Every once in a while, the stars will magically align, and I'll feel a deep sense of energy. Being an extremely driven woman with a business and four kids (and human, too), I instantly seize that energy and use it for all it's worth. Then, I'll wake up the next day, back to my usual levels of fatigue—or even exhaustion—realizing that I've really overdone it. I have adrenal fatigue, and it's a constant struggle to keep my energy levels balanced.
Depending on the level of impairment, adrenal recovery can be a slow process. If you're human, it's safe to say that you're not going to like how long it takes. It's very similar to construction: It always takes longer than you think and costs more money than you budgeted. Plus, it's easy to deviate from the path of recovery and have to start over entirely. Look at it this way: On one hand, adrenal recovery is a slow process; on the other hand, it's totally doable! Let's dive in to the step required to get your body back on track.
The most critical part of recovering from adrenal fatigue is to stop stressing the system. Think of your adrenals like a bank account, and the following things "drain" the account of its reserves: stress, anxiety, worry, alcohol, sugar, overwork, lack of sleep, drugs, chronic illness, autoimmune disease, toxic relationships, feeling powerless, PTSD, food sensitivities, financial issues, divorce, and over- or under- exercising. In other words, anything and everything can place added stress on the body. The first piece of advice I can give you is not to do this alone; healing from adrenal fatigue is best done under the supervision of a functional medicine provider. Each person's is unique, so at times, the specifics will change, but there are a few basic steps everyone should be taking:
1. Get it touch with your physical energy limitations.
Move your body! But not too much. At the end of exercising, you should feel amazing, invigorated, full of more energy than when you started. If you feel jittery, weak, exhausted, like you need a nap, or have heart palpitations after a workout, then you overdid it. Next time decrease the intensity by 50 percent and see how you feel. Depending on how fatigued your system is, at the beginning you may only be able to walk around the block. This is OK. I have a patient who is currently not able to exercise at all, and that's OK too. Other treatments that support adrenal recovery include acupuncture, reflexology, infrared therapy, sauna, massage, sensory deprivation therapy, cryotherapy, chiropractic, and craniosacral therapy—just to mention a few. The ideal frequency is weekly, if you can get there and afford it.
2. Address chemical imbalances.
The goal here is to give the body the nutrients it needs and remove any substances that are stressing the adrenals. This is the least popular part of the advice since it removes all the "fun stuff." During adrenal recovery, I recommend you remove all alcohol, sugar, and processed carbs. They all stress the adrenals and make it harder to recover and then build up your reserve again.
If you can give up sugar cold turkey, great. Depending on how out of balance you are, you may have a detox reaction from this elimination; don't worry, it will pass within two weeks. If you need to ease into this, I recommend eliminating these foods from one meal, getting comfortable with this, and then working your way up so that all your meals are free of sugar, alcohol, and processed carbs. Stevia and xylitol are acceptable alternatives, but avoid all artificial and synthetic sweeteners, honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar. I frequently get the question: "If I make my own rice, corn, or tapioca flour, is that OK?" In a word: No. When you process the grain, it makes it easier for it to be digested and converted to sugar, which stresses the adrenals.
When it comes to supplements, work with your health care provider to find the right ones for you. There is a wide range of herbs, minerals, and nutrients that support the adrenals. Adopting a ketogenic diet, paleo diet, or autoimmune paleo diet are all good approaches and can assist with recovery as well.
3. Get real about how you're treating yourself.
This is probably the hardest section, since it involves our intimate relationships—both with ourselves and others. Have negative self-talk? It's time to redirect. It's extremely stressful to always be told that you aren't good enough. Practice being as kind and understanding with yourself as you are with others. Adopt a few self-love mantras and post these sayings on your bathroom mirror, fridge, car dashboard, and move them around periodically so that you "see" them again.
Have toxic friends, family, or partner? It might be time to distance yourself from them. It can be so difficult, but there's nothing that says you have to go to every family event, holiday, or dinner party. If you must go, bring a friend as reinforcement to remind you of who you really are and want to be. Addressing anxiety, depression, and insomnia can relieve much of the stress on your adrenals.
Focused breathing and meditation also help calm the adrenals. When you breathe in, you activate the sympathetic nervous system, which is all about the fight, flight, or freeze response. When you breathe out, you activate the "parasympathetic" nervous system, which is responsible for rest, relaxation, digestion, and restoration. You don't have to reach nirvana, stop thinking, or sit perfectly still. If you're just starting out and stressed, just breathe, making your exhales longer than your inhales for 20 minutes.
4. Look for your sense of community.
Belonging to a community is directly linked to longevity, and isolation is a tremendous stressor. If you don't feel like you have a community you resonate with, it's time to find one. Like to hike? Read? Sew or knit? Sing? Pray? Meditate? Dance? Run? Yep, there's a community group for that. Find it and get there weekly. The first time is the hardest. Go anyway and get connected to others around you.
5. Connect with your sense of purpose.
Tackling adrenal fatigue is easier if you can articulate your goals: What kind of life do you want to live? What will getting healthy give you the ability to accomplish? Spending some time discovering your unique contribution to this world is definitely worthwhile, and being purpose-driven can alleviate a lot of the negative stress we experience when we're aimless.
I know this can be overwhelming. I also know that the real question you want answered is: Will you ever feel better, and how long will it take? There are a few parts to my answer: Yes, you'll definitely feel better, but it's going to take a lot of work. From a timing standpoint, It probably takes as long to fully heal as you've been out of whack. Normally, we ask patients to give us 12 to 24 months, and often they feel 60 to 80 percent better by the end of that time. However, the most critical part of restoring the adrenals is to treat them like a bank account you are building up and remove any and all stressors that drain them. This is the single most effective way to heal faster!