be doing all of the above steps, but if you’re crossfitting 6 days a week, training for a marathon, are super stressed at home/work or are telling yourself and others that you “do fine on 5 hours of sleep” you will not heal your gut. So, what do you need to do?
Mange your stress – however that looks for you (with the exception of additional intense exercise). Yoga, meditation, adult colouring books (my new fav thing!), deep breathing, reiki, walking the dog, listening to music – whatever it is, make it a priority.
Sleep at minimum 7 hours per night. In fact, sleep more. Sleep 8-9. I honestly wrote 7 hours because I know the backlash I receive every time I tell a client to sleep 8-9, so I cave and say 7. So make sure you get at least 7, ideally 8 or 9 hours every night.
Dial in your exercise. Most people should not be exercising hard more than 3 or 4 days per week. If you do, you need to be working with professionals to make sure you can recover properly, and that you are doing all of the above recommendations all the time. In bad cases of leaky gut with concurrent adrenal fatigue, autoimmune conditions or another health crisis, I often recommend limiting exercise to restorative yoga, short walks, gardening and gentle stretching.
A common complaint I receive when I make these time-consuming recommendations is “I don’t have time for all that”. At risk of sounding like a total jerk, I want to share a quote that I once read: try replacing the words “I don’t have time” with “that’s not a priority” and see how it feels. Brutal, but oh so true!
So let’s say you’ve done all of the above (be honest with yourself!), and you are still experiencing issues related to leaky gut – it is time to call in professional help. Find a practitioner you can work with to identify additional causes of leaky gut. Things to look for include (but are not limited to):
dysbiosis, yeast, fungus and/or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
As with all health concerns, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for healing leaky gut. It is a complex web that needs to be approached from a holistic and functional perspective. But without addressing diet and lifestyle factors, you will not be able to recover. So start today by taking baby steps, or jumping in whole hog, whichever method works best for you. Respect your digestive tract and you will set the stage for whole-body wellness.
By the time March hit this year, I was burnt out. Which, considering what the previous 6 months were like, was pretty much guaranteed to happen. Let me explain.
August 2014 – my grandmother passed away. Without getting into the details, this was one of the most emotionally turbulent few weeks of my life.
September 2014 – we bought our first house! And the house we bought was perfect for also opening a home-based medical office. We finally had answers for so many questions regarding our future. However, it also was incredibly stressful. Buying a house when you’re both self-employed is extremely challenging. So even after we had a commitment from our mortgage lender, it felt like the rug could be pulled out from under us at any moment. Neither of us felt comfortable with the situation until we closed on November 10th.
October 2014 – continue my normal amount of work (job, clients, blog, book-keeping for my husband’s business, the majority of the household responsibilities) and add in launching a new business. I was suddenly the go-to between our lawyers and insurance team, a receptionist for my husband’s new clinic and the coordinator of marketing, business development, website creation and operations. Oh and add in packing up our home (the second time in less than a year – brutal!).
November 2014 – we took possession of our house on November 10 and immediately started some basic reno’s to make it appropriate for a home-based business. We managed to pull everything off in less than 3 weeks. We moved in on Sunday November 23 and continued working at our current clinic through til Friday November 28. At which point we had 4 days off to move our offices and set up our brand new ones because we launched our new clinic on Wednesday December 3. It was insane.
December 2014 – new clinic launch!! It was 100% successful, which was amazing. There were hiccups and bumps in the road, but we were able to navigate those fairly easily. The one good thing is we weren’t launching a business from scratch – we’ve both been practicing for a while so we knew exactly what we needed to do. Even still, December was a bit of a blur. I was in constant hyperdrive managing our new clinic, putting out small fires and figuring out all of the little details as they came up.
January to March 2015 – continued similarly to December, at a slightly less frantic pace. But add in a brutal winter.
Major Health Issues I Was Experiencing
1. Two days before Christmas I came down with an epic case of the flu. Nausea, headaches, fatigue, extreme bone and joint pain – the whole nine. I didn’t feel 100% back to normal for 2.5 weeks. It just goes to show, you can’t out-eat and out-supplement stress.
