In this article you will learn:
What "adrenal fatigue" is and why it's important
What the main areas of focus are to treat this condition
What choices to make in terms of lifestyle and products/supplements to help your recovery
Take it further:
There is a lot of information in this article, so if you need help implementing it or have further questions don't be afraid to reach out.
Burnout is Inevitable
We all get burned out at some point or another, and this comes with the tell-tale signs of fatigue in the morning or after lunch, waking up at night to urinate or having interrupted sleep, feeling "wired but tired", having weaker muscles, lower sex drive, imbalances in other areas and just feeling run down. This is this is the impact of unmanaged stress, and it will kill you faster than a pack of cigarettes every day.
Most alternative health sources see this as "adrenal fatigue," but modern medicine doesn't recognize it as an official problem because it only looks for serious or genetic diseases like Addison's disease or Cushing's syndrome - both of which are malfunctions in the adrenal glands due to genetic mutations.
Although modern medicine does not recognize adrenal fatigue, the reality is that your body does develop cortisol resistance just like with many other hormones when you have chronic exposure to high levels. Eventually this leads to an inability to produce adequate levels of cortisol to cope with life’s demands, because your body has to keep producing more and more cortisol for your cells to respond - and you become totally fried.
Both of these conditions, chronic high cortisol and total burnout, come with many negative health effects and you want to prevent yourself from ever getting there in the first place through good nutrition and mindset habits, along with targeted supplementation and regular testing until you regain some ground. Life and its many slings and arrows are not something you can control, and stress (even in high amounts) is to a degree unavoidable. Even once you recover from burnout, understanding how to
minimize deviations so you don’t go off the deep end again is the key for long-term success.
In this article we are going to summarize the main points related to your fight against stress and burnout. These areas are not in any particular order, but rather represent all of the dimensions that you need to keep your eye on to maintain your alignment in
the face of stress, and they are a result of over 20 years of personal experience of dealing with plenty of it :)
A Complete Nutrition Program
Healing your center is one of the first places to go for any condition, which is why the advice in this article is so valuable. Stress impairs your digestion because it takes all of the “rest and digest” systems offline so that resources can be directed toward whatever fight you’re having. Sometimes that fight is just in your head, which is why this is such a problem over time. Most people already have digestive issues like low stomach acid, bacterial imbalances, fungal overgrowth, a poor functioning gallbladder or liver and so on. These imbalances only add to the burden, and it’s not uncommon to see most stress-related issues begin to show up with digestive concerns first.
This also means that if you heal your center, you are well on your way to aligning your body again and recovering from the ravages of stress. So, the goal should always be to monitor your digestion and see how you're doing. Eating according to the simple principles discussed in this article as well as healing your relationship with food and eating mindfully, is also very important to recover from burnout.
Your mealtime is a special opportunity to get back into your body, so make sure that you reduce your stress as much as possible before you eat so that you can assimilate your food properly. Even with great supplements, a stressed-out body will not be able to take nutrition in very well, so your nervous system plays a key role regardless.
Besides these basic practices, there are specific action items in nutrition that can help you recover:
The B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc are all very important for your
Checking your genetic variants and creating a plan that addresses your specific tendencies of inflammation and deficiency is also important. Everyone’s genes will tell a different story, and if you want to recover from burnout it will mean learning what yours have to say.
Salt plays an integral role in stress. Depending on where you are in the stages of burnout, you may crave more salt. Always obtain high-quality sea salt, like Redmond’s, and take a little in the morning with some water. If 1/4th of a teaspoon tastes good, you need more salt. Do not be afraid to honor your salt cravings, so long as you are doing it in a healthful way and not through garbage like deli meat or fast food.
The level of carbohydrates in your diet will affect your salt needs because both salt and carbs relate to the amount of water in your body. Too many carbs and it’s not friendly to your adrenals because of blood sugar spikes, but too few (like the keto diet) and you will retain even less salt and get more fatigued, hence the “keto flu” everyone raves about. For a complete guide on how to make effective carbohydrate choices in your meal planning you can go here.
