Guest post from local Nutritional Therapist Sarah Gale
We live in a society where being busy is a badge of honour. We try to squeeze something into every last second, because let’s face it, there is always something to do. From the moment we wake up, to the moment we go to sleep, many of us don’t stop and are constantly on the go. This busy 21st century lifestyle of always being ‘on’ puts an additional strain on the body and is especially wearing on the adrenal glands, which are responsible for producing the relevant hormones that signal to the rest of the body a stressful situation is happening.
To the body, all stressors are dealt with the same. Whether it is a tense conversation with your boss, rushing around to get the kids to school or running away from a saber tooth tiger (you never know, it might happen!), the body responds with the same physiological process. Our brain senses the stressful situation and sends signals to the adrenal glands to pump out stress hormones, mainly cortisol but also adrenaline, nor-adrenaline and dopamine. Cortisol works to raise our blood sugar levels to prepare the body for ‘fight-or-flight’ by mobilising sugar into the bloodstream and diverting blood flow to important areas like our brain and muscles. Adrenaline and nor-adrenaline help to increase our alertness and raise our heart rate and blood pressure to prepare our brain and body to deal with whatever is coming our way. If you have ever felt your heart pumping hard when you’ve been in a heated conversation – that’s the stress response!
This response is a completely normal reaction when the brain senses danger or stress, and is an essential part of life - because our cavemen ancestors did have to run away from saber tooth tigers to survive. It is also important to point out that stress is frequently spoken about in a negative sense, but, some stress is good. That natural kick of cortisol in the morning is designed to help us get out of bed, feel awake and be motivated for the day ahead. So stress itself isn’t all bad. The problem has come in more recent years where the brain constantly perceives us to be in danger and it can’t tell the difference between a wild animal, road rage, an uncomfortable conversation or the constant demands of everyday life.
With stress hitting us from all angles, the adrenals pump out stress hormones harder and faster to keep up with the demand and whilst they can cope for a while, they inevitably start to tire and eventually hang up their ‘closed for business’ sign. They don’t necessarily ‘tire’ how it may sound, but the body struggles to provide enough raw materials to make the hormones necessary for the stress response to happen. When this happens it is common to experience fatigue, apathy, difficulty concentrating, muscle weakness, feeling of overwhelm and other mood disorders, along with low blood pressure, weakened immune system, digestive symptoms and other hormonal imbalances. The adrenal glands tiring doesn’t happen overnight and it takes a long time to develop, but the more stress we put them under, the quicker they can start to tire and to start noticing symptoms.
So what can we do to help ourselves? Whilst booking a yoga class, taking a walk and going to bed earlier are all supportive activities for our adrenal glands, we experience different types of stress, so it is logical to support the body through different types of rest.
Just like your phone needs to be charged every night, the body too needs time to recharge and shut down overnight. Sleep allows the body and the mind to slow down and focus on repair, with the majority happening between 10pm and 2am, so a bedtime of between 10pm and 11pm is optimal to reap the benefits. It is also important to consider your activity levels. Whilst moving the body is important for overall health and can help us to process stress, there can be too much of a good thing. If you’ve had an especially busy week, or feeling a bit tired, consider changing out your high intensity exercise for something a little more gentle such as a walk or stretching.
The brain processes 4 million bits of information every second! No wonder it gets tired! Of course, it can’t actually process all this information so it has tools and techniques to take what it needs and leave the rest. However, from the moment we wake up, to the moment we go to sleep, in general our brain is under constant stimulation. Mental tiredness can feel like being hit by a sledge hammer. You can experience a lack of focus, concentration, brain fog, anxiety, memory loss and feel very overwhelmed. The best way to deal with mental fatigue is to take a break. To dial back on technology and screen use, and instead, just sit. Whether you have a regular meditation or mindfulness practice, or whether you just sit and watch the clouds go by, either works to help take some mental rest.
If you naturally ‘give’ to other people, or are in a care position or career, taking some emotional rest is important to prioritise in your day to day life. Start by setting your boundaries and practice saying no to anything that doesn’t fall within those boundaries. Whilst it can be hard at first, with practice it does get easier and can help to lessen the emotional stress we can take on from others. It can also help to ‘feel’ your emotions and let them out rather than bottling them up. Try to express your emotions in whatever way feels best for you, whether that be through talking, movement, creative expression or having a good old cry or screaming into your pillow.
If you are chronically stressed or fatigue has set in, it can be really difficult to be creative on demand. It might seem counterintuitive, but by taking a break from creative activities, you’ll often find that creative spark coming back sooner than you thought. Focus on other tasks or activities that nourish you and light you up. It might be a walk in nature, listening to some music or reading a good book. Whatever lights you up and inspires you is great for creative rest.
Unless you are very good with your boundaries, too much social interaction can be quite exhausting, especially if you are someone who is an empath and takes on other people's problems. We all have different personalities so social rest will look different for everyone. You might need to schedule some time alone, or book in some time with people who lift you up.
Most of us are fortunate enough to experience the world through our five senses, however with our reliance on technology, we are bombarded with continuous stimulation through light and sound which can be incredibly exhausting on the body. Take time to find a spot that is devoid of urban noise and focus on the rolling waves or trees blowing in the breeze instead. Regular technology breaks also can help to diminish our sensory stress, so consider taking regular screen breaks throughout the day, or set boundaries around daily use. I personally love tech free Sundays to focus on time with family instead.
Sometimes it is necessary to recalibrate and reconnect with our purpose in life and the world around us. Find some quiet time to reflect and connect back in with you (and your higher power if you have one). Focusing on what is most important to you in life or reconnecting with your passion can often help to recentre you onto your correct path.
Sarah Gale is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Clinical Nutritionist DipION mBANT and hormone expert and helps women who just can’t lose weight break free of the diet cycle, rebalance their hormones and feel confident in their own skin again.
After a lifetime a hating her body and chronic yo-yo dieting, Sarah realised that yo-yo diets didn’t have the answers and by balancing her hormones, fixing her metabolism and working on her mindset she could finally lose the weight and get her self-confidence back.
Get in touch with Sarah if you would like to discuss your thyroid function in more detail.