2. I skipped a period. This is something I have never experienced before so it kind of shook me. At first it was an additional stress because I thought I might be pregnant, and it was literally the worst timing (I had a newborn business baby to raise!!) However, more importantly I took this as a major red flag. The female body is incredibly smart and it protects itself very well. It will suppress its own fertility when it is not an ideal environment for being pregnant and/or having a baby. Too few calories, too low fat, nutrient deficiencies and chronic stress (in the classic emotional sense, or from the perspective of poor food choices, consumption of foods you’re allergic too etc.) are all major indicators to the body that there is famine and/or danger. It knows that it is dangerous to the body to be pregnant during this time, so it literally prevents it. Stress, my friends, is the greatest prophylactic! (side note: any issues in your fertility is a strong indicator that something else is out of whack in your body – irregular cycle lengths, skipping periods, wicked PMS, changes in your normal cycles, endometriosis, PCOS – all are signs that something else is going on and you should address it with a trained health professional)
3. Total and complete inability to handle any stressful situation, no matter how small the issue. The number of meltdowns I had during this 6 month period is kind of embarrassing. Thank goodness my husband knew what he was getting himself into when he married me and also knows how to keep me calm ie. bear hugs and foot rubs – he’s a saint!
4. Resurgence of anxiety. This has been a lifelong health issue of mine that I have mostly been able to recover from, but none of my old tricks were working anymore. I would wake up every morning with an incredible amount of pressure on my chest. Every time our clinic phone rang my adrenaline skyrocketed. It made no sense.
5. Digestive flares. My digestion is the weakest point in my body. Healing it has been the driving force behind all of my nutritional choices. And I can confidently say that I had it 99% figured out! But things started getting out of whack again. I was having the hardest time digesting my food and was constantly having to take digestive support supplements and apple cider vinegar, with no success at weaning myself off either.
6. Extreme and total fatigue. I would sleep 11 hours and wake up fatigued. After 2 large cups of very strong coffee in the morning, I would finally be energized, only to crash mid afternoon. Caffeinated tea and dried fruit got me through, if not an impromptu nap on the couch. I would crawl into bed feeling like I hadn’t slept in days and crash hard, only to wake with a panicked start at 4:00am thinking I had missed my alarm.
What The Hell Was Going On??
Instead of guessing, we decided to do some testing so we knew exactly what was going on with me. The tests we ran were:
– general CBC, specifically for iron levels
– thyroid panel and complete autoimmune panel (after recently learning that my maternal grandmother had lupus)
– thyroid ultrasound
– salivary cortisol testing, for adrenal function
– genetic testing through 23andMe, looking for the possible MTHFR mutation
My bloodwork actually came back good (much to my dismay). My iron levels were moderate for the first time in my life, which I attribute to regular liver consumption. And my thyroid and other autoimmune indicators came back negative. I was happy to see that, but also a little bummed, because I still didn’t have any answers.
Then came my salivary cortisol test results, and the answers started coming. I had Stage 2 Adrenal Fatigue.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
I’m going to try and quickly summarize what Adrenal Fatigue is, but I don’t want to write a novel (although, this quickly became a very lengthy post), so at the bottom of this post are a bunch of links to additional resources if you want to read more about Adrenal Fatigue. There are so many incredible resources out there so be sure to check them out!
Your adrenal glands are situated on the top of your kidneys. They are responsible for your stress response. When you are faced with a stressor, they only have one way of responding – as if you are being chased by a grizzly bear. It kicks your entire body into high gear, flooding the system with stress hormones (cortisol is a main one, but there are others as well) that are designed to save your life. This is called the “fight or flight response”. These hormones turn off any systems in the body that are unnecessary for saving your life. That means your digestive, immune, rebuilding and healing systems are turned off (hence my wicked flu and chronic digestive issues).
Now, we are definitely not being chased by a grizzly bear on a daily basis, but the body has not yet adapted to our new lifestyle. The fight or flight response will be turned on by any perceived stress such as:
chronic exercise / overtraining
exposure to toxins and / or foods that you are intolerant too
chronic consumption of nutrient-poor foods, specifically insulinogenic foods like sugar, refined carbs, low-fat dairy and grains (aka. The Standard American Diet)
lack of sleep
waking up to an alarm clock
light exposure after the sun goes down
As you can see, it’s non-stop. The very nature of life these days, is working against us. Our bodies are designed for short bouts of stress and then have them be done with. Instead our adrenal glands are firing all day every day, so as you can imagine, they start to get tired.
Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis Dysfunction
The term “Adrenal Fatigue” is a casual one, that is not recognized by the medical community. So if you go to your doctor and say ‘I think I have adrenal fatigue’ they’re going to tell you to stop googling. However, HPA Axis Dysfunction is absolutely a recognized medical condition and that’s what most of us are talking about when we use the term “Adrenal Fatigue”.
The impact of chronic stress on the adrenal glands is very powerful. With chronic stress, comes chronic stimulation of our fight-or-flight response, which means cortisol is being secreted on a regular basis. The body becomes less responsive, so even more cortisol gets secreted leading to chronically elevated cortisol levels throughout the day and night. This is Stage 1 Adrenal Fatigue – also known as the Alarm Stage. If the stressors continue, the adrenal glands start to slow down, or get fatigued and they actually produce less than ideal amounts of cortisol. This is Stage 2 Adrenal Fatigue – or Resistance Phase. Stage 3 is when they stop producing cortisol altogether – Exhaustion Phase.
It actually gets a little more complex than this as you leave Stage 2 and get into Stages 3 (and 4 in some models). As your body fights to make more cortisol, it actually steals the building blocks from your sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) to make cortisol. So you end up with a myriad of health issues surrounding sex hormones. Read more about that here. At this point you’re literally fighting to get through the day, regardless of how “well-rested” you are.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
The symptoms associated with Adrenal Fatigue are broad and can vary from person to person. Chronic fatigue is usually present, but any combination of these symptoms is possible:
Low blood sugar, or;
Elevated blood sugar. Since your muscles require blood sugar to function optimally and if you’re running away from a lion, you’re going to need that fuel! If you’re not then burning that blood sugar, it can result in blood sugar levels in the range of pre-diabetes or even diabetes. Simply from stress!
Suppression of the immune system. Catching every cold or virus out there.
Suppression of the digestive system. Stress causes leaky gut. Which in and of itself is one of the underlying causes of most health conditions these days. It also means you are at further risk of getting sick. It also suppresses stomach acid production, which is critical for every step of digestion from nutrient absorption to enzyme release. Insufficient stomach acid leads to nutrient deficiencies, constipation, gall bladder issues, leaky gut and increased susceptibility to pathogenic microbes.
Chronic low energy
Major energy crash mid-afternoon
Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
Low thyroid function
Difficulty losing weight
Wait gain, specifically around the mid section, or as “love handles”
Low blood pressure
Dizziness upon standing
Low or no libido
Salt and/or sugar cravings
Anxiety and/or depression
Second wind late in the evening when you’re trying to sleep or feeling “tired and wired”
Waking up in the middle of the night with the mind racing
If you suspect you might be suffering from Adrenal Fatigue, find a practitioner who will run a salivary cortisol test for you. It’s a simple test where you spit into 4 tubes throughout the day – upon waking, pre-lunch, pre-dinner and before bed. It gives you a fairly accurate picture of what your cortisol levels are at during the day.
Ideally your cortisol levels should be the highest upon waking – but not too high so you wake buzzing or anxious! Cortisol should gradually decline throughout the day – with the lowest levels being at night time. As always, there’s a range of normal values depending on each individual. There are a variety of dysfunction patterns, but in general in Stage 1 your cortisol levels are above normal throughout the day, often following the same general decline, but still higher than ideal and sometimes spiking at the end of the day (that tired but wired feeling). Stage 2 you cortisol levels are below normal, or might be normal first thing in the morning and then plummet and stay low throughout the day. In the Exhaustion Phase or Stage 3 cortisol is bottomed out upon waking and stays low all day. Here is a good visual aid for different cortisol dysfunction patterns.
Treatment of adrenal fatigue will vary depending on what stage you’re in. Some supplements encourage production of cortisol, which you definitely don’t want if you’re in Stage 1, but would be absolutely appropriate for Stage 2. That being said, there are a variety of diet and lifestyle changes you can implement to start the recovery process, halt the progression or simply prevent from occurring in the first place.
