Help for Tired Adrenal Glands (Tips for Managing Cortisol 'Stress' Hormones)
Could You Have an Adrenal Imbalance?
Considering the fast-paced, high pressure society we live in, many of us are going about our daily routines with adrenal imbalances...and not even realizing it! We have normalized feeling anxious and/or exhausted as part of what we’ve defined as a busy and “successful” life.
Do these symptoms of adrenal imbalance sound familiar?:
- Feeling “tired but wired” (you’re exhausted when you hit your bed but then your brain comes alive and you can’t seem to shut it off)
-constant carb and sweet cravings triggered by chronic stress
- can’t start the day without caffeine and always “needing” another cup of coffee
-feeling generally tired and wired or run down and lethargic
The good news? There are many actions we can take to relieve these symptoms and rebalance our taxed and tired adrenals...and it starts with understanding what the adrenals are, what they do for our body, and how they connect to our cortisol ‘stress’ hormones!
WHAT ARE THE ADRENALS?
The adrenal glands, otherwise known as the “stress glands” enable your body to cope with stress and survive. Shaped like two tiny pyramids, they sit atop the kidneys and are involved in producing over 50 hormones that drive almost every bodily function (many of which are essential for life)—mobilizing your response to every possible change within your environment. Whether stress is coming from outside yourself (in the form of a natural disaster), or from within (like the anxiety before public speaking), it is the adrenals’ job to help you adapt to each situation.
How do they do this? By secreting key hormones like adrenaline (epinephrine) to mobilize the body’s natural “fight or flight” response in an emergency, as well as cortisol, known as the "stress" hormone, because it regulates our stress response, as well as glucose metabolism and immune function!
WHAT ARE SIGNS MY ADRENAL GLANDS AREN'T OPERATING EFFICIENTLY?
Signs of adrenal exhaustion occur when the adrenal glands have been on overdrive / working nonstop under periods of heightened stress to meet increased energy needs but over time are no longer able to produce enough hormone to meet bodily demand (as a result of prolonged emotional, viral, physical stress). And when stress levels stay high without reprieve, the adrenals remain in survival mode to keep us going by increasing alertness (sleeplessness), appetite (overeating) and fat reserves (stored as belly fat).
Hallmark symptoms of adrenal exhaustion include:
Waking up feeling tired or exhausted even after adequate sleep
Steady progression of weight gain or difficulty losing weight
SO HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE AN ADRENAL (CORTISOL) IMBALANCE?
We are able to pinpoint adrenal imbalance by measuring cortisol "stress hormone" levels in saliva, 4 x over the course of one day. For women, this day is based on a specific time in your cycle, unless you have irregular cycles- then you can test any day of the month. (You can view our at-home hormone test kit and consultation packages HERE. After purchase we help you identify when exactly to test, based on your cycle).
Saliva is considered the ‘gold standard’ for measuring adrenal function because it is non-invasive and samples can be collected at multiple times over the course of one day without causing a stress response (VS standard blood draws that use needles that can provoke a stress response and falsely skew test results!).
The below graph is included in all saliva test results, showing us where each client’s cortisol levels rise and fall - 4 x over the course of one day.
Ideally, cortisol levels should be highest in the morning so you can jump out of bed with energy and then gradually go down to the lowest point at night so you're ready for a good night's sleep. What we shouldn’t see is a rollercoaster on the curve. When levels are less than optimal or below normal (which is VERY common), or in the worst cases, flatlined, this indicates underperforming adrenals and a low to no cortisol response. At this point, your adrenals have gotten so tired over time that they can't keep up with the demands of stress in your life.
To recap, these are the key symptoms of adrenal imbalance:
>> Not being able to fall asleep at night (even though exhausted)
>> Experiencing anxiety + depression
>> Experiencing fatigue + foggy brain
>>Shaky + weak (need a lot of caffeine midday)
>>Muscles sore and you feel weak or drained after workouts
>>Rapid weight gain, particularly around the middle &/or belly fat that won't budge
>>Intense sugar & carb cravings
>>Allergies and asthma
>>Sick more frequently without bouncing back
SO HOW CAN WE BETTER MANAGE OUR STRESS?
To prevent and relieve symptoms of cortisol/adrenal imbalance, we must be acutely aware of how we are managing our stress! Consider the following steps to become more stress resilient!
