I’ve been there. I get it. I know what it’s like to have adrenal fatigue – and complete adrenal exhaustion (spoiler alert: it sucks). And I don’t ever want to go back there again. So if you know you’re going through a really, totally overwhelmingly stressful period in your life on all fronts – how can we prevent adrenal fatigue?
Whether you run your own business, have a side hustle + a full or part-time job, are in graduate school and trying to balance all of those things, have a family, or are just busy AF and can’t keep your head on straight…we all have those times when everything just feels like *too much* and you’re just going to sit down and cry in the middle of the road if one more thing happens, right?
Let’s be real. Most of us who get adrenal fatigue, cortisol resistance or adrenal exhaustion are total type-A personalities, entrepreneur types, who love high-intensity workouts, competing in half marathons, triathlons, etc., have a million things going on and thrive on being busy (and stressed).
Work hard, play hard, right? It’s just how we do. But it’s that work hard, sleep less, caffeinate (and drink) more, work out harder, play harder lifestyle that creates the perfect environment to develop adrenal fatigue. Adrenal exhaustion (and HPA axis dysregulation) are also tied in with a host of other adrenal-related problems, like thyroid issues, losing your menstrual cycle, PCOS, leaky gut/intestinal permeability, sudden onsets of anxiety, low blood pressure, weight gain, cravings, and massive blood sugar imbalances, just to name a few. And by the time we realize that it may be our personality and lifestyle choices that are creating these symptoms, it’s already too late – and we’re in the throes of chronic exhaustion and adrenal fatigue, not knowing what to do about it to recover
So whether you’ve had adrenal fatigue before, you think you may have it, or you’re trying to prevent yourself from slipping into adrenal fatigue (for the first time or again), we need a game plan. Today, we’re talking about 7 strategies to prevent adrenal fatigue.
These are tools I use in times of high stress to prevent both myself and clients I’m working with from slipping back into cortisol resistance, extreme fatigue, crazy whacked-out hormones and cravings, under-recovering from workouts, and the vicious cycle that is adrenal fatigue like from happening again.
1. Chill the f*ck out. (stress less)
Easier said than done, especially for us competitive, go-go-go, entrepreneurs and A-types. Many people who suffer from adrenal fatigue, or who are on track to get it, have lifestyles similar to what mine was. They overwork themselves in every aspect of their lives, make food choices that don’t adequately support their bodies (specifically with extremely low-carbohydrate or low-fat diets and excess amounts of caffeine and alcohol). They have the “can’t stop won’t stop” mentality, and they force their bodies to go until they literally can’t go any more. And for these people, it is *the hardest thing* to chill out and allow themselves to relax. Have trouble doing yoga or meditation because you can’t calm your mind down, and you think you could be doing so many other things with your time? This is you – and these are the people who need yoga and meditation the most.
*You cannot recover from adrenal fatigue if you have stress coming from every area of your life.*
So we need to figure out where we can cut some stress out, where we can learn to manage unavoidable stress, and build in some stress-relieving practices.
Chill the f*ck out. PRACTICE SELF-CARE. Do some yoga, or meditate for 5 minutes in the morning with an app. Get a massage. Take a walk in the park with your dog. Listen to a podcast or some calming music.
The world will not stop spinning because you didn’t hit everything on your to-do list or post on instagram today. YOU WILL BE FINE, I promise.
Another tip? Stop letting little things get to you. So what if you’re stuck in traffic on the way to a big meeting? Yeah, it sucks. But there’s literally nothing you can do about it (aside from get out of your car and sprint to the office, which I’m guessing you’re not going to do… and imagine the pit stains? ugh.), so you might as well chill out, apologize when you get there, and move on.
I know you still have commitments, and a million things to do. Here’s what I do – at the beginning of every week, I make a list of all the things I MUST get done that week. Schedule it all out by day like appointments to yourself.
Pro tip: schedule in breaks, where you can *actually* chill out, go for a walk, take time for yourself. This is key to recovery and preventing adrenal fatigue.
2. Say no to high-intensity exercise, long runs, and your favorite spin class.
Yes, that means crossfit. And zengo cycle. And your favorite yoga class with weights. And pretty much everything you love to do to move your body. I know, I get it.
But let’s think about this. When was the last time you weren’t *totally exhausted* after a workout, when it didn’t take you days to recover before your next one? When you didn’t have to drag yourself out of bed with multiple cups of coffee and then take a preworkout, just to get through your workout?
If THIS (see the picture on the left) is how you feel after pretty much every workout, when you already have a lot of stress going on in your life, it’s time to take a step back.
