Modern women are living busier lives than ever; Ariane explores the relationship between busy and burnout and helps us prioritise.
We constantly juggle successful careers, with pressures to look well, to be the perfect mothers and partners, who are happy, fulfilled and in great shape. Our to-do lists mount up, the pressure to succeed rains down on us and no matter how much sleep we get, we just don’t feel energised or on point. Instead we feel groggy and stressed out, fuelling ourselves on caffeine and sugar. We resort to spending ludicrous amounts of money on quick-fix solutions, promising to relieve us of all stress and lethargy. They seldom work. Everything starts to spiral and just like that, we reach peak burn-out.
This all sound a little too familiar? Then it’s possible that you could be suffering with Adrenal Fatigue. Although not yet recognised by conventional medicine, Adrenal Fatigue is thought to be triggered by high levels of stress which causes the adrenal glands to start over producing cortisol. Symptoms include tiredness that is not relieved by sleep, lack of energy and motivation, low moods, cravings for salty or sweet foods, depression, irritability, reduced libido, dizziness and weight gain.
Interestingly adrenal fatigue is thought to affect more women than men. Could it be that our increasingly busy lives are starting to take a toll on our health?
Sigrid de Castella, a high-flying business strategist and property developer, was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue during a particularly difficult point in her career. “I’d been working long hours and had a very tight deadline looming. The week before the deadline, I collapsed physically and emotionally - I couldn't get out of bed and after a month of rest I wasn't much better.” She later went to see her GP who did tests to rule out other illnesses and confirmed that she was likely suffering from adrenal fatigue. “I became highly anxious and mildly depressed. I couldn't work much or hold down a regular job. I put a lot of weight on. It was hard because I wasn't really tired, I just didn't have any energy to do anything.”
Her symptoms began to spiral and she found it really hard to break the cycle, turning to alcohol as a way of numbing her pain and helping her to cope. “It was the most difficult and darkest time in my life.” Sigrid confided.
Treatment for adrenal fatigue is provided by alternative health practitioners, such as naturopaths and normally revolves around rebalancing lifestyle factors that have lead to high levels of stress. It’s also recommended to follow an adrenal diet, limiting foods that cause inflammation, such as sugar, alcohol, caffeine and in some cases dairy. Instead eating lots of vegetables, whole-grain carbs such as buckwheat, lentils and quinoa, as well as increasing our intake of B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins C & D.
Sigrid found that eating a low-inflammatory diet really helped her symptoms. She took up yoga and nurtured herself with body therapies, including massage, chiropractic treatments and sometimes just a good old-fashioned soak. “I'm currently 97% pain free” she told me “and finally working to remove the excess weight I'd put on. My mental state is much improved, anxiety reduced and my depression has gone.” But how do we go about re-balancing our lifestyles, especially in a society where success is deemed by how busy we are, where our careers are headed and how much money we’re making? Not to mention the extra commitments of exercising, eating healthily and making time for a million social events.
First and foremost Sigrid found that listening to her body and focusing on her mind-body connection was key in redressing the harmony in her life. “When you have a great connection between your mind and your body, you know exactly what to do. If I'm tired, I listen and rest.” It sounds so simple, right? Listen to the signals our body is giving us and act accordingly? Yet we all too often forget to do this.
The key to finding balance is firstly to understand where your own personal boundaries lie and what balance means to you. Let’s be real here - what your favourite instagrammer's idea of balance is, is probably not the same as your own. This links back, you’ve guessed it, to taking the time to listen to and understand your body. Take up a yoga class to recalculate your relationship with your physical self, meditate for 10 mins daily to tune into your psyche or use an app to track elements of your health. Once you start to tune into your own personal bodily changes and what within your life might trigger them, you can then take steps to remedy it.
Sigrid found that planning her week according to how she was feeling and importantly learning to schedule time out really helped on her road to recovery. “I don't book too many meetings, catch ups or outings in a week - maximum one per day and I plan these well ahead. I don’t do spontaneity well! I also schedule time out, giving myself space. Otherwise I keep a regular routine, and a regular sleep cycle. It's a constant balancing act, but then so is life.”
Yet this really key part, the part that says “schedule time out”, is so often forgotten. Life always seems to get in the way. We deem other areas of our lives as more important than our health. Our markers of success point towards recognition in our jobs and money in our bank balances. That’s not to say that these things shouldn’t be valued, but when they are at a detriment to our health, isn’t it time to start prioritising our wellbeing and put feeling healthy at the top of our to-do lists?
Surely our greatest marker of success should be a healthy body, and mind.
Words by Ariane Mason