I started June off on the wrong foot, or rather on no feet. I spent an inappropriate amount of time in bed (June 1-7) feeling sad. I wasn’t injured or sick, I just didn’t want to run. It was an interesting feeling – having no desire to run or be physically active, but managing extreme restlessness due to the lack of activity. I felt sad, frustrated and directionless for a week, and being lazy certainly didn’t help. Perhaps my mind and body needed this period of reset and recuperation, or perhaps my hormone levels were low and signaled my body to shut it down for a few days. In fact, I did some research on adrenal fatigue and adrenal insufficiency and though I can’t know for certain without a blood test, I believe that I may have (and may still be) experiencing the effects of it.
The adrenal glands rest on top of the kidneys and secrete a few different hormones, including aldosterone, sex hormones (androgens and estrogens), and cortisol. Aldosterone helps regulate sodium and potassium levels in the body, which affects blood pressure and maintains bodily fluid and electrolyte levels. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, wears many hats. It regulates metabolism by controlling blood sugar, acts as an anti-inflammatory, influences formation of memories, controls salt and water balance, and influences blood pressure, plus a few more. It is a necessary hormone, but too much of it can be deleterious to health. Unfortunately, I often engage in a few activities on the cortisol-increase list: caffeine consumption, imbalanced diet, and intense or prolonged aerobic activity. One of the most important factors in whacky cortisol levels is stress. Whether it is a big life event causing a huge shot of stress, or prolonged levels of elevated stress, it needs to be regulated.
During the last year, I have become more aware of my poor stress management skills and have noticed it’s affects on my overall health. When I feel overwhelmed or stressed out, I internalize it and “get into my head” too much, versus practicing calming activities or trying to control my thoughts and emotions. To be clear, I don’t believe that I experience more stress than the average person, but I handle it worse than the average person. I also experience feelings of “shutting down” when I feel there is too much on my plate. Instead of looking at a jam packed to-do list and planning my approach, I look at it, freak out, and scroll through Facebook or do some other mindless activity. It’s definitely not the most effective response and accomplishes negative nothing. The awareness is there, but is for naught if no action is present. I know that breaking it all down into smaller pieces helps me breathe easier, but I often just watch my rational self run away in the presence of the monster to-do list. If I could go back a few years and give my 20 year old self a piece of advice, it would be to start practicing stress management skills immediately. One doesn’t realize how important they are until the stress starts to break one down mentally (and physically, apparently).
On top of long-term elevated stress levels, I often “de-stress” with running. One of the main benefits of exercise is to relieve stress, but it may not be working in my favor. This is something I say often, usually in jest, but I know that there is an underlying element of seriousness to it: running is addicting. I feel and react differently on days that don’t start with a run. I have a harder time concentrating, feel restless, a little antsy, and definitely more stressed out. I don’t have the same amount of endorphins and happy neurotransmitters flowing through my body, and it makes a difference. However, I think that this is true of any long-term endurance runner, whether they care to admit it or not. I also think that a majority of the time, the running and exercise do benefit me. Currently though, it is exacerbating my current feelings of ill health. I’m stuck now between feeling the strong need to log a few miles, but also feeling like it is sucking the life right out of me.
Symptoms adrenal fatigue:
- excessive fatigue and exhaustion
- non-refreshing sleep (you get sufficient hours of sleep, but wake fatigued)
- overwhelmed by or unable to cope with stressors
- feeling rundown or overwhelmed
- craving salty and sweet foods
- you feel most energetic in the evening
- a feeling of not being restored after a full night’s sleep or having sleep disturbances
- low stamina, slow to recover from exercise
- slow to recover from injury, illness or stress
- difficulty concentrating
- poor digestion
- low immune function
- food or environmental allergies
- premenstrual syndrome
- consistent low blood pressure
- extreme sensitivity to cold
This is all my opinion and a theory I have constructed based on knowing my body, health history, fluctuations, et cetera, plus trusty Google.com. I could be completely wrong about the state of my adrenals and what’s going on, but I exhibit 12/16 symptoms on the list. With all of that said, what am I going to do to remedy the situation? It feels like this has been a long-term build up, so I expect it to take a few weeks to re-balance my body. I have cut down on my weekly mileage and only complete workouts when I felt fully recovered, although admittedly, I rarely feel fully recovered anymore. I am reading for pleasure again, which is a huge stress reliever for me. I am conscious of my stress levels and reactions, and trying to keep anxious feelings at bay.
Running-wise, June has been so-so. I took a week off, ran for a week, then took another week off. I’m not sure how beneficial it was, I don’t feel 100% yet. I am running daily and feel as though I am getting back into the swing of things.