So back in January I was recommended to a functional medicine doctor by the fabulous Jordan Younger (aka thebalancedblonde). I wanted to see a functional medicine doctor because I felt there were things going on with my health that my general doctor just was not getting to the bottom of. Some of my concerns were gut health (frequent gas, bloating, etc), hormones (was feeling constant PMS and pre-period symptoms), energy levels and immunity (was getting sick a ton). I went to see Dr.Lekkos and he had me do a full panel of tests to see what was going on.
Many things came back as red flags, things I have discussed in previous posts and can give individual updates on but for the sake of this post I am going to focus on adrenal health. Dr.Lekkos informed me that I had pretty bad adrenal fatigue. If you are unfamiliar with your adrenal glands, they are responsible for many important things. The outer part of the gland produces hormones that are essential to life, like cortisol and aldosterone. The inner part of the gland produces nonessential hormones like adrenaline. Basically, the adrenal glands are responsible for things like regulating metabolism and your fight or flight responses.
Adrenal fatigue is caused by chronic stress. This stress can be from many different things including mental, physical and emotional stress. Your adrenal glands are unable to keep up with the demands of perpetual fight or flight. Some signs of adrenal fatigue can be a feeling of exhaustion, body aches, low blood pressure, lightheadedness and loss of body hair.
I can definitely pinpoint what has led to my adrenal glands being super over worked. From having periods in college of extreme stress and using exercise as a coping mechanism for stress to pushing myself extremely hard in the year before my wedding to “look perfect”, my adrenal glands were constantly pumping cortisol. This basically lead them to say “nope, we have had enough.” This completely explains why I was always feeling exhausted and my body was always sore. It was crazy to actually see this on paper, to see my hormone levels compared to what they are supposed to be.
After learning this, I decided I really needed to slow down, to stop pushing myself so hard and to let my body reregulate. One of the hardest changes I have made is doing less physical activity. I love being active, it is just part of who I am. Since I have taken that to an extreme, my mind is always telling me to do more. Last year before my wedding it wasn’t uncommon that I would do 3 workouts a day and then go for long walks as well. This is clearly WAY too much. I am now picking one workout to do a day and take walks if I don’t feel tired. I am not going to lie, there have been days where I get up and run with Derek and then later on go to Pilates but these are becoming way less frequent. I am also working on skipping workouts on weekends or days I feel totally dead. This is what is extremely hard for me. If I wake up tired, my body begging me to rest, my mind is saying go go go. The biggest challenge has been putting those thoughts aside and honoring what my body really needs.
Another thing I have been working on is reducing my mental/emotional stress. I got into meditation about a year and a half ago but I am not really making it a priority. I have a daily goal set of at least 5 minutes of meditation. This has been a great tool to help me manage my stress and anxiety. Taking the time each day to step away from the world, to settle my body and my mind and to focus on my breathing has truly helped me manage stress in everyday life. Things that used to upset me or make me anxious, I am now able to step away from the feelings/thoughts and come to a place of being more calm. I am also seeing a therapist to deal with my sleep anxiety and general anxiety which will be a huge help for lowering cortisol levels. I also have to thank my husband Derek and other family and friends who have been there to listen to me vent or help me put things into perspective.
The last piece of the puzzle I have implemented is not drinking as much coffee. To be honest I really didn’t start this until recently when my stomach ulcer started acting up. I know that caffeine is hard on your adrenal glands but coffee was just something I wasn’t willing to part with. Since the ulcer flair up, I have been drinking matcha instead of coffee so I guess the ulcer was a way for my body to tell me there was a final piece I needed to do. I am staying off coffee until the end of the month and then I decided it is going to be something I have every so often. I love the taste, the smell, the ritual of it and there are just some things in life I believe are good for your soul and for me one of those is coffee.
Physically I have been feeling better. I can tell that I am overall way less exhausted and my body feels less sore than it used to. I know I still have work to do, some days I do too much and I really feel the effects of that. I am getting better at listening to my body instead of my brain. I am finding pleasure in more leisure activities like reading books, listening to podcast, and watching online educational videos. On a Sunday morning it is getting easier for me to lay around on the couch with Derek and not be going crazy that I should be at a workout class or running around outside.
It has been a tough process, accepting that my old ways were harmful and that I need to be more intuitive with how I push myself. I believe it all comes down to one thing, compassion. I have to be better at showing myself more compassion. I have to accept when I am tired, when my body needs rest. I have to accept when I have a day that my mind is trying to take control and not beat myself up about it. If I am more compassionate towards myself, I won’t be as worried and stressed and I know my cortisol levels will calm down. This will all take time but I am learning to enjoy the journey.