Adrenal burnout is like one of those friends who takes and takes but never gives back. Everything is on their terms no matter what situation you’re in. They’re never available and they never respond even in your darkest moments, but you had better be available when they call in the middle of the night because they’re having relationship issues. Always taking, never giving.
Thankfully, I no longer have any “friends” like that anymore. It was just too exhausting and under-nourishing for a soul that needs as little drama as possible.
That’s sort of how adrenal burnout feels except your drive to keep pushing forward is that “friend” who never lets you rest, relax, and restore your energy. This constant “fight or flight” mode we’ve set ourselves in keeps taking and taking and that builds up a massive amount of stress hormone in our systems leading to fatigue, insomnia, catastrophic degenerative thinking patterns, and overall feeling like poop.
The Role of Our Adrenals – Fight or Flight
The adrenals are responsible for controlling your fight or flight mechanism. When we’re in a life threatening situation or feel like we are (think: the possibility of getting fired, financial stress, worried about your marriage or kids, etc.), your adrenals respond by mobilizing every recourse in your body for a possible fight or the need to flee.
Typically, this sort of reaction should be short lived. Running away from something is a good historical reason for activating the adrenal glands. Once activated, the body pumps out a hormone called cortisol, aka the stress hormone, which clarifies the mind, gives you a boost of energy, speeds up heart rate, deepens breathing, and mobilizes blood sugar to fuel our muscles to increase our chances of escape.
Once out of harm’s way, our cortisol levels would stabilize back to normal as the body releases insulin. All that extra sugar gets put back where it belongs and your breathing and heart rate return to its normal state.
What is Adrenal Burnout
Imagine constantly being in a state of panic because you’re being incessantly chased by a terrible predator. Wouldn’t you eventually burn out and collapse from exhaustion? Well, we sort of do this in our daily lives already except that terrible predator is a deadline at work, an unhealthy relationship, too much responsibility, and other stressors in our daily lives. This causes our health to pay the price – adrenal burnout.
Soon, the body is pumping out blood sugar, insulin, and cortisol left and right leaving you feeling heavy, sluggish, and crazing all sorts of sugary, fatty, salty things. Losing weight becomes very difficult, especially around the midsection.
The adrenal glands are supposed to help us bounce back from life’s stressors, but when you are under constant stress they’re going to burnout, hence the name adrenal burnout. We start to feel tired all day, get sick easily and often, and can’t adapt to stressful situations like we used to.
10 Signs You Have Adrenal Burnout and How to Treat it Naturally
Since it’s easy to confuse adrenal burnout with feeling normal (yes, people actually FORGET what is feels like to feel GOOD anymore), I’ve decided to list 10 key signs that you may have adrenal burnout.
1. You often crave sugar, carbs, fat, salt, or a combination of them.
2. You have trouble falling and staying asleep even though you’re tired. You will often wake up feeling unrested.
3. You get irritable or angry very quickly.
4. You need caffeine every day at around 3-4 and may also crave sweets.
5. You often feel anxious or down in the dumps.
6. You’re gaining weight in your midsection.
7. You get sick easily and often and it’s hard to kick a cold or flu.
8. Your hormones are really out of whack – no libido, fertility issues, hormonal acne, sleep problems.
9. Your focus is scattered and your memory is worse than it used to be.
10. Your digestive health is suffering.
If you’re experiencing any or all of these things, well, keep reading!
Natural Treatments for Adrenal Burnout
Cut The Caffeine
Caffeine is what allows us to push forward past our limits and actually triggers the release of adrenal hormones. So while you don’t HAVE to cut caffeine completely, it’s advised that you cut back as much as possible because it’s time to tell your “friend” hasta la vista so you can focus on healing.
If you have a few cups of coffee per day, try to cut that back cup by cup until you’re only having one cup in the mornings. From there, start pouring smaller cups of coffee until you no longer drink it or it is just a small amount. Caffeine in any form will hold back your healing so cutting it out is really the only way to end the vicious cycle of the 3pm slumps.
Not only is exercise an amazing stress reliever, it’s super healthy for the mind and spirit as well. However, overdoing it seems to be pretty common these days as people take part in hour long HIIT routines, spin classes, and crossfit. Over-exercising actually contributes to adrenal burnout which is why a lot of runners or those who over-train have trouble curbing colds and losing weight.
