What occurs within you when life delivers a wave of stress and ultimately gives you a big squeeze? Have you considered how stress affects your health, and ultimately your adrenal glands?
Like a lime being squeezed for its juice, each rising circumstance has a way of pressing in on me. I know that as stress builds and life continues to give me a big squeeze, it has led me to ponder the inner-workings of my personal mindset. How do I healthfully express my emotions? Likewise, how does all of it affect my physical well-being, specifically my adrenal glands?
Living in Quarantine Has Affected My Adrenals
Reflecting on these past few months in quarantine, and how they have strangled my attitude and ultimately affected my adrenals, I have been humbled that my family even desires to continue living with me! As our family of six have been in close quarters, it has become apparent how: Dogs bark unexpectedly (but with regular frequency throughout the day), bombarding and grating all of our consciences; consistent questions starting with the word, “Mom” greet my ears minute-by-minute from any of the four youth living in our home; the doorbell can ring with the arrival of a package, or the dryer can toll its bells declaring its cycle complete.
Dare I begin to share how when nightfall comes, an entirely new set of issues arise? With regularity, my husband and I are seeking to ensure the adolescents in our home remain safe, and not venturing out from underneath our radar into the glories of nighttime fun and adventure. The cramp of this quarantine lifestyle has put on their social lives has been daunting for them, and there has been rebellion. All in all, this is but a small taste of the on-going, consistent list of distractions that perpetuate my own personal daily life, squeezing a variety of emotions out into a pool for all to see.
Finding our way through this new norm has been a bit challenging, to say the least. Although there have been great times of joy during this close-knit time together, the truth is the distractions have grown. Irritation has indeed threatened to bubble to the surface. As much as these days of solace and isolation at home have been a comfort, there is a sense of growing tension that mounts with each day of quarantine. Anxiety begins to fester. The squeeze seems to get more and more uncomfortable. Add to it the personal challenge of a weakened adrenal system, and it’s no wonder that the quarantine has left me with sleepless nights, fuzzy thinking, and heightened stress that challenges my unstable emotions and attitude.
How Can Adrenals Become Weakened?
I was first introduced to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome the summer of 2016. After becoming seriously ill with flu-like symptoms while on a mission trip to Africa in March of 2016, I did not allow myself adequate recovery time before delving into rigorous training for an upcoming 10k race. As the summer months progressed, I began to seriously take notice and address the litany of symptoms that had been disrupting my quality of life. Symptoms such as: unspeakable exhaustion, dense brain fog, consistent and unexplained headaches, unstable emotions and coping ability, spiraling energy levels, difficulty sleeping, significant hair loss, and both hormonal and libido fluctuations. I began to experience frustration as each doctor I visited, and each medical test run, continually uncovered no explanation for why I felt so awful. All tests came back showing that I was an overall healthy individual.
Yet, something was indeed wrong.
What is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?
Answering the obvious question of, “What is adrenal fatigue syndrome?” was the first step in my journey towards healing. Although tiny in physical form, the adrenal glands that sit atop the kidneys are a powerhouse of activity with the responsibility of releasing cortisol. Cortisol is our body’s main stress hormone. Primarily known as the hormone released for fight-or-flight, cortisol also works with certain parts of your brain to control your mood, motivation, and fear. When released into our delicate endocrine system, cortisol plays an important role in a number of things that our bodies do. For instance, cortisol:
- Manages how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
- Keeps inflammation down
- Regulates your blood pressure
- Increases your blood sugar (glucose)
- Controls your sleep/wake cycle
- Boosts energy so you can handle stress and restores balance afterward
Often coined as the modern-day stress syndrome by James L. Wilson, N.D, D.C., Ph. D, author of “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome“, adrenal fatigue has been described as,
“A group of related signs and symptoms (a syndrome) that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level. Most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, it can also arise during or after acute or chronic infections…With each increment of reduction in adrenal function, every organ and system in your body is more profoundly affected. Changes occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system, and even sex drive. Many other alterations take place at the biochemical and cellular levels in response to, and to compensate for, the decrease in adrenal hormones that occurs with adrenal fatigue. Your body does its best to make up for under-functioning adrenal glands, but it does so at a price.”
Healing and Recovery
James L. Wilson also adds that since,
“the adrenal glands mobilize our body’s responses to every kind of physical, emotional, or psychological stress through hormones that regulate energy production and storage, immune function, heart rate, muscle tone, and other processes that enable us to cope with stress…yet it is generally dismissed by conventional medicine.”
Ultimately, this led me to find that recovery from adrenal fatigue syndrome would be challenging. After all, to truly heal, one has to get to the root issues, and not simply treat the symptoms. I found my journey would require looking at quite a wealth of variables. It would include re-shaping my diet and exercise regime. I would need to re-establish sleep habits, as well as find stress-management outlets and tools. Overall, and understanding of self-care, as well as my overall attitude and mindset, would need to be considered. Needless to say, looking adrenal fatigue in the eye truly takes a great deal of courage. It requires accepting help both from others and often, as for me, a change in lifestyle.
Truly, it can be a challenge to find healthy boundaries in our daily lives. Within the role of motherhood and ministry leadership, I have found it especially challenging to maintain healthy boundaries. As a mother to three daughters, I have found that emotional stress can mount. Likewise, we often open our home to foster and nurture the hurt and broken individuals that cross our paths. Needless to say, our home is bursting at the seams with activity and drama! Life is busy, and often hard, as we juggle all the demands. Ministering to the broken, while mending our own family’s ups and downs, is constant and exhausting.