Research has found that salt loading increases the amount of cortisol lost in the urine for most people,(1) which means that salt can be a great tool among the others you have to reduce excess cortisol in the body. I sometimes take salt in some water both morning and at night. If you are salt sensitive (rare) and are worried about salt, it’s important to know that the cause may not always be a genetic one, but an underlying, subclinical functioning issue with your kidneys that may warrant further investigation.(2)
For example, my Self Decode genetic report says that I’m likely to be salt sensitive, but I haven’t experienced any issues at all and often crave salt. If you have higher blood pressure, specific nutrients like taurine, l-theanine, nitric oxide, EFAs, calcium and magnesium will all help to reduce your blood pressure so that you can integrate healthy salt more into your diet.
Interestingly, magnesium deficiency will lead to your body dumping out potassium.(3) This is important because the Western lifestyle emphasizes low salt and high calcium diets. Low sodium, as you learned previously, signals the body to dump more potassium out, but this is more like an emergency maneuver rather than anything positive. Most people also don’t get enough magnesium in their diet, and magnesium helps to regulate all of your other electrolytes.
Together, following this common dietary advice will only imbalance your system further. This is why magnesium is so central to adrenal and stress recovery, and why a complete nutrition program alongside a healthful diet (that includes salt) emphasizes a higher magnesium to calcium ratio (usually closer to 1:1 instead of 2:1 or greater for cal/mag).
Finally, the utilization of glandulars and other specific nutrients like licorice can help give you an extra nudge in the right direction. This supplement can be a great tool if you are on the later side of the burnout process and feeling exhausted.
Keep in mind that if you are in the first stage of burnout, characterized by being wired all the time from excess cortisol, this may not be a good idea as it is stimulating for the adrenals. In this case, your body is too “hot” and needs to cool off through good nutrition, blood sugar control, using phosphatidylserine, keeping your digestive center aligned, managing your stress levels and eliminating toxins.
If you have high blood pressure, do not use licorice root as it will only make things worse. Treat the high blood pressure first through previously mentioned strategies and then incorporate this if it’s necessary as a cortisol booster. TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) or Ayurvedic practitioners are also a great place to look as they have a wonderful arsenal of herbs for healing the body in whatever stage it is in.
If you are in the first stage, the emphasis will be on cooling the body down and supporting it with “cold” herbs. If you are in the second stage of exhaustion, herbs like ginseng and licorice root are excellent for repairing your poor little adrenals. Overall, these are all great additions to your efforts and it is something I highly recommend to explore as I’ve done it myself many times and it was always worth the investment.
Removal of Toxins
Besides mental and emotional stress, your body also reacts to toxic substances as stressors. These are things like heavy metals, pesticides, phytoestrogens from plants or xenoestrogens from household chemicals, mold toxins, lectins or anything else that’s inflammatory. While following a complete nutrition program and supplementing will help your body detoxify, it’s also important to get an idea of your baseline and track your progress in this specific area.
Certain things are difficult to get rid of, and honestly you can’t fully measure your success in recovering from burnout until you can say with certainty that your toxic burden has also come down to acceptable levels.
Of course, “acceptable” here may seem a bit arbitrary. For example, what exactly is an
acceptable level of a deadly poison? The answer is zero, but sadly this is impossible to achieve with every substance that makes its way into our bodies. In general, you want minimal levels of everything, with a few offenders being as close to zero as possible like mercury, certain mold toxins, glyphosate, fluoride, bromide and so on.
Everyone responds to toxins differently, and some can really do a number on you depending on your specific genetic makeup. This is why being as comprehensive as possible, monitoring yourself at least once per year and taking the appropriate action to purge your body regularly is so crucial for a burnout recovery plan.
