I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of times I feel overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety, when the weight of the world seems to be on my doorstep and my shoulders. These feelings are often accompanied by crying spells and what I call crankiness—but my family may use a stronger word!
These feelings are not uncommon. Women often experience them around menstruation, and they go up and down along with our wildly fluctuating hormone levels.
But what I was experiencing was something different. My anxiety, crankiness and crying spells were not related to my periods. Instead, after consulting a caring healthcare professional, we identified the cause as adrenal fatigue.
When we think about adrenal fatigue (I talk more about it here), the symptoms that usually come to mind are extreme fatigue, sugar cravings, prediabetes (insulin resistance), and stubborn weight gain. I already had all of those things!
Often, however, people overlook the psychological symptoms that accompany adrenal fatigue, which can be just as devastating as the physical ones.
All of my negative, challenging feelings were becoming more and more prevalent during a period of months when I was facing some intense physical and emotional stressors. Both my husband and my mother were dealing with serious health issues, and I was trying to balance their needs with those of my children while attempting to keep Divine Renewal going.
In the process, I forgot to take care of myself. I had many of the classic causes of adrenal fatigue:
Stressful ongoing experiences
Lack of sleep, waking up tired, and feeling tired all day
Weight gain around the belly and hips
Low blood pressure
Lack of motivation
Therefore, when the extreme fatigue overtook me, along with weight gain, a diagnosis of prediabetes and estrogen dominance, and problems with my thyroid, I panicked. I became very anxious. I cried. I felt out of control.
Fortunately, however, once my doctor and I worked through the symptoms, it became clear the psychological issues were also associated with adrenal fatigue.
I was grateful for the diagnosis! I was relieved to know I was not crazy…I had simply overwhelmed my adrenal glands to the point they were shutting down. Now that I was armed with a diagnosis, I was ready for recovery!
So what did I do?
First of all, I wanted to make sure I understood how the adrenal glands work so I knew what I was facing. Here’s a quick course in Adrenal Fatigue 101.
Your two adrenal glands are the size of your thumb and they are responsible for making more than 50 hormones that are involved in essential functions throughout every part of the body. The adrenal glands work closely with the pituitary gland (which takes messages from the hypothalamus gland and uses them to make hormones) and the hypothalamus.
When they are operating properly, the adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol: more is released in the morning to get you up, and less in the evening so you can sleep. When you are exposed to stress—physical, emotional, or mental—one part of the adrenal glands releases cortisol and adrenaline to help you respond to the threat while another part of the glands sends out corticosteroids, which partially put the brakes on digestion, immune response, and other functions that are not necessary for immediate survival.
The adrenal glands also balance hormones, including those involved with energy production, blood sugar regulation, metabolism, stress relief, sex, blood pressure, water and salt balance, heart health, and liver function.
Obviously we need good functioning adrenal glands if we want to enjoy good health! I had exposed by adrenal glands to a classic storm of events. They simply could not keep up with the great amount of stress I threw at them. This caused my adrenal glands to malfunction. My cortisol levels were a mess…and so was I!
My body was no longer responding in a healthy way to stress.
The result was anxiety, crankiness, and crying spells…and lots of other symptoms as well.
The secret to overcoming adrenal fatigue and restoring my emotional, mental, and physical health was to adopt lots of wonderful loving habits that I discuss here. Please read them and then embrace them---because they work!
Right here, however, I want to focus on how I worked through the emotional symptoms as part of my recovery. Understand, however, that because we are holistic beings and everything is connected, it’s important to adopt habits that take care of the body, mind, and soul all at the same time. Each of us is unique; although the following practices have worked for me, everyone is free to modify them according to their own personal needs and preferences.
Practice meditation. I take time to meditate every day, even if it’s for only 10 minutes. The experience gives me a sense of calm and balance that I can carry with me for the rest of the day. If you have never meditated before, there are so many simple instructions available on the Internet and wonderful guided meditations available on YouTube for you to try. If you prefer, attend a meditation group in your area and get some tips. Meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure, promote heart health, and relieve depression. It’s not woohoo, it’s a scientific fact!
Keep a journal. I highly recommend you start to keep a journal of your thoughts, gratitudes, dreams, and emotions. Seeing all of these ideas in print, especially my gratitudes, helps me stay focused and balanced in my daily life. Why? The mind is a muscle. When you focus on what you have—the positive things in your life—you condition it to zero in on the good. If, however, you focus on what you think you are missing or on what you don’t have, you will send your mind on a downward spiral and feel depressed and anxious.
I like to write in my journal at the end of the day, right before going to sleep, so the good thoughts and gratitude’s are the last thing I remember before going to sleep.
Laugh more. A heart-felt belly laugh stimulates the release of happy chemicals in your body, which in turn enhances your emotional healing. Look for the humor in circumstances and people. Spend a few minutes watching silly or funny videos on the Internet…there are countless numbers of them available. If you are a fan of funny movies, make a date to watch them as much as possible. Yes, laugh until you cry…except this kind of crying feels good!
Use natural remedies. I have just started to use essential oils to address some of my adrenal fatigue symptoms, so I will be reporting back to you within a few months to let you know the results. So stay tuned!
In the meantime, I find that adaptogenic herbs, such as holy basil, ashwagandha, and rhodiola rosea, can be calming, either when I am having an especially stressful day and/or right before going to bed. These herbs may lower cortisol levels and help balance the body’s response to stress. Try an herbal tea (my personal preference) or take a supplement according to package directions.
Here’s an easy recipe for ashwagandha tea for anxiety and stress reduction.
4 ounces unsweetened almond or coconut milk
1 tsp ashwagandha powder (organic if possible)
1 tsp raw honey
4 ounces water
½ tsp crushed cardamom seeds
Combine all of the ingredients except the cardamom in a sauce pan and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat, add the cardamom, and allow it to simmer until it reduces by about half. Strain and enjoy twice a day!
Focus on the positive. Anxiety thrives on negativity, so I try to focus on the positive. That includes surrounding myself with positive people, thinking positive thoughts, and talking to myself and about others using positive words. Your words are powerful; as you think, so shall you become.
Cut out caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. These substances boost cortisol levels, which in turn can make you more emotionally fragile. Although you cannot eliminate some of the other stressors in your life, such as traffic jams and monthly bills, you can control what you eat and drink. Natural foods such as fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and herbal teas are healthy choices.
Exercise moderately. When I exercise moderately, my mood improves and I have more energy. Yet some people think more is better so they run ten miles or do highly intensive cardio sessions. Such vigorous exercise can raise your cortisol levels and make you even more exhausted. Moderation is the key!
Adrenal fatigue takes a toll on more than your physical body; it can make you anxious, cranky, and sitting in a puddle of tears. You can overcome the emotional challenges by adopting some simple yet empowering habits. Are you with me?
Which one or two practices are you willing to try for a few weeks? Remember, make any changes that are comfortable for you. Let us know what you are trying and how it is or is not working for you. Deal? I can’t wait to hear back from you!
Wishing you much love and wellbeing,