Deep Breathing- Simply adopting a daily breathing practice can make a major difference & it's free! One of the simplest techniques we love is the 4-7-8 breath by Dr. Andrew Weil (video tutorial here). Exhale all the air from your lungs, then breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight. This is a great technique to add in before bed on those “tired but wired” nights or if you wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to fall back to sleep.
Slow Down When You Eat Most of us can be found eating a meal in front of our laptop, computer or phone or standing/driving while scarfing it down. This rushed state keeps our body in a "fight or flight" state which can create digestive issues, cravings and hormone imbalances. Give yourself 15-20 minutes to enjoy your lunch away from distractions and observe the difference in how you feel physically and mentally!
Make more time for FUN! Taking time to do the things that you enjoy & sparking that childlike joy is instrumental in giving our adrenal glands a break and bringing homeostasis to the body. When was the last time you did something that you really love? Commit to something this week! Some of our picks: take a virtual paint class on yaymaker.com, pack a picnic on a scenic/sunset drive, dance to your favorite playlist, go on a day trip, plan a themed dinner night and pick a playlist to go with it, play board games etc!
Stop Overexercising & Try Yoga It's normal to feel the pressure to work out HARDER in order to see results but this overtraining can be a stress on the body that taxes your adrenal glands. Swapping intense exercise for a couple days of restorative yoga, pilates or walking will bring down those cortisol levels and recharge your body & mind. Yoga with Adriene on YouTube is a great place to start!
Utilize the 20 minute power nap when you feel tired Many times we think a nap is a waste of time or that it will mess up our sleep schedule, but laying down for a quick nap (under 30 min) can give us the boost we need to power through the day while supporting our adrenals!
Take responsibilities off your plate & learn to say "no!" As challenging as this is for most of us to learn as we’ve been programmed to be “yes people,” we have to stop expecting ourselves to be superheroes and take some pressures off our plate for the sake of our health and wellbeing. If you don’t have the capacity for something, it’s ok to say no! What can you take off your calendar this week?
Get in bed at the same time every night and opt for 7-8 hours of sleep.
Take a Break from Synthetic Birth Control. These "fake" hormones wreak havoc (stress!) on the body and can lead to issues including PMS, irregular periods, acne, weight gain and mood swings. With more time on your hands, now could be a great opportunity to think about safely transitioning off the pill and using a birth control app like Natural Cycles. See our post on it here!
Reduce exposure to environmental toxins and heavy metals in cleaning/gardening/personal care products! Now's the time to support businesses doing things the right way and order online. For cleaning products we love: Branch Basics, 7th Generation ; For makeup we love: Thrive Cosmetics (take $10 off first purchase of $50+ plus free shipping), Araza Beauty, Youngblood Mineral Cosmetics and Beauty Counter ; and for skincare we love Uliv
Reduce time focused on negative attitudes and beliefs - obsessively checking the news, scrolling Instagram, and reading articles 24/7 can bring about feelings of fear and panic. We can become pessimistic about the future, our politics, and judgmental of others' reactions to the current state of affairs. But this negativity only breeds more of it, skyrockets our stress levels, and depletes our energy reserves. Now is the time to support one another, to take back control of our health, to spend more time doing the things we love with the people we love, and to stay positive, optimistic, and carrying on! A great journalist runs an Instagram account to follow is Good News Movement here. Also, be sure to add the docu-series “The Kindness Diaries” to your feel-good lineup!
HEALERS & HELPERS FOR ADRENAL SUPPORT
In addition to managing our stress, the following foods, supplements, and herbs can be very nourishing for our adrenals and bring our cortisol levels back into balance!
Drink CALM Magnesium Before Bed- Magnesium increases GABA, which encourages relaxation as well as deep, restful sleep. Low GABA levels in the body can make it difficult to relax. Magnesium also plays a key role in regulating the body's stress-response system. We like CALM because it's a nice evening ritual and can be easily mixed with warm or cold water.
Try supplements that support your adrenals such as Fish Oils (EPA/DHA), Magnesium, Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, Zinc, and B-complex (B1-12) essential for adrenal support.