In general, giving your body good food and quality supplements will help you remove most toxins. Boron helps to remove fluoride and mold toxins, and iodine will also help with fluoride and bromide which are competing halogens. Eating high-quality sea salt, like Redmond’s Real Salt, will remove bromide and some homeopathic remedies like this one can be useful additions to a complete nutrition program because they detoxify against environmental and heavy metal toxins by passively alerting your immune system.
Chlorella is also good for heavy metals like mercury, and this supplement has this and some other things for cleansing the body. Having a high supply of antioxidants
like vitamin E, C and selenium will help as well. The supplement NAC is a proven detoxifier and it is cheap and available on Amazon or any other retailer, with 600mg per day being a standard dose.
Some people also take charcoal-based supplements, but these are high maintenance in my opinion because you have to really worry about timing. They interfere with food and other supplements, so unless you have an acute exposure to something, this is not really needed.
Besides addressing what is inside your body, you also have to address what is outside of your body when it comes to toxins. Do an audit of your home for the products you use on a regular basis, the ingredients in the things you buy, the personal care products or makeup you use or simply the cooking and lifestyle practices you employ. The goal here is basically to control both the internal and external environment as much as possible through all of these efforts.
You will never get a perfect score on any test you take because the environment today is so polluted, but you can avoid chronically poisoning yourself by fixing the deviations in your habits and lifestyle before they run you off the deep end.
Blood Sugar Control
Cortisol, stress, blood sugar and insulin are all intimately related. What that means is that if you want to heal from stress, you’ll have to manage your blood sugar through good habits and good nutrition.
So, what exactly is the relationship?
When you are stressed, the body needs resources immediately to run away or fight, meaning that one of cortisol’s main roles is to break down stored energy and give you some juice. This is a great thing if you’re running from a bear, but it’s not such a great thing if you’re staying up late at night freaking out about something in your mind that hasn’t even happened.
Your blood sugar, if plotted on a graph, would be a wave just like every other energy signature in the universe. In a way, this wave represents your life force. How it moves is a great indicator of not just your energy in the physical, measurable sense, but in the metaphorical sense of your personality and habits.
A person with erratic blood sugar spikes and drops does not have a steady energy field, and we can easily infer that they struggle with patience, consistency, performance, focus and so on as a result. Of course, there are situations like type 1 diabetes that make these erratic changes happen regardless of your discipline, but the point here is that your blood sugar is a great indicator of how you are managing your stress and lifestyle.
When you have chronic stress, this drains resources and spikes your blood sugar. Anything that goes up must come down. And if it goes up fast, it will also come down fast. This is why you will often see poor diet accompany a stressed-out lifestyle. The crash leads to craving more sugary, carb-loaded foods for immediate energy and the vicious cycle perpetuates itself because these things only make it easier for your sugar to crash yet again.
When you spike your blood sugar, either from stress or from a crappy diet, this freaks your body out and it panics to release as much insulin as possible to manage the problem. Too much sugar in the blood is not a good thing, and the body will often over-compensate by producing more insulin than needed. Over time, this mismanaged
stress or mismanaged diet leads to insulin resistance and diabetes.
It’s important to understand that both stress and poor diet impact blood sugar and lead to insulin resistance. Your nervous system gets signals from everything you “vote” on throughout the day, and it remembers your preferences just like all of our fancy smart technology does. When you prefer to eat sugary snacks or carb-heavy meals, you are setting into memory a panicked response to blood sugar. This is a stress, and it programs your body to be on defense mode with insulin.
Interestingly, this can also work the other way around and influence your cortisol
When blood sugar is high, insulin is the force that brings it back down and “cools” it off. When blood sugar is low, cortisol is the force that brings it back up and puts heat back into the system by breaking things down. Together, these two work to control the beautiful wave that is your blood sugar.