In my journey, I have wrestled with when in life my yes should be yes, and my no should be a firm no. I have had to wrestle with having to make sacrifices for the sole sake of healing. Areas of beloved leadership I enjoyed would need to be surrendered for a season. Similarly, I realized I would need to accept how my passion for long distance running would need to be tabled. Needing to embrace a different approach to exercise, I made the difficult realization that my exercise regime would need to be modified, less strenuous, and allow for adequate recovery time. Realization over how I would need to give myself grace that all of these changes were not going to happen overnight also slowly dawned on me. Understanding how it would happen gradually, and over time, would truly be how the healing of my endocrine system would occur.
Stress Management and Self Care
I was in need of a perspective shift. I had an unhealthy mindset that self-care was selfish. Seeking to gain an understanding of how self-care was necessary for good health, I uncovered the joy that comes with stepping into a season of rediscovery. I began uncovering what I enjoyed most in life and what helped manage my stress levels.
Writing, painting, and photography have always been outlets that have been huge stress-relievers for me. Just as baking has been an outlet for fellow author, Sami Main, it has also been an outlet for me at times. In her article, “Baking is How I Unwind, Even When It’s Stressful“, Sami shares an important aspect to self-care. She writes, “Self-care can come in lots of different flavors, and baking or cooking just happens to be one of mine.” Finding our own personal outlet for self-care is a key component for managing stress. I have wrestled with guilt that stems from an unhealthy perspective around the mindset of selfishness regarding self-care. Yet, thankfully, I have gained a healthier perspective on proper self-care. I have discovered how paramount it is to manage stress and healing the adrenals.
I soon began to intentionally carve and create more time for these stress-management outlets. Purposefully carving out time for these activities brought healing to my adrenals as well as joy to myself and family. These shared moments brought us closer together in relationship and I was grateful for how my mindset and perspective were shifting to healthier places. Realization has dawned for how the balance of work and self-care is key to healthier living. I have learned how self-care is an important cog in the wheel of moving forward in a well-balanced, healthier lifestyle.
While on this journey, I realized a great need of appreciating the value of rest. The facts are that when the adrenals are compromised, the sleep cycle becomes broken. This causes light and inconsistent sleep to occur. When sleep loss becomes a constant issue, it deteriorates and bleeds out other body systems. Speaking from experience, trust me when I say that all of this can leave you feeling absolutely miserable.
Allowing for rest is crucial in healing the body, as well as maintaining good, overall, physical health. In this day and age when everything seems to be constantly streaming, it is crucial to intentionally find time to shut-off, pull away, and allow our minds and bodies to rest.
What Did Rest Look Like To Me?
For me, rest meant that I had to give myself permission to nap. Also, I would have to make the sacrifice of striving for an early bedtime. Lastly, I would have to address the hardest issue of all: asking for help. My husband graciously committed to only a forty-hour workweek, while our children respectfully followed-through with responsibilities and chores. Upon sharing my struggles with our church, members kindly signed up to provide meals for our family.
I recognized the strong need to unplug daily in order to continue healing my adrenals. I created a relaxing, bedtime routine that would encourage quality rest. It began with hot baths, reading, and setting boundaries around detaching from my phone. Practicing each of these elements helped to encourage a night of solid and restful sleep. I was slowly learning to savor life and daily living in finding time to rest the mind, body, and soul. After all, life is too short to live in a constant state of frenzied madness.
When we are consistently on the go, it can mean that our nutritional habits fall by the wayside. While processed and fast foods are incredibly easy to purchase, they only satiate hunger versus providing a whole, nutrient-dense meal.
As I have evaluated my approach to diet and nutrition, I began to fill my days with more whole foods. Our family began to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, and quality meats. We also kept a close eye on our refined sugar intake. It meant learning about carbohydrates and fats, and which ones were nutrient-dense and which were not. Healthful eating also meant taking a closer look at which foods cause inflammation in the body systems and which ones were easier to digest. When choosing to eat in a way that helps to reduce inflammation it eases overall stress on the body. This was one of the primary goals in helping my body heal.
Jeanne Hutchinson, in her article “Bonus Benefits of a Low-Carb Diet NOT related to Weight Loss,” introduces many additional benefits, aside from reducing inflammation, that a Keto approach to dieting offers. For our family, we took on an approach of a more Paleo diet. Whichever dietary approach, the main goal is to ensure the regular eating of whole foods versus processed. Likewise, eliminating the intake of refined sugar is key to reducing inflammation and promoting healing.
Moving Forward and Living with Adrenal Fatigue
My journey with adrenal fatigue syndrome has been one I have grown to be grateful for. Yes, there have been instances where exhaustion and depression have threatened to overwhelm me. Yet, the truth is, I have experienced a renewed and healthier mindset for living. Daily, I learn how to live life with healthier boundaries, quality rest, and proper nutrition. Life is richer and more fulfilling because of those efforts. In essence, I have found a friend in my weakened adrenals. When I stop and listen, these glands share that it is time to slow down and provide myself with a bit of tender loving care. Everyone is always in need of a little TLC these days.