How to stop feeling exhausted
If you’re busy a lot of the time, and you’re exhausted, you could be ‘tired but wired’.
If you are tired, even if you get sick a lot, you probably think it’s just because you’re working too hard and not getting enough sleep.
You’re partly right.
It’s also because of your hormones.
We tend to think hormones are mostly in charge of our periods and fertility, which they are.
But they’re responsible for a few other things too.
Take cortisol for example. It’s your number 1 stress hormone and essential to your survival. It’s produced by your adrenal glands which are like little caps sitting on top of your kidneys.
When your cortisol is working well you wake up feeling ready for your day.
You feel calm and have all the focus and energy you need to get things done.
You sail through the month and you’re rarely ill.
If it’s been a while since you could tick all those boxes, read on to find out why not and what you can start to do about it.
How cortisol works
Here’s what you need to know about cortisol.
Cortisol controls your hunger, digestion, blood pressure and sleep patterns. It also helps you think and act quickly when you need to respond to danger.
Like a fire alarm switch, it’s designed to be pressed only in an emergency.
Nowadays everybody’s cortisol switch is always on and it’s not good news, for women especially.
When you are startled or even running late, your instincts feel fear. In response to that fear, the part of your brain that controls your hormone system sends out messages telling your adrenal glands to produce more cortisol.
The extra cortisol increases your blood pressure so it can bring fresh oxygen to the brain. (That’s what helps you think and respond quickly in an emergency.) It also floods your cells with glucose (sugar) so you have a surge of energy to speed you up.
Stress used to be a rare occurrence, but these days it’s hard to get away from it.
Too much cortisol
Here’s how it starts to go wrong.
Everyone has a hormonal feedback system. It tells your brain when everything is under control so it can relax and stop sending out the cortisol stimulating ‘fight or flight’ messages.
When you’re overloaded by stress your feedback system stops working properly and your cells stay flooded with excess cortisol. We all need ample recovery time. If we don’t get it, all kinds of problems start to build up.
This is how excess cortisol makes you feel:
- Stressed (you over-react to small things)
- Anxious or ‘hyper-vigilant’
- Wired but tired
The long-term effects of high cortisol are more serious: metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease or even cancer.
That probably sounds like a worst-case scenario and a long way off, but the short-term impact isn’t great, especially for women.
Too little cortisol
Everyone knows the story of the boy who cried ‘wolf’. When your brain keeps telling your adrenals to produce cortisol they stop listening. They’re simply worn out. No wonder you feel exhausted.
Cortisol is your emergency hormone that keeps you alive when you are under threat, so your body has a backup plan.
In simple terms, it very cleverly ‘steals’ other hormones and converts them into cortisol instead. The ‘stolen’ hormones affect your reproductive system, and that shows up in your periods.
This is how you feel:
- Ill all the time
- Low sex drive
- Fertility issues
None of this is really great news for women, but it’s so common it’s almost the new normal.
How do you know when your cortisol is in balance?
When your cortisol is in balance, it rises in the morning to help you get active at the start of the day. It should remain fairly stable until it reduces slowly in the evening in preparation for sleep.
This 24-hour daily pattern is called a ‘circadian rhythm’.
Work with your circadian rhythm instead of against it, and your body will thank you for it.
This is how you feel when your cortisol is in balance:
- Clear and decisive
- Happy and productive
- Relaxed and able to ‘go with the flow’
- Healthy and able to resist illness
- You have healthy periods
Why evenings are important
Night-time is when all your hormones get a chance to repair, balance and get back in sync with each other. They do this naturally when you are asleep.
If your sleep is delayed or interrupted then you end up feeling exhausted, plus you might even feel depressed.
As humans, we are designed to wind down as the sun goes down.
Artificial light allows you to stay up late, catch up on email and do online shopping. You cook and eat later too.
The extra stimulation from screens causes an upswing in your cortisol.
With high evening cortisol, it’s not surprising if you have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep or simply getting a good night’s sleep.
If you are tired in the morning and high energy in the evening, it’s likely that your cortisol is out of balance.
Natural ways to stop feeling exhausted
Luckily there are many ways to balance cortisol naturally.
The simplest (and the hardest) things are changes to your daily habits:
- Minimise screen time in the evening
- Install f.lux to remove over-stimulating blue light
- Create an evening routine that includes relaxation time before bed
- Switch to calming exercise – yoga or pilates
- Learn mindfulness or meditation
- Turn off or take breaks from notifications
- Wake up with an alarm clock, not your phone
- Create a simple morning routine so you don’t have to rush
- Set aside one day a week to relax and take it easy
Nutrition and herbs are natural ways to stop feeling tired:
- Reduce alcohol and caffeine as they stimulate cortisol.
- Stabilise your blood sugar with good protein and extra plant based food.
- Calm your nervous system with B vitamins and magnesium.
- Nourish your hormones with omega oils.
- Balance your adrenals with adaptogen herbs such as rhodiola, ginseng, and ashwaganda.
- Relax before sleep with ‘nervine’ herbs such as lavender, chamomile, and valerian.
A woman in her early 30s came to see me last year for low immunity, tiredness, and anxiety.
She described herself as having ‘brain fog’ and found it difficult to remember things. She was a lawyer and worked long hours in a demanding job. High-intensity exercise provided stress relief and gave her energy.
Here are the three steps that helped her feel normal again.
- Nutrition: protein at every meal, spirulina in a daily smoothie and omega oils in her salads.
- Relaxing exercise: switch to yoga and pilates for exercise to calm her nervous system.
- Homeopathic remedies and homeobotanicals to strengthen her immunity, balance her hormones and reduce her anxiety.
A ‘new woman’
Within a few months, she told me she felt ‘pretty much like a new woman’.
“I think back to when I was first starting to see you and how ‘over things’ I totally was. It has been an incredible journey and I’m so happy you’ve been there every step of the way.”
Later in the year, she was delighted to find herself pregnant.
She’s also made a powerful decision to change her career to a new and positive direction.
If you’re exhausted all the time, this is not normal.
I can help.