Dietary Recommendations for Adrenal Fatigue
eliminate foods that are known to cause inflammation and stress in the body
ideally also avoiding grains, legumes and poor quality dairy (some people tolerate raw, grass-fed dairy just fine!)
depending on your health status, it may also mean adopting an autoimmune protocol or doing additional food allergy testing
focus on nutrient-dense, healing foods such as organ meats (specifically liver), pastured egg-yolks (if tolerated), grass-fed beef, wild fish and seafood, bone broth and fermented foods (such as sauerkraut and kombucha)
always eat breakfast, specifically a high protein breakfast (we’re talking 25-30g of protein, so more than 2 eggs!!)
don’t skip meals – aim for 3 balanced, nutrient dense meals a day, and maybe 1 snack if you need it. Do not attempt intermittent fasting! Intermittent fasting is generally not ideal for women, and definitely not indicated for people with Adrenal Fatigue since it is a major stressor on the body. If you’re having serious blood sugar spikes and crashes, you may need to start your recovery process by eating every 2-3 hours. The goal would be to move towards a 3-square meals approach, once you begin to recover. I recommend working with a skilled practitioner on implementing such a dietary intervention.
salt your food liberally (himalayan pink salt, celtic sea salt), because adrenal fatigue also results in suppressed aldosterone levels – the hormone for maintaining proper salt levels in your body
consume carbs – when switching to a real-food / paleo-type diet, it is common to accidentally go “low-carb” which in itself can be very stressful on the body, specifically the female body. Additionally, thyroid function is usually suppressed, secondary to adrenal fatigue, and since carbs are required for conversion into the active thyroid hormone, a low-carb diet will suppress thyroid function even more. Focus on healthy carbs like root veggies and starchy tubers. Include sweet potato, plantains, carrots, beets and moderate amounts of fruit.
kick the caffeine – caffeine triggers a cortisol spike, and right now you need to normalize cortisol secretion
limit alcohol – booze not only causes leaky gut, but it also depletes the body of nutrients and stresses the liver – none of this is ideal for recovering from adrenal fatigue
support digestion with apple cider vinegar or HCl tablets if indicated (under the guidance of a qualified practitioner) and/or support with digestive enzymes
Lifestyle Recommendations for Adrenal Fatigue
manage your stress!! This is the most important part of the entire adrenal fatigue recovery process. Stress is what got you into this pickle in the first place, so even if you do every other thing right, if you don’t address this, you will not recover. That means it’s time to take a critical look at what is causing you stress and actually deal with it. It may be as simple as asking for help and learning to say no, or as challenging as quitting your job or getting out of a toxic relationship. It is likely going to be a combination of things, so start slowly and begin to make real, long-standing changes to your life to reduce stress for good
sleep for a minimum of 8 hours per night, ideally 9 or 10
go to sleep when it’s dark, rise with the sun – ideally wake without the use of an alarm clock
focus on quality of sleep by getting rid of all artificial light in the bedroom, investing in black-out blinds and wearing a sleep mask (although this doesn’t cut it by itself, because your skin still has receptors for light)
avoid screens for 2 hours before bed and dim the lights in the house – if you can’t avoid screens at night, download the f.lux app for your computer and invest in a pair of geeky blue-light blocking glasses. Why? the blue light from our phones, laptops and TV emit the same type of light as the sun, so our bodies think it’s day time. Melatonin – the sleep hormone – gets suppressed and we are unable to achieve quality sleep
expose your eyes to sunlight as soon as you can when you wake up – this suppresses melatonin production and tells your body it’s daytime, setting you up for the natural diurnal melatonin rhythm
stop intense exercise and/or reduce frequency of exercise – since exercise is an inherent stressor, hitting the gym every day for an intense HIIT workout, or training for a marathon is only going to make your situation worse. If you do continue to exercise, listen to your body and don’t exercise when you’ve slept less than 8 hours, if you’re feeling particularly fatigued or if you are still sore/achey/tired from your last workout
build in planned rest or low-key times during the day – aim for a total of 30-60 minutes, either all at once or in chunks over the course of the day. Meditation, gentle stretching sessions, going for a walk, reading a magazine, listening to an audiobook – whatever allows you to relax intentionally is a great option
connect with nature
include play-time on a weekly basis – this might mean playing a sport, performing in a music ensemble or playing with your kids – whatever it is, it should be fun!
