It goes without saying that if your lifestyle has resulted in burnout/Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome/other stress-related health issues, then it needs to change. If you keep on doing what you’ve always done then you’ll keep on getting what you have always got. Of course this is far easier said then done and it can be like leading a donkey to water but not being able to make it drink. Yes, I am saying that you may be the donkey! You may start out with all the best intentions but when it comes down to it you end up living your life exactly the same way you did before you found yourself with an empty tank.
The problem is that most people who experience burnout or Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) only know how to live fast and hard and this becomes the default. As explained in a previous post there is often a strong psychological process going on that results in needing to live life this way i.e. having learned from a young age to hold everything together in order to feel safe or to do everything ‘perfectly’ in order to feel good enough. Naturally, it can be very difficult to change a lifetime habit of living a certain way without being conscious of what is being challenged at a deeper level.
Essentially it is your inner child that is being challenged. Managing, controlling, holding it all together and being perfect are all coping mechanisms taken on as a child in response to early circumstances which caused you to feel unsafe and/or unsupported. Those ‘coping skills’ are there to help the inner child to not have to feel vulnerable, overwhelmed and anxious again. So you may aim to live a slower, more relaxed lifestyle but you will soon find it is like trying to speak a newly learned second language when it would be much easier to just speak your home language – it comes naturally and you feel you can express yourself better!
When I was diagnosed with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome in 2013 I soon started to feel better after using the right medication/supplements, eating well and changing my lifestyle. As soon as my energy improved I started to do what I do best….run. This involved actual, physical runs but also illustrates the way I lived life…at a very fast pace. Naturally, I very soon crashed all over again and my doctor just smiled knowingly and said something along the lines of “Don’t worry most people do the same thing the first time around.” It’s taken me FOUR years and many adrenal ups and downs to really get to the grips with the fact that I will have to manage my lifestyle and keep it managed if I don’t want to burnout again. I used to be depressed and frustrated by this but I have finally found some peace with it and I will address that all in my next post.
In this post I am going to introduce a few lifestyle changes you could consider and in my next post I will address how to change your attitude in order to be able to make the changes stick and to avoid falling back to your default.
To address your lifestyle the first thing that has to change is the pace of it. Learn to slow down in all things. The easiest (and not so easy) way to do this is to walk more slowly, drive more slowly and eat more slowly. In all of these activities try to be mindful of what you are doing rather than being stuck in your head, oblivious to what you are doing. You may well also talk fast. After all, when the adrenals are activated then there is a general sense of urgency and everything is affected. Remind yourself that the urgency is in your head (a perception of your daily life) and is experienced due to physical changes happening in your body as hormones induce a fight and flight response in reaction to a perception that something is threatening (stress is ‘threatening’). To deliberately slow down your life gives your body and mind the message that you are safe. Deep belly breaths can send this physiological message too.
Starting the day with some form of meditation or mindfulness (even if only some deep breathing) can create the message from the outset that there is no reason to stress. Punctuate your day with small moments of mindfulness and breathing to prevent a build up of stress.
SLEEP. This is the second most important aspect of managing AFS and preventing burnout. To the mothers of young children who are reading this…I know, I know….just do your best to get what you can! Living a restorative lifestyle involves going to sleep before 10am and getting at least 8 hours of sleep, aiming for 9 hours. Stick to a regular sleeping routine as your body will start to shut down at the same time every night in anticipation of bedtime. Avoid bright light (screens, laptops ect) for at least an hour before bed as these cause the brain to be wired for daytime and the melatonin that helps you to fall asleep is not encouraged to do its work. Sleep hygiene deserves an entire post all of its own. In the meantime for more information go to Joanna Sochan’s Website and download her sleep guide. I have found she provides some good advice. Also take a look at Dr Michael Lam’s blog post.
Nap during the day around lunch time. This is the one thing I always find so much easier to do when I am really depleted but as soon as I have more energy it falls away. I have had to learn to factor in a small nap (even 20 minutes) into my day whenever possible. Who knew it could be so hard to enjoy a nap?!
Dr Lam refers a little to diet and you can find more in his other blog posts too. This is not my field of expertise and it may well be worth your while to see a dietitian. Ultimately, when stress levels are high and adrenals are depleted blood sugar can be affected and a lot of smaller meals can be very useful to prevent crashes during the day. Large meals can require more energy for digesting the food and your aim is to minimise energy output and use your energy resourcefully. More protein is also very beneficial. And of course, avoid stimulants which can result in further stimulating already-depleted adrenals (sort of like whipping a dead horse – please forgive the farm animal analogies today!)
Exercising and using your body is great as this results in the production of endorphins which can counter the stress response. However, avoid strenuous exercise as that will induce a fight/flight response in the body and negate any lovely endorphin state you experience, as well as overstimulate the adrenals. Rather walk or, if feeling stronger, walk and run but avoid running constantly for longer distances or other forms of high intensity exercise. Restorative yoga can be incredibly beneficial or simple stretching or using a foam roller. These can help you to be more present in your body which ultimately will help you to observe and honour your body’s stress cues and teach you the difference between a wired body and a body at rest.
Finally, try horsing around a little more! Play, have fun, be creative. Laughing is an amazing antidote to the stress response. Go to a comedy show or play a funny board game. Tap into the spontaneous, creative child rather than the responsible, adaptive child (the child part which learned to simply cope to survive).
It IS possible to make changes and to stick to the changes, resulting in an overall improvement in health and well-being but, sticking with the farm animal analogies, don’t put the cart before the horse and try to implement massive lifestyle changes all at once. Start small and incrementally and take it from there. It will feel far less overwhelming. If you have experienced burnout or depletion you very likely like do everything BIG. Be gentle, start small and allow the backwards steps when they happen. I could go on until the cows come home (!) so rather please watch for my next post for more information on how you can change your attitude and perception to assist with living a more relaxed, stress-free, and accepting lifestyle.
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