Updated: May 6
Pssst, before we begin: Be sure to stick around for your own healing freebie below!
I climbed out of bed with eyes almost closed, thanking myself for prepping coffee the night before, with what felt like a dark cloud over me. Another restless night of sleep, another day of fatigue and lack of energy, another morning where I didn't know if I'd find a way back to feeling like myself again....and another morning where I just had to push through to the next steps. Y'all, midwifery school was HARD on me in many ways, but on my adrenals? The stress of school + responsibilities + lack of sleep + stress just continued to build up, yet I spent months assuming this was just something I had to endure.
I had been reading about adrenal function and fatigue in a midwifery textbook for a client and finally, painstakingly, the light went off. This was ME. Thankfully I had access to the information, the validation of my experience, and a sliver of hope. While internet searches made me crazy ("Adrenal Fatigue isn't Real" read too many posts...), I began to seek out what I always have talked with clients about seeking out...a root cause. Yes, my lifestyle was FULL with school and apprenticeship and family life, but how was I managing said fullness? How was I fueling my body? My mind? My heart? My soul? Hint hint: I wasn't. Intentional attention on a way forward helped me celebrate the small victories of symptoms disappearing, pieces of myself returning.
I'm here to tell you, even when lab work says everything is "normal" - you know yourself, and it is a worthy endeavor to continue to explore, continue to ask questions, continue to heal. There is life on the other side!
An Anatomy Lesson:
What are the adrenals? They are small, triangular glands located on the top of both kidneys, and their main role is to help produce and convert hormones (hey, cortisol, among others!) that help regulate things like: metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, and response to stress, among other things. There are major issues that can develop from over- or under-active adrenal glands, and most care providers are well versed in pinpointing these diseases and syndromes related to the adrenals, but not necessarily the steps that lead up to these issues- which is one of the many reasons adrenal fatigue is often missed or even written off as a byproduct of something else entirely (and sometimes people, particularly women, are told it's all in their head).
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue...Is This Me?
Because there are too many to write here, let's list some of the most common ones. These symptoms can paint a picture, and one of the reasons it can be hard to nail down adrenal fatigue- they can be connected to other issues as well. Ruling out other causes can take a lot of time, and I just want to tell you...these symptoms below are not normal, even if they are common, and it's worth it to get to the root cause.
Difficulty Getting Up In The Morning (insufficient sleep, cortisol is on fiyaaa and preventing restful sleep, as well as impacting your blood sugar. )
High Levels of Fatigue Each Day (Not just tired, but when you literally can't evennnn. Did you know this can be highly related to hormones?! Many people with adrenal struggles find themselves drinking more and more caffeine and potentially relying on stimulants to get through the day)
Energy Boost Late At Night (Fatigued all day but ON ONE at night?! Normally cortisol reaches a peak in the morning and declines throughout the day, but with adrenal fatigue it often spikes in late afternoon and evening- which brings us back to the issues we see in #1)
You're On The Struggle Bus When It Comes To Stress (Apathy or overwhelm, anxiety, irritability- even with the "smallest" triggers)
Gimme All The Salty Foods (Not just "I like to salt my food," but stark cravings for foods high in salt. This is actually super interesting in terms of why- remember where the adrenal glands are? Over the kidneys? Some of what is produced in the adrenals helps regulate fluid and mineral excretion, and when they are fatigued- we end up excreting minerals our bodies actually should want to keep, so often we find ourselves with totally imbalanced levels of minerals (like sodium, magnesium, etc), and in turn try to replace that lost sodium- with allllll the salty cravings. Salting your food with sea salt? Yes! Binging on high sodium salty foods? Sorry, not so much.
A Weakened Immune System (Maintaining a balanced cortisol level, a little Goldilocks...it needs to be juuuust right. Balanced levels of cortisol actually have an anti-inflammatory effect, but if stress + cortisol are elevated, the anti-inflammatory effect gets out of control and effectively stops your immune system from functioning as it should, leaving you vulnerable to illness (and on the flip side, lower cortisol makes your immune system go into overdrive and become overreactive...potentially leading to autoimmune issues and chronic inflammation)
Some other symptoms include: Depression, dark circles under the eyes, joint pain, low libido, asthma or respiratory complaints, dizziness, weight gain...
A Way Forward:
Specifics on healing and what to do will look different depending on you, your diet, your lifestyle, and your particular symptom picture, BUT there are still some general suggestions that are encouraged across the board. As a midwife, and a woman who has walked through this, here are my best suggestions:
Focus on Nourishing Your Body: Keeping a diet diary of food intake and associated symptoms can help pinpoint food sensitivities and foods that cause more irritation and inflammation. Focusing on protein paired with healthy fats and all things low glycemic will be vital to help balance blood sugars and hormonal interactions. Thankfully, our hormone balancing food guide would be a perfect addition to your daily nutritional rhythms and provide ideas, recipes, and a full shopping guide, too! And don't forget: hydration, hydration, hydration!
Breath Work, Mind-Body Work, Relaxation Work: Sometimes, like my case in midwifery school, we can't take away some of the stressors in life...but, we can change how we greet them. A focus on diaphragmatic breathing, relaxation exercises, calm prayer time, and other intentional time spent calming and connecting with your breath is a powerful piece of growth. One of my favorite calming exercises to feel grounded can be found here.
Sleep Hygiene: Sleep is so vital to every function in our bodies and in our lives, and can be lacking when the adrenals are needing support. Decreasing screen time near bedtime (and considering blue light glasses), having a protein + healthy fat snack before bed, creating some positive sleep associations (those aren't just for babies!) like white noise or a certain scent, creating an environment conducive to sleep (quiet, calm, dark, comfortable temperature, etc) is key.
A Couple Supplements To Consider: Methylated B Vitamins are helpful for energy, skin, mental health, and brain function. Magnesium (remember above where we chatted about losing important minerals?!) is a heavy hitter for restoration + calm + blood sugar balance + balancing cortisol, which we know is super important. There are more, but this is a great start.
Adrenal Tonics: While they sound fancy, these are just drinks and tinctures that aim to support adrenal function. There are many pre-prepared tonics with adaptogenic herbs and minerals out there on the market, as well as a ton of recipes available online- some are yummy and some are absolute duds. It can feel overwhelming and time consuming to try to sort through this new world, too. But, enter your favorite midwives! Because we love you so much, after testing the tonic waters for years, I put together THE EASIEST starter recipe for your own make at home mineral-restoring nourishing adrenal tonic just for you!
Adaptogenic Herbs: These are herbs that help the body and mind adapt (hence adaptogens) to stress and stressors and are such a gift when seeking to restore adrenal balance and function. You can find many different types of blends, but some herbs to look for in your blends would be Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and Licorice Root.
There is SO MUCH HOPE, friends. It absolutely will take some time and alllll the consistency as you navigate your way forward, but I am living proof that it is well worth it to cut through the noise and focus on root cause healing.
As you feel yourself returning, you'll be thankful you did.