Adaptogenic herbs help your body adapt to outside stressors, such as Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Rhodiola, and Maca! We have two new favorite high-quality supplements that we've personally been incorporating into our daily routine. Hello, Eden is a blend of vitamins, minerals, and botanicals for women designed to support hormonal balance and optimize reproductive function (use code YourHormoneBalance15 for 15% off.) Urban Mana is a medicinal plant & adaptogenic mushroom supplement for increased energy (use code bodybliss20 for 20% off). Remember: consistency is key!
Swap Coffee for Matcha or Mushrooms! Coffee can stimulate the adrenal glands, activating the body's stress response. If you suffer from symptoms of adrenal imbalance, reducing caffeine (especially from coffee) can help a lot! Our health coach @bodyblissbyjess just came out with a line of superfood lattes for hormone balance & energy which you can find HERE. The matcha has the addition of beetroot + rose and is sweetened with sugar-free Monkfruit and simply needs to be added to milk of choice. Additionally: functional mushrooms such as Cordyceps & Reishi support our adrenal glands as well (you can view our blog post on the topic of medicinal mushrooms HERE). Use code "yhbalance" for 10% off your order.
Reduce Refined Sugar & Carbs With the current state of affairs, many of us are reaching for comfort foods and baking recipes. And while this is fun and also a creative outlet, it can also backfire on us, wearing down the immune system & elevating cortisol levels. Check out Holistic Chef @livhungry for some delicious sugar & dairy-free baking alternatives!
Eat real, whole foods like fruits & vegetables (frozen is great too), nutrient-rich carbs like quinoa, sweet potatoes, rolled oats, and Ezekiel bread, and lots of healthy protein and fat. You can also still use and support delivery services like Imperfect Foods. Use this link for $10 off your first order!
Prioritize clean protein like grass-fed beef, organic poultry and eggs, wild-caught fish, spirulina, and protein powder (we recommend Plantworks Nutrition w/ code PLANTBLISS15 for 15% off & free shipping). Check out our recent article w/ our top tips for finding hormone-free (as well as high quality, organic) food sources HERE.
Load up on anti-inflammatory fats (olive/coconut oils, nut butter, avocados, nuts, and seeds, etc.) and you will keep your army of defenses stronger! As much as possible, you'll want to avoid hormone-injected meat and dairy.
Keep blood sugar levels balanced by keeping healthy snacks on hands, such as mixed nuts, flax crackers and hummus, avocado, eggs, and veggies so you always have something to grab especially since you may be working from home!
CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF
As you can see, there are MANY ways we can reduce our stress and take steps to support our adrenal glands...but it’s important to focus on making small but attainable changes (and avoid STRESSING about your stress!). It can take several months or years to work ourselves into a state of adrenal exhaustion, so it may take time to heal and build new habits.
First, we suggest checking in with your mindset and beliefs...and considering how they have contributed to your current health.
→ Do I believe I need to do intense workouts every day to stay fit?
→ Do I feel obligated to say yes to everything because I don’t want to let people down?
→ Do I avoid taking time off because I believe it is a waste of time or not productive?
→ Am I regularly making time for fun and self-care?
Then from a practical perspective, take inventory of your daily diet as well.
→ Am I incorporating a variety of colorful fruits and veggies into my diet (eating the rainbow?)”
→ Am I drinking too much coffee?
→ Am I turning to refined sugar and carbs for fullness/stress relief/energy?
→ Am I consuming too much news and social media?
**Awareness is key.**
From here you can decide the first couple of steps you’d like to take to start healing your adrenals. Is that taking a day off working out or swapping HIIT training for yoga? Is that adding a simple leafy green salad in with your dinner each night? Is that practicing saying no to certain requests of you? Adding in an adaptogenic supplement to your vitamin regimen? Planning a vacation or stay-cation? Whatever you choose, be proud of taking the first step! This is all it takes to start moving toward healing.
And of course, test don’t guess! Now is a good time to test your hormones from home! Our saliva test kits are mailed to you directly for convenient collection (including a pre-labeled shipping envelope to mail your samples directly to our lab for analysis). Once your results are in, we’ll notify you via email and get to work on your ‘hormone rebalancing guide’ - based on results + symptoms, including suggested lifestyle/diet /supplements to get you feeling like your better self again!
VIEW ALL TEST KIT + REBALANCING PACKAGES HERE
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!