Guest Post by Ericka Eller of Soul Space Counseling in Tucson, Arizona
Burnout has become an epidemic in today’s “hustle” society. The impact of stressors on health is being felt more widely across the nation as we experience a global pandemic resulting in a forced quarantine. There is racial division and so many emotions to process.
We are already a population trying to do more with less time, less energy, less attention & focus. We respond reactively instead of intentionally. We are at the mercy of the tyranny of the urgent. Everything is an emergency. All things must be taken care of yesterday. We spend free time mindlessly scrolling on our phones or computers. Meanwhile, our attention to our health takes a back seat because we “don’t have time”.
All of these stressors are shifting your body into a stress response, AKA fight or flight. Your body responds as though you were being chased by a tiger. However, the “tiger” we face is usually between our ears. We create the most stress in our minds.
Our brain responds to the stressor by signaling for stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline) to be released to support our body under attack. The constant signaling leads to various symptoms which could be explained as Adrenal Fatigue or burnout.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue was coined as the Twenty-first-century Syndrome by Dr. James L. Wilson. It’s considered the twenty-first-century stress syndrome simply because of the lifestyle we lead as a society; our constant need to be more efficient, to always be doing more, to always be busy and to be accomplishing all the time is causing chronic stress. There’s very little room for rest.
Adrenal Fatigue is considered to be a collection of signs and symptoms which are often stress related and are prolonged, so the body shuts off the signal to respond. It’s almost like having your smoke alarm go off every night at 3 AM. After a few nights of that, you may remove the battery or completely disconnect. But if there is a real fire, the alarms won’t signal. After so much stress on the body, it begins to disrupt other systems (cardiovascular, digestive, immune, respiratory, reproductive, endocrine) but your body is numb to the signals.
There have been many studies on the impact of stress to your health. Specifically, there have been some recent studies by the American Psychological Association and the Journal of the American Medical Association, where they have shown that approximately 60 to 90 percent of all office visits to a primary care physician are to address symptoms of stress. That is such a staggering number!
That means that we are so stressed out that we’re causing all of these symptoms and a majority of what doctors are seeing in their offices every single day often has to do with stress. This is just staggering to me because it’s completely preventable for the most part.
What are some of the stress-related symptoms? What are symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is really a way of giving a name to something that’s happening within your body. Your body is basically under a chronic stress response (fight or flight) and it becomes unable to deal with the demand to respond to heightened stress and increased cortisol after a prolonged amount of time.
The busier we are, the frenzied state and emotional distress becomes a playground for inflammation as elevated cortisol tries to bring our body back to a parasympathetic state (rest and digest). Leading to many of these symptoms because of chronic stress, we become a society that is facing the epidemic of burnout.
One of the top signs and probably the most complained about symptom is chronic fatigue. This is a fatigue that is not relieved by sleep. So even though you may get 8 to 10 hours of sleep at night, you still feel exhausted throughout the day. You have a really hard time waking up in the morning and, in fact, if this is really true for you, you are often hitting that snooze button or sleeping through the alarm, and then finding yourself panicked and rushed in the morning because you’ve slept completely through your alarm. Worst part- you’re not waking up feeling rested and rejuvenated!
ZERO ENERGY/ENERGY CRASHES
Another symptom is zero energy. You feel completely rundown and totally lethargic and that lack of energy continues throughout your day so much, leaving you completely dependent on caffeine and sugar to keep you going throughout the day. This leads to a temporary burst of false energy that is followed by a severe sugar crash.
And the cycle continues. Coffee. Candy. Crash. Repeat. Welcome blood sugar imbalance.
Brain fog is a terrible thing because it makes you feel like you’re almost losing your mind. You can’t concentrate on anything, your memory is terrible, and you’re just not thinking clearly. In fact, you may even be making some poor decisions because of the fact that you are having chronic stress symptoms.
And it’s leading to a decreased cognitive function when stress increases; your brain is working a lot harder and not as efficiently as it could be. You may have trouble sleeping because of the stress and imbalanced cortisol. And even though I previously mentioned that you don’t feel rested and you feel so tired all the time, your body is completely unable to wind down. So you lay awake all night long thinking of all the things that you need to do and really wishing that you could just fall asleep.
Your body is not able to regenerate cells and repair tissue because of the stress and lack of sleep, therefore increasing the brain fog.
