We’re all familiar with stress – most of us deal with fluctuating levels of it in our daily lives from a variety of sources. And while a little stress has actually been shown to be positive for our health, ongoing and chronic levels of stress can lead to serious health issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and depression.

If you’re feeling exhausted from your 24/7 lifestyle or as though you are in chronic survival mode, you may be experiencing adrenal fatigue.

What is adrenal fatigue?

Your two tiny adrenal glands sit one on top of each of your kidneys, controlling hormones and nervous system chemicals that regulate your stress response, as well as your immune system, blood pressure, reproductive hormones and more. Your body is designed to respond to stress by releasing hormones, including cortisol, from your adrenal glands, and then when the stressful event is over, returning to a baseline or regular state.

When stressful events occur at a regular or steady pace, your stress response can become compromised, and your adrenals may become overworked and fatigued. Your cortisol levels, which should be naturally highest in the morning and taper off during the day, may be too low or too high. As well, chronic stress can lead to hypothyroidism or low thyroid function.

If you typically need to rely on sugary foods or coffee to keep you alert in the mornings and provide a pickup during mid-day, you may be experiencing adrenal dysfunction. Other symptoms can include:

  • Morning fatigue
  • General anxiety and irritability
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Food cravings (especially salty or fatty foods) and episodes of low blood sugar
  • Extra weight, especially around the middle, and/or difficulty losing weight
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep, and still feeling tired upon waking
  • Getting sick more often
  • A variety of hormonal problems including irregular periods and PMS

Tips to Manage Stress

To reduce the impact of stress on your body, aim to maintain these healthy habits:

  1. Identify your stress triggers and find ways to prevent, manage or reduce them. This could mean delegating extra duties to staff or family members, scheduling more “me time,” asking for help from your support network or learning to say no when asked to participate in activities you are not fond of.
  2. Address conflicts and challenges with others proactively, rather than letting situations fester and later explode in a more stressful way. If you have a tendency to let your emotions get the best of you, work on staying centered, keeping your perspective balanced and staying focused on positive solutions during challenging situations. Be willing to compromise.
  3. Manage your time wisely. Plan ahead and allow enough time that you’re not rushing from one activity to another, which can get your adrenaline pumping. Where possible, delegate or eliminate activities and set aside specific time in your schedule for self-care.
  4. Nurture yourself first. Make time for self care, fun, laughter, spending time with friends and loved ones and enjoying creative pursuits.
  5. Use healthy relaxation tools and techniques daily to keep stresses from building up. Some examples include walking in nature, taking a hot bath, getting a massage, doing restorative yoga, meditating and breathing. Even taking short mini-breaks for a few moments to stretch, breathe deeply, and focus on the present moment can help initiate the relaxation response.
  6. Maintain a healthy diet to keep your blood sugar balanced. Be sure to eat nourishing, whole, plant-based foods at regular intervals and keep sugary treats, white and processed products out of your diet.
  7. Exercise regularly to increase the level of endorphins, your “feel good hormones,” in your brain – but don’t overdo it.
  8. Regulate your sleep routine. Aim for a regular rhythm of going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day. And allow sufficient wind-down time before sleep, turning off electronic devices at least 30 minutes beforehand.
  9. Practice gratitude, which has been shown to open the heart, increase optimism and reduce stress.
  10. Ask your health practitioner about supplements to support adrenal function and manage stress. Vitamin C may help lower stress hormone levels, while Vitamin B can help reduce feelings of anxiety. Amino acids such as GABA, L-theanine and L-tyrosine may also help reduce anxiety in some people.  As well there are several “adaptogen” herbs, including Rhodiola and Ashwagandha, which may have a beneficial effect on regulating the adrenal stress response.

Adrenal Testing

The way to accurately measure your cortisol release patterns throughout the day is through a saliva test. The test looks at cortisol together with other hormones, as symptoms of imbalance may overlap. Discuss any health concerns with your practitioner to assess whether testing for adrenal dysfunction is appropriate for you.

NEX Wellness and IV Clinic offers naturopathy care and hormonal assessments, serving Burlington, Hamilton, Binbrook and surrounding areas.