adrenal fatigue

Grey moods

I made this quick list of things to boost mood by stimulating serotonin production mainly as a reminder to myself. I’ve been plagued by persistent grey cloud moods throughout most of my life starting in my teens. When I saw a psychiatrist we talked about recognising mood patterns and trying to do something about them before it gets worse.

Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters naturally occurring in our brains, low amounts are associated with feelings of doom, gloom, anger, worry, low confidence and low self-esteem, negative thoughts you can’t seem to turn off and many more. There are other neurotransmitters that could be low like catecholamines, GABA, and endorphins. Being low in one of these would cause different low mood symptoms. The Mood Cure is a must read if you need nutritional and supplemental help for depression, apathy or just bad moods for no reason.

Exercise

Has been shown to boost serotonin production and make us feel good, although the effects aren't as long lasting as I’d like. Get that heavy, deep breathing going; plenty of oxygen is necessary to form serotonin.

Light

Being exposed to bright light, usually from the sun can boost production of serotonin and also help regulate sleep. Regular household light bulbs just don’t cut it, get outside even if it’s overcast for at least 30 minutes.

Protein and healthy fats

Serotonin is made from an amino acid called tryptophan so make sure to include plenty of protein so you have the building blocks required. The brain is made from fat so make sure to include plenty of butter from grass-fed animals, pastured eggs, nuts, coconut oil, etc.

Bad mood instigators

What to avoid to help those feel-good serotonin levels? Stimulants like energy drinks, caffeinated soda or coffee can leave us feeling depleted after the energy high has worn off. Aspartame is also best avoided, not only is it a man-made chemical sweetener, one of its main ingredients phenylalanine converts to stimulating substances in the body and compete with serotonin in the brain.

Limit sugar and junk food, bad moods may cause us to turn to food to comfort ourselves but this just drives cravings for more nutrient-poor food and pushes more nutrient dense food off of our plate.

The not so quick fix for adrenal fatigue

I’m reading the totally not new book “Adrenal Fatigue - The 21st Century Stress Syndrome”. I love that the first and most important part of healing is lifestyle changes. Everyone wants to take that magic supplement or pill to fix whatever is making them unwell. Unfortunately, lifestyle, mindset, and attitude play a much more important part in our health. They are not as easy as popping a pill, they take daily work. We can’t undo a bad lifestyle or a negative mindset with just ashwagandha or rhodiola or what another new adaptogen, vitamin or mineral is in the spotlight.

What exactly is adrenal fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue is the down-regulation of your adrenal gland, and the main symptoms are fatigue, inability to handle stress and a weakened immune system. There are many other symptoms I’m not going to list. I’ve had first-hand experience with these symptoms, from being hospitalized for a lung infection in my 20’s then training excessively and running multiple long distance running events (marathons and ultra-marathons) over years and taking asthma medication with corticosteroids daily. These are all detailed in the book as being possible triggers for adrenal fatigue. The feelings of sleeping for 9 or 10 hours and still waking up exhausted, trivial negative events triggering tears and hopelessness, catching any cold going around.

Chronic stress and cortisol.

The effect of stress is cumulative. For example; a hard training session, a processed sugary donut for breakfast, making a mistake at work and beating ourselves up about it, feeling bloated leaving us unhappy with how we look that day all add up to the stress load for the day. Add to that being stuck in traffic, long queues at the supermarket, staying up late to finish watching a show on Netflix. All of this snowballs into a heavy load of stress, even though conventionally none of those issues on their own would raise any alarms. Then say as I got sick and couldn't recover, had an asthma attack and had to be hospitalized. This event could have been the straw that broke the camel's back or one of many others stresses to come.

Barefoot walking on grass, sand and dirt has been shown to lower stress levels.

Barefoot walking on grass, sand and dirt has been shown to lower stress levels.

The book has made me realize that even though I experienced physical events that could have triggered the burn out of my adrenal glands, what is also most likely is my own thought process and mindset can greatly contribute to the syndrome. Negative self-talk, feelings of hopelessness, sadness, not being good enough are just as harmful as over training or a bad diet. I remember dreading to go in to work on many days, feeling overwhelmed, hopeless that I couldn't leave, unhappy.

Adrenal Fatigue - is there a way out?