So now, understanding this relationship, what would you think happens if your blood sugar patterns are erratic? We know your nervous system would have a panicked approach to insulin from these drastic spikes, but what about the drastic drops? This is the second part of the problem that happens with the vicious cycle of stress and a poor diet: an overreaction with cortisol when blood sugar is low.
Your body is very intelligent and adaptive, and if you train it to be in panic mode all of the time, then it is going to be ready to strike at a moment’s notice to keep you alive. This means managing resources quickly when you finally get them (a spike in blood sugar with insulin) or dumping everything it’s got to handle a surprise attack (a drop in blood sugar with cortisol) to keep you alive.
Both of these overreactive states are present when you have a cortisol imbalance and
mismanaged stress, so the best approach to healing is to tackle both your diet and nervous system at the same time.
A fun fact in this department is that overreactive blood sugar responses can wake you up at night by producing cortisol. If your blood sugar is used to ping-ponging, and your adrenals are used to panicking every time it crashes, they will release way too much cortisol at night when your blood sugar naturally drops. This is often the case in the first stage of adrenal fatigue or cortisol resistance, and what happens as a result is that you wake up.
On the extreme end you will wake up with shaking hands and an adrenaline rush like you haven’t eaten in 5 days, and on the lighter end you will just wake up for no apparent reason. I’ve dealt with both, and because sleep is a vital tool for recovery, managing your blood sugar has implications beyond just your waking hours.
The good news is that eating according to the principles set out in the above referenced articles will help you stay satiated and avoid large spikes in your blood sugar. This will train your body over time to have an even energy flow, and along with mindfulness it will transform your blood sugar from the inside out.
Having extra salt, in the form of healthy sea salt, will also help you with the salt cravings that are normal during burnout because remember that adrenal imbalance leads to more sodium being lost in the urine. Eat lots of vegetables, but avoid fruits (like bananas) that have a ton of potassium. You will get your potassium from your vegetables, but adding fruit while you are burned out is a bad idea because they are low in nutrition, high in sugar and high in potassium.
If you do have sugar cravings, resetting your gut microbiome through probiotics (either through regular supplementation or by doing a flora blitz, like the Flora Blitz 100, will help reprogram the bacteria that send you cravings in the first place. Eating plenty of healthy fats and EFAs (essential fatty acids, especially Omega 3) will also help to reprogram your body so that you stop craving high amounts of carbs and get out of the vicious cycle that they put you in.
For a full guide on detoxifying from sugar safely and naturally you can go here.
Also, eating plenty of fiber and low glycemic foods will help your nervous system get re-sensitized and learn that it’s not in panic mode anymore by stabilizing your blood sugar and positively impacting both cortisol and insulin release as a result.
Finally, you need to eliminate stimulants like caffeine or limit them as much as possible. There are other ways to get energy, and if you follow all of the guidance throughout this blog to create a complete nutrition program, I promise you will not need nor crave coffee. Stimulants are vasodilators, meaning they dilate (expand) your blood vessels and increase your blood pressure. In other words they're a stress, and stress drops your blood sugar and sends another vote to your nervous system to release cortisol. This in turn maintains your stress response, so the short-term boost of energy is actually costing you long-term recovery.
Furthermore, since you are in a stressed state, and your nervous system has been wired tight to overreact, this cortisol release will be more than you need. Over time, it’s just another major drain on your adrenals in addition to the other stressors and blood sugar imbalances you are already dealing with.
Translation? Coffee’s not worth it, you addict.
Circadian Rhythm & The Parasympathetic Nervous System
The more masterful you can become at the practice of a good circadian rhythm and daily routine, the more you will reduce stress and re-balance your nervous system from being sympathetic dominant to having more “rest and digest” time. Understanding the value of transitions, using boundaries where needed and developing proper wind-up and wind-down routines are all keys for success in healing from burnout.
Often times people who are chronically stressed don’t just have erratic blood sugar patterns, they have erratic schedules and are all over the place regarding their eating times, sleeping times and so on. This is energy running amok without discipline in your life and it will destroy you.
