It has been just about three months since I posted about my struggle with Adrenal Fatigue. You can read my first post and the beginning of my recovery here.
I “self-diagnosed” myself with Adrenal Fatigue in August after doing my own research and putting all of the puzzle pieces together. I completely fit the criteria for someone who was dealing with burnout and Adrenal Fatigue; I was utterly stressed out in all ways I could be, had ALL the symptoms, and my lab work didn’t point to any major “medical” issues that doctors could diagnose and treat.
With my research I found that the only true way to “diagnose” Adrenal Fatigue is through saliva testing and measuring levels of cortisol throughout the day. While this is a great option, I felt like I had enough evidence to know that this is what I had been fighting against for almost a year. Getting these tests also would mean I would have to find a new doctor and hope that they would order these tests…which is not easy, as most only do bloodwork PLUS a lot of insurances do not cover saliva testing 🙁 The opportunity to have these tests would be ideal, but I decided it was in my best interest to start the healing process NOW instead of playing the waiting game once again. I didn’t feel I needed more confirmation that I didn’t feel good…!
Anyways, let’s get to how I went from feeling crappy to feeling like myself again!!! 🙂
There are many different components to the healing process and the “treatment plan” will vary for each individual. I will share generalized recommendations from what I have gathered through my own research, and also what has helped me working through specific challenges and symptoms.
The biggest keys for anyone needing to heal the adrenals and optimize their functioning is to:
Acknowledge the Adrenal Fatigue and the NEED for permanent change in multiple ways. Realizing that there is a problem and then making the necessary steps towards change can be embarrassing, overwhelming, or a little scary. It can also seem like you are a “failure” because you couldn’t keep up with the rollercoaster of life. This is not the case AT ALL. It is so important to realize that NO ONE is perfect and that trying to be Superman/woman is not realistic or maintainable by any means. Plus, many people with AF have a “Type A” personality, thrive on productivity, always go go go, and burning both ends of the candle. It can be hard for that person to admit that they have to change their habits and lifestyle, because heck, change is scary. But your long term HEALTH is worth it, and is depending on you making those steps to recovery.
While every person will have to make different changes, the main focus is to:
Eliminate or Avoid the negative stressors that are the causes of the fatigue while creating new positive habits that are sustainable and lead to a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
This could sound like a well, “duh” statement. Of course the stress has to be removed. But it is easier said than done. Yes, there will be plenty of times in the future where we will be under bouts of high stress. Life is not perfect and there will never a be a time that is completely “stress-free”. BUT to know when it gets to be too much and healthy habits in place to relieve the stress is so important. It will aid in managing the stress so it doesn’t get out of control and run the risk of spiraling back into burnout.
So to reiterate, it is about avoiding and/or removing the toxic environmental, physical and mental stressors, and making a whole lifestyle change which includes improving:
- Diet & Nutrition
- Rest & Recovery
- “Mental Health” time aka YOU time
In my post today I want to just focus on the mental and emotional healing with AF. I honestly feel that this is the most crucial part in recovery. You could be eating all the right foods, sleeping more, taking your vitamins…but if your MIND is not in the right place, recovery will never happen. For me, the physical symptoms of adrenal burnout seemed to improve faster than my mental changes. Again this will be different for everyone, but I believe that being happy from the INSIDE will ultimately lead to the best physical health, outward changes and achieving the BALANCE between our bodies and spirit. Lowering my cortisol and balancing my hormones meant that I MUST change my prioritizes, my mindset & perspective.
Let go of the idea of PERFECTION.
Understanding that striving for a “perfect” life, job, body, family etc. is not realistic or sustainable, and sets us up for disappointment and feeling like we have failed. We have to channel our thoughts and idea of “success” to something that is more attainable and balanced. Extremes are easy and having moderation can be difficult when we live life in over-drive, have an all or nothing/black & white mentality with what is success and healthy.
So where do we begin?! We are being pulled in so many directions and it can be overwhelming of what you CAN do.