It’s not easy to reverse years of negative thinking, but it can be done. Unfortunately, I can’t tout a success story about how I fixed my anxiety and adrenal fatigue by thinking positively, this is still a work in progress. Reading the book has made me more aware of how big the role of attitude and mindset has on our overall health, not just adrenal. I related to many of the emotions covered like regret, hopelessness, dread, negative self-talk.

Where do I start?

The first step is always acknowledging what I need to work on and I feel like the book helped me identify that. Now I need to isolate when I’m being negative or thinking negatively about myself. What are my most common negative thoughts? Then I can replace these with new more positive thought patterns. Or if I find myself in a negative situation then I need to reframe my view to be more positive. Stop thinking about what others opinions are of me, and do what I want to do. It also pays to practice gratitude, remind myself daily how much I have to be thankful for. The key here is practice and consistency. All of the solutions need to be worked on daily, it’s not going to be a one and done, or a quick fix. But now that I have re-focused on how important this is for my health, I’m going to give this a lot more attention.

Overtraining

I ran my first marathon in my early 20’s without much training. I wasn’t training in much of a structured way, I just ran for fitness. I decided to enter the Auckland Half marathon, but after entering in training I ran a 20km distance. My thought process was if I can run that in a training run on a weekend by myself, it wasn't going to be much of a challenge to do a half marathon. So I did what any sane runner would do, I changed to a full marathon. I had fun while doing it, and after forgetting the pain of the event I quickly signed up for another full marathon happening in 6 months time.

Finishing my last ultra marathon, Kepler trail run in Te Anau, New Zealand.

Finishing my last ultra marathon, Kepler trail run in Te Anau, New Zealand.

Run Run Run

After this second marathon, I signed up for another marathon and then a 60km trail ultramarathon. This led to a string of other marathons, other ultramarathons, and one half-marathon. I worked up to an 85km trail ultra and dreamed of one day doing a 100-mile race (160km). From the outside, this all seemed normal since everyone is told that more exercise is better. But I was slowly running myself ragged.

Overtraining.

I’d wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat with my heart racing. I’d walk to the bus in the middle of the night thinking it was time to head to work. I used the running high to keep me going. I’d walk to work for an hour and then run home straight after work. I couldn't understand why I had an insatiable hunger for peanut butter, polishing off jars at my desk at the office.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see overtraining manifesting itself. Luckily I didn't end up injured, any niggles I had were seen to by my mum who works as a sports massage therapist. The classic signs of cortisol and adrenaline peaking at incorrect times, like the middle of the night. The hunger for high-calorie foods. Constant tiredness. I was either running or recovering. For many runners, this could be normal but my adrenals couldn't handle it anymore.

The climax was running a marathon, then the next day tripping running to catch the bus to work. I hurt my knee pretty badly, it swelled to a huge ball and I still have the scar to show where the chunk of skin got eaten by the pavement. I couldn't run but had a 60km mountain run in a month or so. I recovered from the knee injury in time for the race but hadn't done much prep. Then the day before flying to the destination mountain race I got a gastro bug, had diarrhoea and couldn't eat anything. I decided to run the race and see how I felt. Surprisingly during the entirety of the 60km race, I didn't poop my pants. But afterwards, I was up all night on the toilet and still couldn't eat anything. In a way, my body was fed up and telling me, no more!

I broke up with running.

Reading the signs I called a hiatus on running, which was a great decision for me at the time. Since then I have run a couple of half marathons but nothing longer, I now love rock climbing and lifting weights at the gym. I still have the propensity to extreme exercising. If I could exercise hard every day or even twice a day I probably would. My boyfriend said recently, stop punishing yourself in the gym. I never thought of it that way but maybe I am, for some reason, those words really stuck with me.

Even knowing my capacity for stress on my body may be lower than other people, and exercise is stress, I still try to push it. The results are usually my body run down or sick with a cold or gastro bug. I’m finally reading Dr. Wilson’s book on adrenal health to find better ways to support myself and that will need an entirely separate post. For now, I just need to remind myself that taking more rest days is totally necessary and I have to stay conscious of my stress levels lest I keep depleting my body.

Training run to a waterfall in West Auckland, New Zealand.

Training run to a waterfall in West Auckland, New Zealand.