Everything requires structure to survive, even a flame needs something to burn or it will disappear. Learn to come back down to a zero point, allow periods of relaxation throughout the day, eat mindfully, say no to work or distractions and incorporate mindfulness wherever you can. Utilize gadgets, supplements or other tools like the ones in this article to help you, and always try to make yourself a priority. You can’t fill someone else’s glass if yours is empty, and there is always something to do. Be okay with taking time off and doing nothing, even if it’s just for 5 minutes at a time.
In general, a healthy “cortisol curve” has a big spike in the morning and then tapers off
dramatically by the evening. During the first part of chronic stress this spike is more like a mountain range and your cortisol levels are high all the time, hence the “tired but wired” feel at night. In this situation, the “second wind” that comes after 10 or 11pm of cortisol will usually hit people with overactive adrenals pretty hard and make it impossible to sleep until 2 or 3 in the morning.
This can wreck you, but don’t make it worse by hoping on the computer and loading up on dopamine and more cortisol. Do some reading, take a bath, keep the lights low and red, do a stretch routine and add more nutrition into your body to cool the adrenals down like magnesium, vitamin C, ashwagandha or phosphatidylserine.
Be patient while your body changes, ride the storm and try to use the time to train your nervous system with a different response rather than entertaining the energy and going full ham on work or other stuff.
On the other hand, if you are exhausted in the morning and cannot function without stimulants, this is a good indicator that your body is undergoing some level of adrenal burnout in the later stage. Also, if you have a strong desire to nap in the afternoon, take notice of this pattern because it is another sure sign that your body is out of balance. If this is a recurring experience, your adrenals need some support and your diet needs a revision.
The following are some simple action steps to help guide you back to an ideal circadian rhythm based on your current energy pattern:
If you are wired throughout the day and cannot sleep, use phosphatidylserine and ashwagandha at night, along with other calming supplements like taurine, magnesium, calcium and l-theanine. Utilize mindfulness throughout the day and find therapies that can help bring your nervous system down like cranial sacral therapy, massage or acupuncture. Learn to take breaks and enforce boundaries ruthlessly.
If you are fatigued in the morning, take a half of a teaspoon of quality sea salt with water when you wake up. Take the OHS BFF nitric oxide chewables, or equivalent, to help give you natural energy from nitric oxide and green tea. This powerful nootropic supplement is also a natural boost without caffeine. Licorice root is great for helping the body keep its cortisol in the morning, so you can make tea out of dried parts or purchase it in capsule form, or try getting a customized tea remedy from a TCM or Ayurvedic practitioner as they often include ginseng and other great herbs. Splash your face with cold water, take a cold shower, do breathing exercises and avoid caffeine or begin to ween yourself off of it week by week.
If you are tired in the afternoon, this is a good sign to look at your diet. Excess carbs, not being able to digest your food or eating inflammatory foods will all contribute to lethargy after lunch. Make sure you are eating healthy salt and taking digestive support. The supplements mentioned above can give you a boost in the afternoon slump without caffeine, and so will a comprehensive B vitamin supplement in the morning.
Besides these patterns, there can be all sorts of variations. Some people have a short CAR (cortisol awakening response) that crashes right before lunch. Some people crash after lunch. Some people crash all day and then get wired at night. All of these are possible patterns during adrenal imbalance, and the key is just knowing how to respond when and with what tactics. If it’s too hot, put some water on it and vice versa. This is the dance, but with persistence you’ll dance it like a pro.
Healing the Thyroid
Everything is related, and it is very likely that burnout in your adrenals will also be affected by your thyroid to some degree. One may cause the other and vice versa, and how well your thyroid functions will also impact the speed of your recovery from burnout.
Many, many processes are handled by the thyroid because it controls metabolism. As a result, every aspect of your recovery will be affected. Both a slow or fast thyroid, for example, can affect your insulin resistance and glucose tolerance,(4,5,6) meaning that your attention to detail when eating and managing blood sugar must be even greater if the thyroid is involved.
