When the alarm sounds for the third time, you know you can't hit snooze again. Exhausted from a poor night's sleep, you head into the office and chug coffee to stay alert. Throughout the day, you feel overwhelmed with stress and pump yourself up with more coffee and sugary snacks to sustain energy. By the time you get home, you feel tired, wired, and stressed. Does this sound familiar?
This scenario might seem like the reality of modern life, but Aviva Romm, MD, says it also has telltale signs of adrenal fatigue, a phenomenon that occurs when severe stress disrupts the adrenal gland. "Almost all of my patients were perpetually overwhelmed, with a relentless sense of stress and dread over their never-ending to-do list," she explains in her new book The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution. "[It's] now increasingly called 'the Western cluster'—a 21st century set of chronic symptoms and frighteningly common medical conditions that have become the new normal."
Romm explains that severe stress tips the body into "fight or flight mode," which can wreak havoc on the thyroid. "Anytime your body is under prolonged stress, your body will go into an energy-conserving mode."
So how do you know if you're just a little overworked or whether chronic stress is impacting your health? Conventional medicine doesn't accept adrenal fatigue as a medical condition, but Romm, a Yale-trained, board-certified physician and natural health practitioner, is steadfast that it's one of the most common undiagnosed syndromes among women.
This is what chronic stress does to your body and how to reverse the effects, stat.
The symptoms of adrenal fatigue are frustratingly vague and, for many women, all too common. That doesn't mean they should be treated as normal, though, says Romm. "Sadly, because so many women have experienced being rebuffed and made to feel like a complainer or hypochondriac in the doctor's office, we've stopped seeking medical care," she says. But her message is clear: "Your symptoms are not all in your head."
These are common signs associated with an adrenal issue, according to Romm:
- Constant fatigue
- Anxiety, irritability, or depression
- Difficulty with focus or memory
- A reliance on stimulants, such as coffee
- Digestive problems
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Low sex drive
Chronic emotional and mental stress are at the heart of this issue. "[Seventy-five percent] of all Americans have moderate to severe stress and at least 43% will suffer adverse health effects due to stress," Romm points out. What's more, "women top the charts in all stress-related statistics."
While stress is considered a common part of life, Romm cautions that it can have a big impact on your health. "When you are under prolonged stress, your SOS response is to dial your thyroid function down to conserve energy." Hormone disruption can also occur, as "cortisol steals the building blocks you need to make estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone." Hense why you might skip a period when you're under intense stress.
First up: Address your sleep schedule. Romm says you need at least seven hours of quality sleep every night to reset your body. If you tend to lie awake at night, she recommends penning your thoughts before you enter your bedroom. "About 45 minutes before you get into bed, sit anywhere in your house—but not in your bedroom—and pour your worries into a notebook," she recommends. "You'll sleep with a much clearer head."
It's also vital to pay attention to your diet, to ensure your body is nourished and naturally energized, without caffeine and sugar. "Energy sappers" such as white flour, sodas, and foods containing hydrogenated oils should be removed permanently, she says. Make sure you're eating plenty of whole foods rich in vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc, which are important for proper thyroid and adrenal function.
Finally, to tackle the heart of the issue, it's important to change the way you internalize and react to stress. "Good-Girl Syndrome, or approval addiction, can make you say yes to taking on things even when you want to say no. It isn't necessarily good for your health," says Romm.
Next time you feel overwhelmed, follow her lead and try this simple guided meditation to seize control of the moment:
- Sit or stand comfortably, and become aware of your feet on the floor. Close your eyes if preferred.
- Take a few normal breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Now, breathe in deeply through your nose for a count of four and say internally I am.
- Exhale deeply through your mouth for the count of six and say at peace.
- Repeat four to eight times, and then open your eyes. Take a moment to recognize that you are completely present and in control of that moment.
How do you deal with stress? Share your routine and tips below.