Gentle exercise is the best way to keep your activity levels up without obliterating a candle that is already burning at both ends. I recommend any exercise that makes you happy, just don’t overdo it!
Improve Your Sleep
For many, this is easier said than done but you really need to put in the effort if quality sleep is an issue for you. Sleep is the most important time for repairing and restoring your adrenals so you absolutely cannot skip this part of healing.
Some tips to help you get a better sleep include:
• Avoid alcohol and nicotine before bedtime
• Avoid caffeine from lunchtime onward
• Avoid taking naps during the day
• Eat no later than 3 hours before bedtime
• Exercise gently and regularly at least 20 minutes per day
• Keep your room at a comfortable temperature at night
• Make sure your bed is actually comfortable – mattress, sheets, pillows
• Make your bedroom a comfortable sanctuary that is quiet and relaxing
• Read an enjoyable book to help induce good thoughts before sleep
• Reduce light by using blackout curtains
• Refrain from using electronics in bed before sleep
• Take a relaxing bath before bedtime
• Take sleep inducing herbs like passion flower, valerian, lemon balm, or chamomile
• Take supplements like Natural Calm or 5-HTP for relaxing more positive thoughts
• Use essential oils like lavender, cedarwood, or vetiver (be sure to check out my article on 10 Essential Oils that Fight Adrenal Burnout for more options)
• Use your bed for sleep and sex only
As hard as it may be, try to leave work at work and the stress that comes along with it. Learning how to embrace YOUR time and feeling relaxed is super important for healing adrenal burnout. You can do this by keeping your home organized and free of clutter (believe me, I never realized how huge this was until I read and practiced the Konmari Method!), have a relaxing tea blend, cook healthy meals for yourself, light candles, take a luxuriant bath, or spend time caring for yourself. Obviously, this will look different for each person, but try your best to give yourself YOU TIME. Your adrenals will soon be able to restore themselves by practicing relaxation techniques.
Stabilize Your Blood Sugar
Having unstable blood sugar is a great way to tell your body that you’re starving when you’re actually not. Having these spikes is perceived as a danger by your adrenals which puts them into overdrive. Skipping meals, eating junk, living on coffee, and crashing after eating nothing but sugary treats leaves you feeling famished, shaky, and unable to focus. Not only that, your adrenals get out of whack trying to signal the body the pump out more insulin into your system.
The way to avoid this is to eat a high protein breakfast with healthy fats every morning to give you steady, slow burning energy till lunchtime. Avoid sugary cereals, or carb based breakfasts and snacks throughout the day if you tend to crash after eating them.
Take Adaptogenic Herbs
Adapto-what-now? This may sound like some ill-disguised sneeze but I promise you it’s the best thing since sliced bread!
Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help your body adapt and react to stress in the best way possible. They regulate and normalize the adrenal stress response. How nifty is that!?
I have been using adaptogenic herbs for a long time to help me better cope with life’s curveballs and keep me in a state of sustained calmness. They also naturally increase energy eventhough they are non-stimulating in nature. They also boast some significant anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
As for adrenals, adaptogens are able to nourish and rebuild the adrenal glands and support the processes that are controlled by the adrenals like blood sugar, the immune system, hormones, and even blood pressure.
Some adaptogens work more quickly than others, but one thing is the same, they all have cumulative effects on the body. I recommend taking adaptogens for at least 3 months to get their full effect.
1. Ashwagandha – is a calming and restorative herb that improves memory, reduces inflammation, improves sleep, reduces anxiety, prevents premature aging, and stimulates a healthy libido. It also boosts the immune system and can be used to strengthen fertility.
2. Holy Basil – is one of my favorite adaptogens to use for fatigue, stress, and negative emotions.
3. Rhodiola – promotes a calm emotional state, supports strong mental clarity and function, boosts immunity, and balances hormones. It also improves sleep, reduces stress, and calms anxiety.
4. Shatavari – one of the most powerful rejuvanitive tonic herbs for women, shatavri is a hormone harmonizer. It encourages restful sleep, improves immunity, and helps stabilize insulin secretion.
A helpful book to read is Adaptogens by David Winston because there are MANY more adaptogens to choose from!
What have been your favorite ways to combat adrenal burnout? Please share in the comments!
For more on healing adrenal fatigue, check out the posts below: