Long Absences, Trips to China, and Adrenal Fatigue

I’ve been gone a long time. I know! My last post was waaaay back on June 28, which is an eternity ago in blogging years!

So here’s what happened: My family and I went to China in August. And the preparation for that took over every millimeter of brain space for the entire month of July so blogging completely went out the window. And then I got back and kind of became a raving lunatic in the grips of adrenal fatigue. (That picture up there really just sums up how I felt for about 2 months). But more about that later.

First, it was an amazing trip! We went to volunteer with an organization called Evergreen. Evergreen runs a camp for children and youth in the summer called Joy in the Journey, a place where they can practice English and also just have a break from the intense academic pressure that’s put on Chinese kids. My husband is friends with the man who is in charge of that camp, and so we were excited to go help! We taught English, helped cook, led activities, learned some Mandarin, and forged relationships. And we got to see the Great Wall! As a mother, it was completely satisfying to see the impact the trip had on my children, and how much of a life-changing experience it was for them! Here, briefly, are a few pictures for the curious among you, before we go on with the point of this post.

food We got really good at chopsticks! d and t eating IMG_3327 IMG_4672 Fulfilling a life long dream to walk on the Great Wall! IMG_4301 IMG_4398 IMG_4083 This was a completely exhausting, but also completely amazing, bike ride through the Shanxi countryside. IMG_4162 IMG_4170 IMG_2890 IMG_4180 IMG_4175 IMG_2957

As amazing as the trip was, though, it took a HUGE toll on me physically. I knew I wasn’t doing well while we were there, but I thought I’d just push through it and come home and be all better again.

Well, I was wrong.

After a few weeks back home I was doing worse than ever. I was tired all the time but I couldn’t sleep. I was extremely, irrationally emotional. Tiny little life stressors became huge deals that sent me spiraling. I cried all the time. I was, in short, a complete mess. And the very last thing on my mind was keeping up with the blog!

It finally dawned on me what I was experiencing.

I’d experienced it before, but just not as dramatically. Once I put the pieces together, though, it all made sense: adrenal fatigue! My adrenals are a weak spot with me, but I’d never experienced symptoms as severe as this.

Adrenal fatigue, in a very simplified sense, is a condition in which your adrenal glands – the part of your endocrine system that’s responsible for regulating your responses to stressors and manages your “fight or flight” reaction – becomes overtaxed and sort of short circuits. It no longer responds appropriately. So when you do experience anything that would require your body to compensate for stress, it can’t. There is no adrenaline to push you through. There’s no coping mechanisms. You just are tired all the time, and very easily overwhelmed by the tiniest things. It’s pretty debilitating, especially when you’re a mother homeschooling two children!!!

Several things can contribute to adrenal fatigue, such as:

  1. Psychological stress – emotional trauma, life pressures, things like that. For me, the time leading up to China involved a lot of this kind of stress as I tried to make sure all four of us had everything in line to be ready for this trip, and also anticipating the unknown. Then there was also the stress of adapting to an entirely alien culture, dealing with language barriers, navigating personality conflicts, etc. that aren’t a big deal on their own, but add up over time.
  2. Physical stress – being sick, over-exerting yourself, etc. I got sick while I was in China, and I about died while mountain biking in a way that my body definitely was not prepared for! Then there was also the sleep deprivation that went along with the 30 hours of traveling and jet lag.
  3. Environmental factors – smoking and drug use are obvious stressors on your body, but also are environmental toxins. There were many wonderful things about China…but the air and was not one of them. The minute we got out of the airport in Beijing I felt my lungs seize up with the pollution in the air. Some days were better than others, but I was always aware of the smell of it in the air, at all times. I would wake up in the middle of the night with it in my nose, and every time I blew my nose it was black with pollutants. This environmental stressor was definitely a contributing factor!
  4. And, finally, diet – If you’re eating a diet that your body has to compensate for – refined sugars and flours, chemicals, bad oils, artificial ingredients, etc. – it will drain your adrenals. The food was actually amazingly delicious in China, but I had to completely ignore my anti-inflammatory guidelines. Noodles and bread were common. White rice. Soybean oil was used in everything. My body seems to be more sensitive to these foods, for whatever reason, so two weeks of it definitely took its toll.

So, looking back, it totally made sense that my adrenals were feeling attacked! The rest of my family were a bit knocked up after the trip, but bounced back after a week or two. That’s a normal reaction. That’s the body repairing itself after a time of stress, and is what it’s supposed to do. I just got worse, and worse, and worse. That’s an adrenal fatigue reaction. The body is unable to repair itself because it doesn’t have what it needs for the job!

Fortunately, I knew what I needed to do to take care of myself once I figured out what was going on. (Now, I am not an expert about this by any means, so don’t take this as medical advice. This is just what I did to take care of myself.)

Recovering from Adrenal Fatigue:

1. Sleep! Take any chance to sleep that you can find. Your body needs a break, and physical and mental exertion taxes you in a way that you can’t take when your adrenals are fatigued. Now, sometimes that’s more easily said than done. We have to work, we have obligations, we have kids to teach and take care of. But as much as you can, let things slide so that you can sleep. It’s okay if the house is a wreck or if you have to say no to things. This is not the time to prove how much you can do!

2. Rest your mind. This is especially helpful before bedtime, because people with adrenal fatigue typically have racing minds that just can’t stop. Spend time in intentional meditation, stilling your mind and calming your body. This can be very difficult to do at first, because it’s hard to wrestle your brain into submission! I cannot over-emphasize how important this mental rest is in your healing.  I find the website  to be very helpful for this. You can choose music or nature sounds by clicking on the music note icon at the bottom. You can set a timer so that you’re not distracted by the time. If you’re new to this and have a hard time relaxing I suggest choosing the “guided calm” option because it really helps you figure out how to really relax your body and mind. Do this at least once a day, but preferably more! I personally use the time in which I’m stilling my mind to connect to God in quiet prayer, so it’s kind of a two-for-one, but you can do this without the prayer aspect and it will still greatly help. 

3. Clean up your diet. Seriously. Get rid of all the cheating. Be especially conservative about consuming any caffeine! Follow the guidelines for the anti-inflammation diet strictly, because anything that causes inflammation in your body also stresses it out. If you’re brand new to it, then it might be a little overwhelming to change all at once, but at least start and do your best. Read my page about Getting Started if you’re overwhelmed! 

4. Focus on good brain food, especially fats! Up your intake of coconut oil, butter (especially grass-fed butter), olive oil, avocados, nuts, fish (but not farmed-fish – they have too many toxins), and quality meats. Also remember to take your good-quality cod liver oil supplements. Your brain needs cholesterol and fat to function properly, and the very last thing you want to do when it’s stressed is to eat low-fat! Restricting fat intake is a bad idea in general, but especially when you have issues like these.

5. Also eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, in conjunction with your good fats. I find that the easiest way to do this is to make smoothies. I will make a smoothie out of whatever fruits I have on hand as well as as many mild-flavored veggies (think carrots, butternut squash, cucumbers, spinach/kale, etc.) as I can get in and still like the taste. Also put in some coconut oil, ground flax seed, nuts, avocado, or other sources of oils and fats. Sweeten with fruit juice or liquid Stevia if necessary. This will give you a good powerhouse of body-healing foods!

6. Take a good-quality adrenal support supplement. Two that I know of that are good are Drenamin by Standard Process and Adren-All by Ortho Molecular Products. The best place to get these supplements are from chiropractors or natural health practitioners, but if you Google it you can sometimes find them for sale places. They’re generally more expensive than they are from a doctor, but you can still find them that way. Yes, they are more expensive than whatever you can find at your local CVS…but that’s because you pay for what you get. Don’t cheap out! However, a pill alone will not fix you. You can’t take a supplement and ignore all the other steps and expect to get better, so don’t see this as the only thing you have to do. It’s harder and more intentional than that.

7. Think about adding massage therapy to your healing. Find a licensed massage therapist, preferably someone who knows about trigger and pressure points and can use them to help your body heal itself. There are several pressure points that correspond to adrenal health that can help when worked. At the very least it’s relaxing, and at the best it will also help your body get back in line.

8. Last – but not least! – control your thought life. It’s easy when you’re stressed and tired and your adrenals are shot to see the worst about everything. You become paranoid. You become irritable and critical. This will only hurt you, so don’t indulge! You have to take your thoughts captive. Be intentionally grateful. Thankfulness can not be over rated about how it affects you mentally and physically! Is there someone who is really irritating you? List all the good things you can think of about that person. Is there a situation that’s stressing you out? Think about all the other things in your life that are good. You might be tempted to think, “There is nothing good about that person or situation!” but you’ll be wrong. There is always something good. It’s a matter of what you choose to think about. This is a verse that I always think about with this, and it’s a good one whether you’re a religious person or not: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8). Think about the pure, lovely, admirable things. Seriously…it helps. If you poison your mind with continuous negative thoughts, you will not get better. If you fill your mind with positive thoughts, you’ll see a definite change.

Do you suspect that you might be dealing with adrenal fatigue?

Unfortunately, most doctors won’t know how to identify it if you go. They will find different symptoms, but most MDs don’t follow the trail of symptoms down to the root cause. They’ll give you different pills or treatments for the symptoms only, but the cause is still there. My adrenal fatigue was originally caught by a holistic MD who did a thorough comparative blood lab and history, but most MDs don’t do that. However, it’s not too hard to recognize once you know it. This website has a thorough self-diagnostic test that can help you think through your symptoms. It also has a directory of some doctors who are knowledgable about adrenal health.

There are also simple tests you can do at home to test your adrenal health. This website lists three tests that will tell you quickly how stressed your adrenals are. (I’m an especial fan of the eye test).

So, that’s the story of where I’ve been, why I’ve been absent, and what I’ve been dealing with. I hope that it’s a little helpful to someone else out there who might be dealing with something similar! It’s been over two months since I got back from China, and I’m just now starting to feel like I can focus on things other than just surviving day to day. Things such as maintaining a blog to help other people who want to use food to make themselves better! So now I’m going to try to get back in the habit of thinking about converting recipes, trying new foods, and posting them here for you to enjoy. So stay tuned! I’m back!