Q: I’m a 25-year-old woman trying to balance kicking off my career, spending time with my boyfriend and friends, and staying healthy by making it to the gym. I get enough sleep, but I’m still constantly exhausted. How do I know if I’m always tired because I’m pushing myself too hard or if something is actually wrong with me?
A: Great question, and one I imagine just about every woman—regardless of age—has faced at one point or another.
I can certainly relate. Trying to juggle my roles as mom, wife, and entrepreneur is no easy feat and that nonstop schedule can definitely impact my energy levels. But even though I sometimes feel spent at the end of a busy day, the tired feeling I get nowadays is nothing compared to the crushing fatigue I experienced when I was living through serious hormonal turmoil.
Even though your daily to-dos might be different than mine, you’re balancing a lot and trying your best to do it all perfectly. But whether you realize it or not, the stress of a hectic schedule can and does impact your hormonal health, and that might explain your overwhelming exhaustion.
Extreme fatigue is no joke; it can cloud your judgment, put you on an emotional roller coaster, and have real physical repercussions. All of this can impact your endocrine system in a major way, and chugging venti soy mochas in an effort to combat the crazy-making tiredness only make matters worse.
Occasional sleepiness is perfectly normal, but if you think you’re flat-lining energy levels are a consequence of something deeper, you’ll need to understand how your lifestyle is affecting your body.
Is Adrenal Fatigue Draining Your Energy?
Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “adrenal fatigue” floating around for a while, but you’ve never considered how the diagnosis could apply to you. That’s the case for many of my clients, but once they learn more about the symptoms, they often see a connection to their exhausted conditions.
Adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms—including, yes, fatigue—that indicates your adrenal glands aren’t working properly. Those tiny endocrine glands located above the kidneys can malfunction for a variety of reasons, including chronic stress and poor dietary choices. The initial signs can be subtle, but if you let the issue go, you’ll absolutely start to seriously feel the effects.
The adrenals are super important because they produce a crucial hormone called cortisol (lovingly known as the “stress hormone”). Cortisol mobilizes stored glucose from fat and provides the body with energy between meals.
In a perfect world, your first jolt of cortisol gets you out of bed around 6 a.m, another one powers you through your day around noon, a smaller one hits mid-afternoon, and a tiny one comes around dinner.
But if you’re chronically stressed at work, loading up on junk food, or swearing off the gym, you might inadvertently throw your cortisol production completely off. Initially these lifestyle stressors can cause the normal schedule to go in reverse: you’ll drag yourself out of bed because that natural cortisol surge won’t come when your alarm goes off, and you’ll be wide awake and wired at bedtime. This flip-flop is what’s known as stage-2 adrenal fatigue, and it’s what I experienced during the height of my hormonal imbalance.
If you don’t nip the issue in the bud, you might progress to stage 3, in which your body just quits making cortisol at all, leaving you simultaneously exhausted and anxious (and experiencing potential period problems). This is the point where so many women seek out help from their doctors and are prescribed a pill. But medication won’t solve the underlying issue. Here’s what will:
1. Skip the coffee and introduce the right foods and supplements.
It may seem like it’s working in the short-term, but caffeine is only exacerbating your symptoms. Starting your day with a protein-packed combo of eggs, avocado, and gluten-free toast will fuel your day and keep your blood sugar stable. Adding in supplements like ginkgo biloba and rhodiola can support your mental focus, and vitamins B12 and B5 can boost your energy.
2. Work out in a way that complements your hormones.
Exercise is important, but torturing yourself with a brutal boot camp workout when you’re already exhausted is the wrong approach. If you’re dealing with adrenal fatigue, the surge of workout-induced cortisol will worsen the problem, stressing your system further. Try syncing your workouts to your cycle, so that your fitness routine supports your adrenals. Here are some helpful examples.
3. Shift your priorities and focus on what truly matters.
If you can’t remember the last time you took a day off or did something good just for you, it’s time to step back and seriously reevaluate. Think about which parts of your life matter most, and how you can implement good self-care while continuing to invest in your relationship, career, and social life. (Not sure where to start? This article is incredibly helpful.)
4. Find a community that gives you unconditional support.
Adrenal fatigue can be incredibly isolating since it saps your energy and keeps you from engaging in the parts of your life that matter most. Seek out friends, family members, acquaintances, or skilled professionals who make you feel safe, supported, and understood