You already have a lot of stress in your life, and stress – whether it’s “good” or “bad”, can come from multiple places – and exercise is one of them, even if you love it. Your body has a certain threshold for stress, and once you go above that, it’s the total exhaustion / hormones totally out of whack / can’t get out of bed in the morning / can’t recover from workouts / when is this going to stop? Feeling.
Exercise is a form of stress on the body, and if you’re already dealing with a lot of stress, it’s probably too much for your system to handle. High-intensity exercise and cardio (running, biking, etc.) spike your cortisol, which is why people with adrenal fatigue sometimes can feel soooo good for a little while after a hard crossfit workout, spin class, etc. But then, you totally crash, can’t function for the rest of the day, and can barely drag yourself out of bed the next morning to do it all again. So yes, your favorite workout could be pushing you farther into adrenal fatigue. It sucks, I know. But it’ll get better as long as you take some time off to recover.
So what kind of exercise CAN you do, so you don’t go stir crazy?
Walk. hike or bike (leisurely). Scale your workouts waaaay back. Lift some weights – but not to your max. Stick with low intensity. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. it will tell you when it’s too much.
3. Be selfish. Put yourself first.
This may sound like weird advice, it’s like the safety message you get with oxygen masks on an airplane – you have to put on your oxygen mask first before you can help anyone else. If you’re sick, how are you supposed to help others – whether that be your family, your friends, your clients, your growing business, etc.? Take time for yourself, and put your recovery above others needs (while being reasonable, of course. If you have kids or a pet, you can’t just leave them to fend for themselves!)
STOP SAYING YES to to extra commitments or ones that stress you out. No, you do NOT have to go to that person’s party if you’re totally exhausted. You do NOT have to offer to drive carpool every day. You need to recover, so you can be there for everyone else in your life.
SAY NO to toxic friendships and relationships (another form of stress and negativity that you could probably do away with anyways). Avoid negative people and negative self talk, and people who practice negative self-talk about themselves. Don’t even try and tell me when your friend says she feels “so fat in these pants” today that you don’t immediately start doubting what you feel like in your own skin.
If you can, work from home some days.
Quit that job that makes you dread waking up every day. Maybe you can’t do it now, maybe not in a few months, but you can start thinking about options, and make a plan. I did it – had to go back to school, move back in with my parents for a few years, and take a few part-time jobs to make it work, but IT WORKED. And I’ve never looked back or been happier with my career choice.
4. Stop eating food that makes you and your body feel like sh*t.
Here’s the thing. Some of the foods you eat may seem totally fine for you. You don’t have celiac, you don’t feel like you’re sensitive to gluten, and you eat it all the time, so you must be fine, right? Well. The thing about gluten, dairy, soy, and a couple other potentially problematic foods is that they have a high probability of causing inflammation throughout the body (which you already have going on if you’re dealing with adrenal fatigue symptoms), and we can’t put that fire out unless the inflammation-causing agents are removed for a period of healing. And, you’ll never know if these foods do actually affect you or not, unless you cut them out for a trial period of time and then reintroduce them.
ELIMINATE (for now) foods that may cause inflammation, blood sugar spikes, or an unhealthy/unbalanced psychological response.
- Crappy cooking oils (hydrogenated, vegetable oils, soy oil, peanut oil, corn oil) – check your ingredient labels!
- Artificial sweeteners and added sugars
- Junk food (processed, packaged junk. That means you, twinkies).
- Simple aka high glycemic carbohydrates (aka white foods) like white flours, white rice, white potatoes. These spike your blood sugar, which is exactly what we’re trying to fight with adrenal fatigue.
5. Eat REAL (nutrient-dense, healing) FOOD.
And make sure you’re eating ENOUGH.
A lot of the time when I work with adrenal fatigue clients, there’s a common history of over-exercising and under-eating, whether it’s for weight loss or body composition goals, an unhealthy relationship with food and their bodies, or even disordered eating. Did you know 1200 calories a day is the recommended intake for a THREE YEAR OLD? I don’t know how old you are, but if you’re reading this, you’re definitely not three years old. Just saying.
Low calorie / low carb / low fat = high stress for the body.
Healing foods (aka nutritional superfoods) for adrenal fatigue:
- Healthy fat + protein at each meal.
- Slow-digesting carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and starchy vegetables (winter squash), parsnips, plantains, etc.
- Dark leafy greens
- Colorful veggies = nutrient density. Eat as many as you want.
- Vitamin C-rich foods: broccoli, dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, kiwi, tomatoes, pomegranate.