connect with loved ones – human connection is one of the most important health predictors and it should not be overlooked during your recovery process. It is tempting to become a hermit when you’re recovering from adrenal fatigue, but make sure to include quality time with friends and family. Go for (herbal) tea with a friend, take a walk with your family or have an old-fashioned movie night at home
My Personal Treatment Plan for Recovering from Adrenal Fatigue
In addition to getting the results of my salivary cortisol test, I also received my genetic testing results from 23andMe. Now, there’s a lot we don’t know about genetic testing and honestly, getting the testing done can often cause more damage than good. We have seen many clients get genetic testing done and then obsess or panic about their results. The reality is we are so far away from understanding exactly how to use such genetic information, that we really can’t make conclusive decisions from the data we can gather. We have no idea how the body has learned to adapt and how much of an influence our environment has on each individual gene / SNP. Chris Kresser once said:
Your genes load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger.
So you must take genetic testing with a grain of (sea) salt. I strongly recommend working with a practitioner if you decide to go down that road. That being said, there are a few genetic mutations that we have an okay understanding of. One of them is the MTHFR gene – which was my major reason for doing this test, due to our work with autism spectrum and autoimmune conditions. My results came back with the normal variant of MTHFR, but it turns out I have a few other key mutations. One is a significantly decreased ability to methylate (ie. activate) vitamin B12, so a simple way of managing this is to consume B12 in food (ie. chicken liver) and to supplement with sublingual methylated B12. The most interesting piece of info is I have a double mutation for the MAO SNP. MAO (or monoamine oxidase) is responsible for degrading catecholemines, and my DNA codes for a very slow version of MAO. In plain english – my body/brain has a hard time breaking down stress neurotransmitters. That means when I experience stress, my body stays in a stressed state way longer than someone with the normal MAO SNP. Now, my body may have adapted by sending in other enzymes to help out – we really don’t know that much, but I was able to take away this important point:
My body responds to stress way more dramatically than the average person, which means I am more susceptible to the negative effects of stress and therefore am much more likely to suffer from HPA axis dysregulation.
Well, I didn’t need an expensive DNA test to tell me that! Ha! Or maybe I did…because those results were the final kick in the pants I needed to stop putting stress management lower on my list of priorities. Managing my cortisol is now and forever going to be a top priority for me.
In the meantime, here’s what I did to help my body recover from adrenal fatigue:
I sleep a minimum of 8 hours every night now, and if I don’t, I’m not allowed to exercise the next day
Speaking of exercise, I limit my workouts to 3, very rarely 4 days per week, and if I’m sore or tired, I don’t go. When I am at the gym, I listen to my body and don’t overdo it.
I stopped eating eggs for breakfast and started eating meat (don’t freak out, eggs are healthy, but I wasn’t able to get in the super high protein that I needed). Eating leftovers for breakfast actually helped me achieve a few things:
high protein breakfast
eating more seafood and broth at lunch, since I have leftovers for breakfast, I often have sardines, tuna and/or soup with homemade broth for lunch
recover better from the gym
I really dialled in my nutrition. Now, I’m always pretty on point with my food choices, since that’s how I keep all my nasty health issues from resurfacing, but now it was time to really emphasize the things my body needs, such as:
seafood 2-4 days/week, ideally sardines when possible (I achieved this by making tuna and/or sardine salad for lunch when I didn’t have leftovers) to obtain lots of omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients. I also began taking fermented cod liver oil to further support my omega-3/omega-6 balance
liver/organ meat at least once a week (I achieved this by making chicken liver pate every other weekend and having it for lunch a few days that week, as well as having burgers once a week – note: my burgers contain ground beef, bacon and beef heart)
emphasis on sea salt, particularly kelp-infused sea salt (to get sufficient thyroid-supporting minerals, cause my thyroid is likely suffering a bit, secondary to my adrenal fatigue)
I significantly reduced coffee. I tried cutting it out cold turkey, but had reactive anxiety which was a total bummer. I normally just drink one large cup in the morning (except for Jan-Mar when I was doing 2 cups). So I went back to 1 large cup, then a true 8oz cup and I’m now on a half-caf espresso where I combine regular and decaf to further reduce my caffeine. While I never drank tons of coffee, I have been consuming it pretty much since I was in high school, because I LOVE it, so weaning off is definitely a slow process for me. (UPDATE: As of June 2015 I only drink decaf)
I became really strict about exposing my eyes to blue-lights after 8pm. I even purchased some blue-blocking glasses for the occasional evening when we watch TV after dinner. My husband hasn’t stopped laughing at me!
