I feel like no one ever discusses stress, depression, anxiety, adrenal fatigue – the sum of things said behind closed doors, whispered over tea and biscuits. I imagine that some of this explains Brene Brown’s popularity and how strongly her research into shame and vulnerability, in addition to her hard-won and generously shared insights, resonate with so many people. We want to feel connected and we need to feel heard, understood, validated.
In past posts I’ve explored my reasons for pursuing cognitive health issues exclusively, and what’s interesting, at least to me and possibly to you, is that whenever I discuss what I do with others who ask, their ears perk up.
We want to know how to eat for stress, to fill our notebooks with natural tips for calming anxiety, and to fill our plates full of fresh foods to uplift our mood and recharge our spirits. Sometimes it’s a little black dress and a super fine glass of wine. Many others, it’s a pair of flattering leggings, a salad bigger than your head, and all the green juice. Everywhere, we are looking to learn how to get more energy.
I used to think about stress in small ways, long before I’d ever heard of the term adrenal fatigue and what that might mean for me. An important assignment attached to a looming, all-consuming deadline. A packed work week. A half-dozen client plans in the works. Not making enough time to exercise and eat well. The possibility of not being admitted to graduate school or passing my board exam.
But somewhere between the lockers and hallways and the kind of big birthday that makes you wonder what in the hell you’re doing with your life, stress gained ground. I spent most of this past summer recovering from adrenal fatigue and learning some tips and tricks to crush burnout and prevent it from re-occurring.
For anyone who’s experienced adrenal fatigue, more accurately termed HPA-axis dysregulation, you know what burnout feels like. For those who haven’t, it might be difficult to fathom a kind of stress that leaves you depleted of your inner resources, that robs you of your natural energy, causes restless sleep, and leaves you utterly exhausted from the time you wake up until the time your head hits the pillow. The kind of exhausted that leads to weight gain and poor mood and the inability to cope with mundane tasks.
Recently I shared some tips for diffusing stress and owning your fight-or-flight response. Did you find the information valuable? While learning how to manage and absolve stress is arguably imperative to living whole and well, what happens if you’re already in the thick of it, Alice in Wonderland dodging the Queen of Hearts in a half-hearted attempt to keep your head attached to your neck?
Below you’ll find my tips for what to do when you’re under — and have been under — chronic stress for a duration of time and are now dealing with the aftermath. Whether you’re battling adrenal fatigue or simply looking for ways to prevent it, here’s some things to consider for getting more energy and diffusing the effects of stress.
SUPPLEMENT WITH VITAMIN C
It’s super important to consume plenty of Vitamin C when dealing with adrenal fatigue. Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables will take you far, but I actually think everyone could benefit from Vitamin C supplementation (I take 1, 000mg – 3, 000mg daily, for example, and I’d like to think my overall diet is pretty damn good.) Supplementing with Vitamin C throughout the day has helped me to nix my afternoon coffee fix and is a totally natural way to get more energy because it replenishes our adrenal glands — the very glands that are so preoccupied with pumping out cortisol during times of stress.
EAT ENOUGH CALORIES
This one is super important and doesn’t receive enough airplay. Weight loss (and gain) is far more involved than calories in, calories out. Maybe you’re getting by on a muffin a day and a bit of take-out at night…and can’t figure out why you keep gaining weight or why it just don’t budge. Our bodies, including our adrenal glands, require so much nutrition! To get more energy (and to ditch that weight), you need to eat enough for your body to function.
This might be 2, 000 calories a day. Maybe it’s only 1, 500. Maybe it’s 3, 200. I don’t advocate counting, but eating real food – a good combination of protein, complex carbohydrate, and healthy fats – throughout the day will go a long way. Restricting calories way below intake can result in increased cortisol production and will only worsen symptoms of adrenal fatigue.
CONSUME PROTEIN-RICH FOODS
An excessive amount of cortisol can lead to a progressive loss of protein, muscle weakness & atrophy, and loss of bone mass through increased calcium excretion and compromised calcium absorption. This is one macronutrient you definitely want to consume more of during times of stress and adrenal fatigue — and the one we tend to get the least amount of, generally, since stress can lead to blood sugar roller coasters and promote carbohydrate cravings (think pasta, muffins, crackers, and cookies.)
For anyone looking to get more energy or to recover from adrenal fatigue, my favourites here include: free-range/pastured eggs (the whole egg), plant-based protein powder like Boku, gelatin/collagen, pastured meats, wild and sustainably-caught fish, hemp seeds, lentils and other legumes if tolerated, organic tempeh, and nutritional yeast. Certain grains, like oats, quinoa, and buckwheat, also contain a solid amount of protein. I don’t count the amino acids from vegetables because they’re poorly assimilated by the body.
EAT SUFFICIENT AMOUNTS OF CARBOHYDRATE
Carbs have come under fire in recent years, but most of us – especially those of us seeking to get more energy and recover from adrenal fatigue – could benefit from consuming more of them. By that I don’t mean loading up your plate with refined carbs and sugar, but by including a portion size of safe starches at least twice a day. I’m talking about sweet potato, plantain, cassava, rutabaga, carrot, beet, winter squash, and organic potato. I personally eat moderate amounts of grains (around 3 servings a week or so, on average) generally in the form of quinoa, brown rice pasta, and certified wheat-free oats.
DRINK NUTRIENT-DENSE BEVERAGES
While I love coffee with big puffy floating hearts, too much is definitely tough on the body and may lead to an increase in cortisol. Decaf is really not that much better given that it still contains two other stimulants. Load up on green smoothies and juices (look for 80% veg to 20% fruit), lemon water, matcha tea lattes made with coconut or unsweetened almond milk, and chaga tea. Maca, in particular, is thought to balance the endocrine system and support healthy hormones. It’s one superfood I use often.
GO TO BED BEFORE 11PM
I know, I know. It’s tough for me, too. But it’s imperative to fall asleep between 10 and 10:45pm. Sleep is when the body recovers and recuperates. Going to bed after 11pm compromises the quality of your sleep and can lead to reduced energy levels. When battling adrenal fatigue, you definitely want to get sufficient amounts of zzz.
GET LARGE AMOUNTS OF VITAMIN L
The love vitamin. Baths, candles, good reads, painting, photography, walks in the park, a good glass of wine – whatever lights your spirit on fire. Surround yourself with all the good things and all the good people who remind you that life is worth living every. single. day.
What tools do you use to fight stress and keep your life in balance?
- Brillon, et al., “Effect of cortisol on energy expenditure and amino acid metabolism in humans,” Am J Physiol 268 (1995) : E501-13.