About a year and a half ago, I felt like garbage, and one day I started stressing about it, intensely. And I couldn’t shake the anxiety for an entire month. Suddenly, I stopped being able to digest solid food and lost nearly 20 pounds in two months. I couldn’t stay awake for more than a few hours at a time. And when I woke up, I was so nauseous, disoriented, and exhausted that I could barely leave the house. I was unable to work, eat, or even go out with my friends. It was absolutely terrifying.
It turned out that all the physical, emotional, and environmental stress I’d experienced had taxed my body too much. (Take this stress quiz to learn more about your stress). My stress response was not working properly, and my immune system was shot. I tumbled into a downward spiral that I had no idea how to get out of. I had to figure out how to beat this stress.
Desperate to get my life back, I tested out every possible health-boosting strategy I could find to live healthier. I quickly learned that most anti-stress strategies don’t really work in for long-term stress and adrenal fatigue—they are just quick fixes. They do nothing to clear accumulated stress hormones, heal the body from past stress, or prevent new stress from building up in the body again.
Helping the body to remove stress hormones—to detox stress—is what gave me my life back. Here are some strategies that really worked:
What Stress Does to the Body and the Adrenals
When we get stressed, our bodies secrete excess hormones like cortisol, estrogen, and insulin. These hormones become toxic if not removed quickly. But chronic stress stops this from happening, essentially by creating a traffic jam in our body’s natural detoxification pathways. Our stress processes (which include the adrenal glands) get a bit messed up.
By removing stress-causing foods, toxins, and experiences, we can detox and recover from stress more quickly. Here are some strategies that can help:
1. Remove Caffeine
You won’t know how tired and depleted you really are until you’re no longer relying on caffeine. When you’re on caffeine (a stimulant) your body is just as tired, but it doesn’t get rest. Every time you push through tiredness or drink caffeine, you push your body further than it wants to go.
2. Remove Sugar
If you’re eating sugar (or other sugary things that digest quickly) you can get stuck on the insulin roller coaster. Your body stresses out if it can’t get sugar when glucose levels are low, and any stress on the body is stress on the adrenals and their related processes. So shift off sugar slowly to avoid the super tiredness that comes when your body has to start relying on other fuel.
3. Support Your Immune System
To support your immune system, eat immunity supporting foods, like citrus fruits, garlic, and spinach. If your immune system is already weak, it can also be helpful to supplement with key vitamins and minerals that may have become depleted like, Vitamin B, Vitamin D, and Zinc. I also found that taking vitamins to support adrenal function (i.e., Ashwagandha) was incredibly helpful.
4. Reduce Inflammation
Although each of us has different problem foods, wheat and dairy tend to be problematic (and therefore stressful) for many people. If you think this might be you, try to eat these minimally. Also, partially-hydrogenated oils (like margarine) have trans fats which can be problematic. Other oils that have relatively low levels of trans fats but are still high in Omega 6 fatty acids (like canola oil) can also be inflammatory. That’s why it can be really helpful to remove these inflammatory foods if we want to support our adrenals.
5. Eat a Balanced Diet
Although a Ketogenic or low carb diet can be good for weight loss, these diets put a lot of stress on your body to use fat for fuel. If you are dealing with stress or adrenal insufficiency, then research suggests it’s likely better to eat a balanced diet with some carbs, protein, and fat. Fasting or longer-term intermittent fasting can also be stressful on the body, so these weight loss strategies may also further stress the body.
6. Sleep, as Much as Your Body Wants
They say we need eight hours per night of sleep. But this is really just a guideline for when we’re healthy. If we’ve been stressed for a long time, we may need more sleep. Perhaps that why getting 8+ hours of sleep seems to be associated with better stress tolerance. Our bodies heal and recover while we’re asleep. When I was recovering from stress-illness, I often slept 12 hours per day and still woke up exhausted. But in time, I felt fine with a few naps per week, and now I’m back to eight to nine hours at night.
Our bodies know what is needed. We just have to be willing to listen to it to reduce our stress once and for all.
Previously published on psychologytoday
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