Exhausted? This could be why
If you’re busy a lot of the time, and you’re exhausted, you could be ‘tired but wired’.
When 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.
How hormones related to feeling exhausted
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’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.
What you need to know about stress hormones
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 on most of the time, and it’s not good news, for women especially.
When you are stressed or even just 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. It’s there to help you think and respond quickly in an emergency.
Cortisol 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.
How stress hormones affect your energy
Here’s how it starts to go wrong.
Everyone has a hormonal feedback system that 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 rest and recovery time.
If we don’t get it, all kinds of problems start to build up and one of the first signs is feeling exhausted.
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: high blood pressure, 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.
Signs your cortisol is out of balance
Everyone knows the story of the boy who cried ‘wolf’.
When your brain keeps telling your adrenals to produce cortisol they stop listening.
That’s why you feel exhausted.
Cortisol is your emergency hormone that keeps you alive when you are under threat, so your body has a backup plan when there’s not enough cortisol available.
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 cycle, especially in the lead up to your period.
This is how you feel:
None of this is really great news for women, but it’s very common.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Signs your cortisol is working well
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.
Here’s how you feel:
- Clear and decisive
- Happy and productive
- Relaxed and able to ‘go with the flow’
- Your blood sugar is stable
- 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.
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.
Remember, if you are exhausted in the morning and high energy in the evening, it’s likely that your cortisol is out of balance.
How to stop feeling exhausted
You likely won’t stop feeling exhausted overnight, but here are some things that can make a big difference in the longer term.
- Spend time outdoors during daylight
- 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
- Choose restorative yoga or pilates
- Learn mindfulness or meditation
- Turn off or take breaks from notifications
- Leave your phone outside your bedroom
- Wake up with an alarm clock, instead of 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
- Cut back on caffeine after lunchtime
- Cut back on alcohol, and try not to drink after dinner
- Stabilise your blood sugar with protein at every meal
- Support your liver and boost iron with leafy greens
- Calm your nervous system with B vitamins and magnesium
- Nourish hormones with Omega 3
- Balance adrenals with adaptogen herbs such as rhodiola, ginseng, and ashwagandha
- Relax before sleep with calming herbs such as lavender, chamomile, and valerian
Exhausted lawyer – case study
A woman in her early 30s came to see me for low immunity, tiredness, and anxiety.
She described herself as feeling exhausted, and having ‘brain fog’.
As a lawyer she 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.
Does this resonate with you?
I recommend you try the self-help ideas I’ve shared in the post.
If you feel you need professional support, I’m here to help.