Make “Recovery Lists”
I highly suggest writing out a first list; let’s call this the “Fatigue List”: the negative things you want to change or improve on. This could be the symptoms you want to eliminate, the toxic stressors, negative issues, etc. These are the things that are holding you back & need to be changed in order to see progress. Create a second list and (let’s call this your “Wellness List”) with all of your goals: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual prioritizes that have taken the back-burner and that you need and WANT to incorporate (back) into your life. Write down anything, big or small, even if you don’t think they are attainable. Be honest and take your time…what do YOU really want? These are things that would make you healthier in ALL aspects and lead to healing the adrenals. These are things that make you HAPPY!!! 🙂
These lists are personal…all about YOU and your health. While I am happy when I am around my family, husband, doing hobbies, it is important to create the INNER happiness, sense of peace and balance. Remember that YOU must be happy and healthy before you can help others or make them happy!
Creating your Recovery Plan
Compare your lists and be honest with yourself. What do you struggle with the most? What do you WANT the most? That should be one of the top “items” on your Priority list. With every stressor that you eliminate, aim to replace it with an item from your “wellness” list. This won’t always be an easy direct replacement, but again, the key is to AVOID the major stressors and find or CREATE healthy alternatives.
I will give you some of the items on my lists and changes I needed to make:
- My goal of perfectionism
- Aiming to do too much all the time
- Pushing myself mentally and physically to exhaustion
- Not taking enough time for myself
- Lack of sleep/rest and recovery
- Excessive intense exercise
- Negative work environment
- Not prioritizing my relationship with God & spiritual health
Other stressors could include:
- Poor nutrition and diet choices
- High carbohydrate and sugar diet
- Excessive caffeine
- Processed and packaged foods
- Poor or lack of supplementation
- Not exercising at all
- Prioritizing/caring for others above your own health
- Negative relationships/people
- Negative self-talk
- Getting more sleep (!)
- Improve my digestion and gut health
- Improve my nutrition and diet and supplement where needed
- Find a new job and work environment
- Pace myself/create a more balanced daily schedule
- Be kind & compassionate to myself
- “Allow myself” for more down time aka “mental health time”
- Create daily “mental health time” to rest and recover
- Improve energy levels
- Gain back my “zest for life” and mental well-being
- Reduce my fatigue/chronic aches and pains
- Spend more quality time with my husband and family
- Reduce & balance my overall exercise volume and intensity
Other priorities could be:
- Moderate and consistent exercise
- A whole food, nutrient-dense diet
- Consistent and balanced meals
- Creating a positive relationship with food and exercise
- Finding new hobbies, recreational activities, etc.
- Rekindling relationships
- Learning how to say No to situations, people, etc.
As you can see from my lists, exercise and a healthy nutrition plan had already been implemented into my lifestyle and not something that I had been struggling with. I do not eat junk, fast food, skip the gym, etc. Fueling my body with real whole “clean” foods for my body was and is very important to me. And if anything, I was exercising a little TOO hard and TOO much. It was my escape and stress reliever, but it turn it was creating even MORE stress.
I realized that in order to heal my adrenals, I needed to prioritize my MENTAL HEALTH at the same level if not above my physical health. This meant creating daily “Mental Health Time”. This was (and still is sometimes) VERY hard for me. Again, for someone who is go-go-go all the time, slowing down can be the hardest thing to do! But I had to make specific changes in my schedule and lifestyle to where I could still “be busy” but make sure to not over-do it and fall into burnout again.
My Mental Health Recovery Plan included:
- Setting up a positive “night schedule” that would create an easier time to fall asleep
- Daily quiet time, prayer and reading my daily devotional book
- Daily walks
- Trying a new recipe or food 1x a week ( Cooking and baking is my hobby!)
- Quality time + conversation with my husband every day (even just for a few minutes!)
- Phone calls to my mom + family 2x week (they are in CA and I am in Ohio!)
- Date night with my husband at least 2x month
- Creating a “weekly” To-Do list with my goals and necessary To-Dos
- From that list, making daily lists; this helps me stay on track with time management, feel that sense of accomplishment, but it is not overwhelming and lead to me trying to do too much at once.
- Setting time each day for “rest”: reading, painting my nails, watching a movie. (Napping would not be a good option for me as it would make falling asleep at night more difficult, but is a great option for those that need it).
I will continue to share my AF recovery plan with my lifestyle changes, nutrition, supplementation, etc. through more posts. I am so happy to share that I am feeling SO much better physically and mentally…I feel like myself again!! 🙂
Take care of yourself! YOU are worth it!