I did a bit of a social media detox. I fell into an addictive habit of always keeping on top of Instagram, and often Facebook. Every morning I would get up, make a cup of coffee and scroll through the previous 24 hours on Instagram before I hit the gym. I thought it was a nice, calm, enjoyable way to start the morning. Then my husband told me about something he read where the constant influx of information every half second as you’re scrolling through social media, can be incredibly stressful for the brain. So I switched to reading in the morning and it has made a huge difference! I take this opportunity to read informative books (health, nutrition etc.) because I if I read those before bed I get too excited to implement my new knowledge!
I identified my stressors and dealt with them. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity we have to make a career out of something we are so passionate about and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It feels a little weird complaining about something I feel so lucky to have achieved, but I have to be honest. Even something I love can be hurting me. So I got realistic about the parts of the job that were really stressing me out and I did something about it! We hired a part time receptionist to take the admin load off my shoulders. And we also brought on a volunteer student 1 day a week this summer to help me work on some projects I’ve kept having to put off.
Laugh. I put my foot down and officially said no more sad or stressful movies/shows etc! From here on out I am only watching things that make me laugh.
I saw my chiropractor twice a week for the first few weeks and then down to once a week maintenance. Maintaining proper nervous system function is key when recovering from any health concern – not to mention maintaining a healthy body in general. Chiro’s are not just for musculoskeletal injuries!
I started a specific supplement protocol, geared to my health status. I am not going to share this in detail, because everyone’s situation is slightly different and if you implement my supplement protocol, you might make your situation worse. However, there are a few safe supplements that can help:
Vitamin C is critical for proper adrenal health, and while you can get it from vegetables, extra in the form of a supplement can really help right now
Vitamin B Complex is also critical for adrenal health. Ideally you want one with a methylated folate (methyltetrahydrofolate), especially if you have an MTHFR mutation
Magnesium – most people are low in magnesium, as it is low in our food supply and it can get depleted so easily by stress, medications (birth control is a big one), exercise, menstruation. It is also effective for maintaining healthy bowels!
Holy Basil Tea – Holy Basil, or Tulsi, is an stress adaptogen which means it normalizes your stress response. So whether your stress response is over- or under-stimulated, it brings it to normal.
We got a puppy!!! Now I know most people would thing, “wait, aren’t you trying to reduce stress and decrease the amount on your plate?” Yes, absolutely. But adopting a dog was actually part of my recovery plan. My husband and I have wanted a dog for years, but our lives never allowed for it. Now that we have a home-based business, we can actually manage it! Let me paint you a quick picture: The house that I live in, is also the one I work at and my life partner also happens to be my business partner. So you can imagine how impossible it can be to get away from work – and no matter how much we love what we do, separation is key. Getting our girl Ruby was absolutely crucial for adding in that separation. Our dinner talk no longer consists of business chitchat, and now revolves entirely around how silly she is. It’s really bad, we’re like new parents! Also, she is a high energy puppy who requires at minimum 2x 45 minute walks a day, which means I am forced at least once a day (sometimes twice if my husband’s schedule can’t accommodate her second walk) I must get outside and disconnect from all things work, life and stress! Walking Ruby helps me to:
get outside every day and connect with nature
laugh – because she’s ridiculous
actively rest by listening to a favourite podcast
move my body in a stress-free, primal way
Within a few weeks I started noticing improvements – it was actually quite dramatic how quickly I started to feel better. However, even with the improvements I know that this will be an on-going journey. As a recovering Type-A personality who is predisposed to adrenal fatigue, I will continue supporting my health from all angles, with a priority on my adrenal health, as a project likely for the rest of my life. And you know what? I’m totally okay with that. Because it means that I will be taking care of my body, laughing more, connecting with loved ones and nature more, learning how to say no and not sweating the small stuff. If you ask me, that’s a damn good way to live!
So tell me – does any of this ring true with you? Have you experienced adrenal fatigue? What are you doing to help your body recover from it?