- Magnesium-rich foods: green leafy veggies, dark chocolate, and nuts + seeds.
- Add himalayan sea salt to your food to help with low blood sugar.
Increase the healthy fats. Upping the healthy fats in your diet will help – think avocado, coconut milk, nuts and nut butters, olives, etc. The building blocks of the hormones in your body are literally made from fats. You want to get those back into balance? You need to EAT healthy fats.
Most people will need to increase their intake of starchy vegetables and “safe” starches for carbohydrate sources. It’s hard to be prescriptive with specific recommendations since I don’t know you or your specific situation, but make sure you’re getting at minimum 75-100g of carbohydrates per day for adrenal fatigue healing, for now.
Note: A ketogenic/super low carbohydrate diet is NOT your friend right now.
Keto can be very therapeutic in other situations, however, for NOW, when your body is already totally stressed out and hormones are out of whack, your body won’t even allow you to get into ketosis. And going lower carbohydrate right now isn’t going to help heal your hormones or cortisol rhythms.
Not only WHAT you’re eating, but HOW you’re eating is also extremely important here.
Don’t scarf down your food while driving/watching tv/running between errands. Take time to sit, breathe, and practice mindful eating – so you can actually digest, heal and reap the benefits of these nutrient-dense foods you’re eating.
6. Stop drinking caffeine AND alcohol.
This is not a fun one, I know. You’re like WTF DANA. You can take away my gluten-filled goodies, even my favorite sugary snacks, but you CANNOT take away my coffee. I will. Literally. Die. (and or fall asleep at inappropriate times of the day) without. It.
And that dependency, friends, is exactly why you need to be away from all forms of caffeine right now. Every time you drink coffee, you’re stimulating your adrenal glands, aka activating the fight-or-flight response, and producing cortisol. We’ve all experienced it from having a little too much caffeine – your heart starts to race, you feel jittery, and like you just need to go run somewhere to burn some energy off.
When you have adrenal fatigue, your natural cortisol rhythm is thrown off. Normally, cortisol is high in the morning (to wake you up), highest at noon, and then gradually lowers throughout the day to allow you to naturally fall asleep at night. With adrenal fatigue, many people have very low cortisol in the morning, and then get “tired and wired” and have a cortisol spike at night. So of course, we reach for caffeine in the morning because we literally can’t function without it – you’re right about that. But using coffee to wake up when you have adrenal fatigue is like putting a bandaid on the problem – you’re not actually fixing anything, and are only messing up your cortisol rhythms even more.
7. Sleep MORE
At least 8 hours a night. Maybe even closer to 10. This probably goes without saying, right? But if you’re not sleeping, how are you supposed to stop being exhausted all the time? When you’re getting *restful* sleep, your body is in recovery mode – which is exactly what you need to get out of adrenal fatigue. This may mean you need 10-12 hours of sleep per night. Which may totally not be feasible, but maybe a 45 minute nap in the middle of the day is. Do what you can!
Try your best to get to bed before 10 or 10:30, which is where studies have shown the most restful type of sleep occurs.
When you’re stressed, the body is using up a lot more of certain vitamins to help compensate, to produce more hormones, and to try to bring your body back into homeostasis (balance). You can get these nutrients from food, but considering supplements in your period of recovery may be very therapeutic as well. Talk to your naturopath or nutritionist for specific dosage recommendations!
- Vitamin C helps the adrenals produce more cortisol
- Magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, and becomes more depleted the more stressed you are. It’s extremely helpful for both relaxation of the muscles, to support the nervous system, and for sleep
- B vitamins support energy levels and can help replete what your body is losing from being in a constant state of stress and depletion from adrenal fatigue.
- Adaptogens are Ayurvedic herbs that studies have shown can help bring the body back into balance by moderating the stress response, strengthen the immune system, and may help lower cortisol levels. See this post for more on using adaptogens for adrenal fatigue! (Source: 1, 2, 3)
- Current two favorites for stress are ashwaganda and reishi. Favorite way to get them? In teas from Four Sigmatic.
Remember, this isn’t forever.
As you recover, you’ll gradually be able to get back to your favorite workouts, your coffee and alcohol (to your tolerance, and in moderation). BUT. Remember what got you here in the first place. If, once you’re recovered and feeling better, you go back to the same lifestyle and choices that landed you to total adrenal exhaustion in the first place, what’s to prevent you from going back there again?
Be smart. Listen to your body. Take care of it! It’s the only place you have to live.
This article first appeared as a guest post on my friend Michelle Cady’s website, Fitvista! Be sure to go check her out for awesome recipes and health coaching articles!