Welcome, Christy. Christy Cegelski is a wife, mom, and freelance writer living in New Hampshire. You can find her at christycegelski.com, where she writes about redefining and celebrating life over 40.
I have always been someone who operates at a higher level of intensity. I’m a typical Type-A perfectionist who tries to push herself to do more and be more. When I became a mom, my perfectionist tendencies (and the stress they caused me) increased by leaps and bounds.
As any mother will freely admit, having kids changes everything. You no longer have only yourself to worry about. In fact, finding the time to take care of your own needs feels like a luxury reserved for socialites and celebrities with live-in nannies, night nurses, and housekeepers.
These days, there’s a lot more discussion around the benefits of practicing self-care than there was when my kids were little. But there’s still this collective sense of pride about being able to “do it all” and judgment of moms who miss the mark. I fell into that trap, and it took a huge toll on my health.
About 3-4 years ago, I started feeling off. It was mostly little things at first…waking up several times at night, relying on coffee to get through the next day, frequent headaches. But as I continued to ignore these early warning signs, and push through each day thinking, this must be what it’s like to be 40, the more my symptoms progressed.
I found myself completely wide awake when I went to bed at 10 or 11 o’clock at night, would finally fall asleep for a couple of hours, only to be wide awake again from 4am to 7am, and then collapse in my bed for 2 hours from utter exhaustion (this is commonly referred to as “wired and tired” in the functional medical community.) Headaches became an all-day occurrence and ibuprofen was my new BFF. I was experiencing brain fog and lacked the ability to focus on any task to the point that I was certain I had adult ADD and needed to be medicated. Most days I felt anxious, unmotivated, unable to function at my normal capacity, and tired all. the. time.
I knew it was time to get help. I made an appointment with my general practitioner, and broke down in tears as I shared my struggles with her, and how desperate I was to feel like myself again. As a mom, and someone who prides herself on taking care of everything, opening up to my doctor was one of the hardest and most vulnerable things I’ve ever done. After I finished talking and calmed down a little bit, she sat there quietly for a minute or so. Then without looking up, she said, “it sounds like you’re depressed…do you want a prescription for Prozac?” I felt humiliated and lost.
What I learned in the wake of that fateful day at my family practitioner’s office is that Adrenal Fatigue is not considered a real condition in Western Medicine. In fact, according to the Endocrinology Society, “no scientific proof exists to support adrenal fatigue as a true medical condition.” My own symptoms and the symptoms of thousands of other women I had been reading about told me otherwise.
After hours upon hours of research, I decided to consult with a Functional Medical Practitioner to help me heal my adrenal issues. I learned that while Western medicine tends to address and treat the symptoms of illness, Functional Medicine seeks to address the underlying cause of illness and treat that. I didn’t want to take pills to dull symptoms, I wanted to find out why my body was responding to stress the way it was and find solutions to correct it.
My adrenal healing protocol was not a quick fix. In fact, as is usually the case with an Adrenal Fatigue diagnosis, there were other things going on as well (in my case, I was also suffering from Estrogen Dominance and Leaky Gut Syndrome), so recovery has been a long process, with a lot of ups and downs along the way.
If you’re feeling like you might be suffering from Adrenal Fatigue, there are definitely things you can do to start feeling better. Here are the five things that made the biggest impact and helped me feel more like myself again:
1.) I Prioritized sleep above all else. This is a tough one because when elevated stress hormones are making it impossible to get good quality sleep, you can feel hopeless. There are things that can help! There are natural supplements that can help you feel more relaxed before bed. My Functional Medical doctor suggested Valerian Root, Magnesium, and L-Theanine. Other things that helped me were shutting down all electronics an hour or so before bedtime, trying to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, and using a white noise machine
2.) I followed an elimination diet. I actually had a food sensitivity test to see which foods were causing inflammation in my body, but you can try eliminating the most common inflammatory foods on your own (gluten, dairy, alcohol, refined sugar.) After 30 days, slowly add these foods back in one at a time, to see how your body reacts. I don’t follow an elimination diet anymore, but I start to notice my symptoms creep back up if I have too much dairy or sugar, so I know I need to make some corrections. I also tend to feel my best when my meals are a good balance of carbs, fat, and protein.
3.) I sought out ways to manage stress. Our bodies experience stress in a variety of ways. There’s the stress you feel when you have a lot going on in a particular season of life, but we also experience stress from things like always being connected to our phones, chemicals in our cosmetics and household cleaners, and consuming processed foods. For me, one of the most effective things I’ve found to help me manage stress is meditation. I practice Transcendental Meditation, but there are all different kinds of meditation techniques and apps that are helpful in teaching you what to do. Other changes I made to help manage the less obvious stressors were adding as many high quality, organic foods to my diet as possible, and removing cleaning and skincare products containing harsh chemicals.
4.) I cut out intense workouts. I know, I know. We’ve all heard that exercise is good for us…and that’s true, sort of. Doing high-intensity exercise is a stress on your body. If you’re someone who is already in a constant state of adrenal stress, adding additional stress in the form of a high-intensity workout is not a great idea for obvious reasons. If on the other hand, you’re a relatively healthy person without any hormonal imbalances, your body is better able to handle the stress of an intense workout and recover from it. My Functional Medical doctor recommended 30 minutes per day of less intense activities like walking, yoga, Pilates, and light strength training for me. An important thing to remember is to pick a workout you like and actually look forward to. Forcing yourself to do something because you have to is only going to add to your stress level.
5.) I said no more often. This was one of the hardest things for me to get–and I still struggle with it. As moms, we take care of other people like it’s our job (cause it kind of is!) but it’s often at the expense of our own well being. You don’t have to volunteer for all the school fundraisers. Someone else in your family can handle making dinner (or there’s my old friend, takeout!) The only person who can take care of you, is YOU, and a little self-care goes a long way in helping you feel more balanced and whole.
Although I feel a thousand times better than I did when I first started experiencing symptoms several years ago. I’m still not 100%. When I let some of these healthier habits slide, my body lets me know it’s time to course correct. It’s comforting to know that our bodies are adaptable, and they can do amazing things! We all have the ability to take control of our health and incorporate changes that will make us feel our best.