Thyroid hormones also affect the metabolism of various minerals and compounds in the body. Ceruloplasmin, a copper transport protein, is affected by thyroid function which can either decrease or increase your copper stores as well as affect other nutrients like iron through ferritin.(7,8,9,10)
Liver function, heart function, digestive function and every other thing you can think of are affected by thyroid imbalances, and research has shown that cortisol levels are also intimately tied to the thyroid. If you are hyperthyroid you will produce more cortisol,(11) and if you are hypothyroid the amount of cortisol in your body is metabolized slower because of reduced liver functioning.(12,13)
What this means is that it is easy for cortisol to accumulate (if you have constant, unmanaged stress) and therefore clear from your body, creating a longer recovery window and a higher need to manage your levels carefully.
Unfortunately, it’s all one downward spiral if you don’t utilize awareness, discipline and
consistency. The good news is that there is always an answer and always a solution. You got where you are because of choices and things that happened, and you can get back to freedom and health also through choices and creating new circumstances for yourself through mindful action over time.
Mindset & Vitamin G
To have a practice of gratitude is perhaps one of the most important safeguards to burning out in the first place. It will also be one of your key pillars of recovery, because part of the reason you got there is from a lack of appreciation.
What does this mean?
When you are grateful, you are present. Gratitude does not happen in the past or in the future, it is something that happens in the here and now. Part of that may be something you say to yourself or others, but part of it is always a level of presence. When you are present, you find stillness and relax. When you relax, your parasympathetic nervous system takes over and you let the sympathetic part take a break.
You cannot be grateful and panicked at the same time. Stress, at its fundamental core, is all based in the same belief: that something is not enough. When something is not enough, it spurns you into action and your body reacts to get it done as soon as possible. The source of this panic can be work, a boss, a relationship or simply your own perfectionist self, but the end result is always the same.
The point here is that you cannot be in two places at once. This goes for your mind as it does for everything in the physical universe. You cannot be appreciative, present and relaxed and simultaneously panicked about something that isn’t enough and needs to get fixed ASAP. These two feelings do not coexist simultaneously.
When I say that your current burnout is a result of a lack of appreciation, it doesn’t mean that you should have appreciated your terrible boss more or tried to find more compliments to give your crazy ex. That could be part of it, but the real meaning is that you have neglected the simple habit of slowing down and finding something to appreciate about your life as a necessary part of your day and recovery.
Missing your "Vitamin G" supplement will cost you more than every other supplement we’ve discussed, and it is critically important for having a balanced nervous system and positive outlook on life. Ironically, it's also the cheapest supplement there is because it's free :)
Recovering from burnout is not easy, and part of it will be deep emotional work that will help you realize just how you got there in the first place. This is why having a relationship to God should be first on your list, as many today have forsaken God to try to be the sovereign over their lives. Yet we are frail, we don't know when we will die and we are not in control - all of which leads to a disastrously stressful life without God in the picture.
Remember that nothing in the universe happens without an explanation. This is the simple result of a system that is interdependent. You may not have an explanation yet, but there is one to be found and that can be your source of power and prevention for the next time around. Burnout is actually an opportunity to reconnect to yourself and to God and discover things you didn’t know or have forgotten to resolve.
Do not let things accumulate. Learn to forgive, let go and find peace whenever possible. Take action instead of complaining. Wake up and go to bed with a “Thank You” in your heart. Make a regular habit of re-framing situations. Acknowledge people on a regular basis and do not let yourself stay in The Swamp of Obstacles for too long. These are just a few of the priceless lessons shared in my book and course, The Gratitude Map, and they can be yours, too so check it out.
Take your Vitamin G, no exceptions. Your poor little adrenals will thank you for it and it truly is the secret for learning to dance your way through life.