Another symptom is you are getting sick often. Your immune system is compromised because all of the nutrients and the vital minerals that are needed to promote a healthy immune system are being shunted away from the processes of keeping you healthy and to recover faster through a built-up immune system. The vitamins and minerals are being shunted away to protect you during times of stress and aid the stress response system within your HPA axis.
Something to note, the adrenal glands demand the most Vitamin C than any other tissue or gland in the body and that need increases exponentially as stress increases. Vitamin C is critical to the immune system as it gives antioxidant protection
You may also have difficultly getting over sicknesses. Colds and infections linger longer and it seems like you never fully recover. Ever had a month of sickness? This is a sign of stress.
DECREASED SEX DRIVE
Another symptom of adrenal fatigue and chronic stress is you have a decreased sex drive and how horrible is that?!? I mean at least you could enjoy that, right? Unfortunately, your hormones are completely imbalanced because your body is saying you are so stressed and now is not the time for reproduction. So again, it’s shunting away those resources that lead to a healthy hormone balance to instead keeping your body in that fight or flight response.
There can be other repercussions of hormone imbalance: weight gain, fatigue, irritability, brain fog, hair loss, breakouts, and increased PMS or menopause symptoms.
If any of these symptoms ring true for you then you very well could have adrenal fatigue. In fact, in some studies, it has been shown that approximately eight out of ten people have some degree of adrenal fatigue. It could be mild, moderate, or severe and anywhere in between those lines.
How can you prevent Adrenal Fatigue/burnout?
Creating a plan to prevent burnout is individualized but these five strategies are universal to help restore your health. Each of these items could be a blog post on its own but here is a simplified action plan:
1. Increase your sleep.
As you increase your sleep your body is able to be in a state of repair and rest. Your cells and your hormones are able to regenerate. The nutrients are actually turning and synthesizing; they’re doing what they’re supposed to do to keep you healthy, to keep you well. Sleeping will contribute to healthy cortisol levels by establishing a consistent circadian rhythm.
2. Increase your sun exposure.
You want to make sure that you’re getting enough vitamin D by spending some time outdoors for at least 10 to 15 minutes each day without sunblock.
If you live in an area where it’s not always as full of sunshine as we have here in Arizona, then you want to make sure that you’re taking a vitamin D 3 supplement daily but make sure it has K 2 included as well for optimal absorption.
3. Go for a walk.
The fresh air and deep breathing promote lowered cortisol because you are actually taking that time to rest and breathe. You are doing something good for yourself. Incorporating more restorative movement like walks, hikes, yoga, or walking help support a body under chronic stress.
4. Decrease your inflammatory food intake.
The top inflammatory foods to eliminate are going to be dairy, gluten, sugar, soy, and alcohol. These are difficult things for the body to break down, absorb, and detoxify, especially when you are already inflamed because of emotional & lifestyle stressors. Those foods just naturally tend to be the most inflammatory which increase cortisol levels within your body. Minimizing or eliminating these foods allows your body to recover from chronic inflammation.
5. Make rest a priority.
Many of my clients look at me with confusion in their eyes when I ask when the last time was that they felt truly rested. Or when was the last vacation they took but didn’t work? I suggest planning blocks of time to do something for you like reading, exercising, taking a nap, date night, or get back into a hobby you enjoy. Creating boundaries with others and your work so that you can have margin in your calendar will result in revitalized health.
Stress is a choice and when we chronically make choices that increase our daily stress, our bodies will let us know that we need to make different choices. It is up to us to become aware of what our body is telling us and respond with care and concern for this season to help our bodies heal. With intentional choices and planning, we can create a life we don’t want to escape from.
About the Author
Ericka is a counselor at Soul Space in Tucson. Ericka discovered the power of coaching out of necessity. Coming from a business and entrepreneurial background, with perfectionist tendencies that affected all areas of her life, she experienced physical burnout twice. After suffering from hormone imbalance, developing a compromised immune system, hypothyroidism, sudden weight gain, memory loss, and Adrenal Fatigue, Ericka found that stress management and support is key.
Ericka work with clients to help them break past barriers that prevent them from experiencing success in their work, relationships, and health. She comes alongside you to help you thrive where you are right now while looking towards the future.
Through a grace-based coaching practice that produces sustainable results and effective stress management, Ericka can help you increase productivity, energy, and overall wellness while achieving important goals. Send Ericka an email to schedule an appointment by visiting the Soul Space website here.