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Are You Stressed Out and Exhausted?

Give your adrenal glands some TLC.

Source: CarolynRoss/Shutterstock

If you've ever been under stress for a long period of time, you've probably noticed that your body eventually begins to feel run-down. You get fatigued during the day, yet you have trouble sleeping at night. You may even notice odd symptoms like dizziness, dry skin, joint pain, weight gain, or cravings for sweet or salty foods. This can happen after you go through a traumatic experience such as an accident or the death of a loved one, or it can be the result of more ordinary life challenges such as working long hours for an unsympathetic boss or taking care of an aging parent. Whatever the cause of the stress, your body can be greatly affected.

When you’re under stress, your adrenal glands release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream. These hormones are beneficial during an immediate emergency; they prepare your body to react. When the triggering situation is resolved quickly, your adrenal glands get a break from regulating these hormones, and the rest of your body gets a respite from their effects. But when the “emergency” goes on for weeks or months, and the stress becomes chronic, your adrenal glands literally get tired, and you may begin to experience what’s called adrenal fatigue.

Short-term stress is unpleasant enough, but chronic stress and the accompanying problem of adrenal fatigue can be truly miserable. It’s hard to live your best life when you’re struggling with exhaustion and constantly feeling overwhelmed.

The good news is that you can take charge of your well-being. If you think you might be suffering from adrenal fatigue, consult an integrative or holistic physician, who can do the proper testing to identify the problem and advise you about treatment. Then make a commitment to caring for yourself. Here are some simple yet powerful strategies for regaining your energy and feeling better.

Nourish yourself. Eat a healthy diet, with plenty of vegetables, fiber, and protein. You don’t have to spend a lot of time cooking; it’s okay to eat simple food. Stay away from sweets, white flour, and foods to which you’re allergic or intolerant. Reduce your intake of caffeine – or, better yet, avoid it entirely. To help support your adrenal glands, rebalance hormone levels, and boost your energy, take one or more of the following:

Ashwagandha root extract 400 mg, 2 to 3 times daily
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) 200 mg, 2 to 3 times daily
American ginseng root 200 - 400 mg, 2 to 3 times daily
Eleuthero root extract 350 - 700 mg, 2 to 3 times daily
Rhodiola rosea 400 - 800 mg, 2 to 3 times daily

As always, it’s important to choose high-quality supplement products and consult with your doctor.

Practice relaxation. To reduce your stress level, try progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery. A basic mindfulness technique like awareness of breathing can also be very effective. You can find audio instructions online. Whichever relaxation technique you prefer, make it a daily habit.

Prioritize sleep. This can be difficult to do when your life is hectic, but it will go a long way toward restoring your well-being. Don’t use your smartphone or watch TV in bed. Keep the bedroom dark and quiet. Go to bed early enough to get seven or eight hours of sleep (or more than that, if you know you need it). If you have trouble sleeping, talk with your doctor.

Exercise… but don’t overdo it. Gentle exercise like walking, swimming, or yoga can help you feel more relaxed and sleep better at night. However, while you’re recovering from adrenal fatigue, it’s generally best not to engage in very strenuous exercise like running or intensive weightlifting. These activities can be too taxing.

Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Give your mind and body a chance to heal. With time – and with good self-care – you can regain your energy and your sense of well-being.

More from Carolyn C. Ross M.D., M.P.H.
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