Is your wired, tired and uninspired mind inhibiting your focus?
If so, you’re not alone. In fact, my feeling that way was partially what birthed our 6-week neuroscience-based intensive, The Focus Factor!
What you may not realize is that this isn’t just in your head. Well, it is, but what I mean is that you’re not imagining it!
In fact, what you’re feeling is very real — and it’s something you can do something about.
Your adrenal glands are the little guys behind your feelings of lethargy, and the dip in your cognitive function — but it’s not really their fault. Let me explain.
In recent articles, I talked about your body’s naturally-produced stress hormones: cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline. These three stress elixirs are produced by your adrenal glands, the two little triangular-ish walnuts that hang out above your kidneys.
But as you probably know, stress in the form of too much of these hormones isn’t so great. In fact, stress can actually shrink your brain, inhibit cognitive function, and lead to emotionally driven habitual decisions. So, bad, right?
The challenge is that cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline can actually be quite helpful in small doses. In the short term, they can optimize concentration and allow us to fight off things like looming bears. And they also help you to awaken energized and spunky in the morning.
That’s right, your body naturally produces its highest levels of cortisol in the morning when you wake up. It then tapers down gradually after that, allowing you to sleep soundly, without feeling like a bear is chasing you.
If you’re NOT feeling particularly spunky and spry in the morning and, therefore, choose to grab a coffee (or four), you might also notice yourself feeling anxious, foggy, unable to concentrate, and struggling to sleep soundly through the night.
If so, it’s likely that the constant stream of stimulation is causing a continuous flow of these stress hormones, resulting in what is called adrenal fatigue. (It could also be that you’ve offset your circadian rhythm by spending hours on your device too close to bed, among other things.)
I know this was the situation in my case. Realizing how adrenal fatigue was effecting my body — and my ability to focus — was a game-changer for me!
Your adrenal glands, in their healthiest state, know how to respond to stimulation from cortisol both when you wake up and throughout the day, allowing for your prefrontal cortex to focus on the executive decisions it is intended to make.
However, when you over-consume stimulating things such as caffeine, alcohol, processed foods, news, emotion-inducing situations, or media, your body and mind end up in this zone of chronic stress.
And because of that, they constantly demand more cortisol.
When that happens your body finds itself in a state of dysregulation with cortisol production, which results in the release of un-optimal levels of cortisol at un-optimal times of the day.
Thanks to this constant level of stress, our poor little adrenals have to deal with the brunt of things. Eventually they’re unable to secrete the demanded amounts of cortisol.
See, I told you it wasn’t their fault.
Now, secreting less cortisol might sound like it’s a good thing, but it’s not. Having less cortisol to release can feed your “need” for stimulants, which cyclically demands production of more adrenaline. More stimulation then leads to a reduced ability to focus, and, in turn, increased anxiety.
The challenge is that, like most things related to your body, this negative stress cycle didn’t develop overnight! And that means that you’re not going to fix it overnight either.
It’s also critical that you address adrenal fatigue as soon as you can. If you catch it early enough, you can resolve it by consistently increasing your sleep, reducing stimulant consumption, increasing exercise, and adopting practices like mediation.
But if it continues it can progress to a second stage. In this stage you may see a depressed supply of cortisol in the morning, and an increase at night, leaving you exhausted (and often addicted to your morning java). Ignored, this level of adrenal fatigue can take years to reverse.
Okay. So I KNOW I just got your cortisol ramped way up thinking about your adrenals, stress, and the ramifications of your morning joe addiction.
But like I promised, there are some simple ways that you can give your adrenals some TLC, so that your brain can think, focus, and feel happy, healthy and wise. Here are a few:
1. Check Your H2O Absorption — When we find ourselves proudly wearing the badge of “adrenal fatigue”, our sodium levels become dysregulated and our body begins to lose sodium. Although water is important for basic functions, when you are already in a dysregulated state, consuming more water, though you may be thirsty, could be detrimental since you’ve lost important minerals, including things like magnesium. At this stage, you may need to check with your doctor or an endocrinologist to check that adrenal fatigue hasn’t taken a serious toll on your metabolic health!
2. Skip The Fast — While intermittent fasting and a low carbohydrate diet is absolutely helpful for certain conditions (not to be confused with a dangerous <1200 calorie diet), it can actually put undue stress on the body when there is adrenal imbalance. Eating breakfast within one hour of waking prevents your blood sugar levels from decreasing too much, and your adrenals from producing excess cortisol.
3. Low Impact Exercise —- High impact exercise, as valuable as it is, (hello brain-derived neurotropic factor, or BDNF, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins) can put strain on the adrenals, particularly when those adrenals are already fatigued.
4. Eat Magnesium Rich Foods —- Stress increases your body’s magnesium consumption. So, in addition to sprinkling a bit of sea salt in your water, eating Magnesium-rich foods will also help to support your adrenal glands. Our favorite nourishing foods like dark leafy greens, fatty low-mercury fish, avocado, nuts, and seeds are all excellent sources of magnesium and fabulous snack-sized way to include a little extra vitamin M, to prevent that slump. There is still debate as to whether or not taking a magnesium bath is cellularly impactful, but I know that I always feel a sense of ease and calm after taking a magnesium-rich bath!
So, there’s a good chance that you have an adrenal fatigue challenge. But it’s not the end of the world, as long as you’re aware of it and willing to do something about it. My hope is that a little knowledge about the cause and some tips on how to get them back in tip-top shape will but you and your adrenals back into a happy state!
Note: As always, recognize that I am not a doctor (at least not yet) and this is not medical advice, but consider this a bit of a science resource for you to dig into, be empowered with, and discuss with your doctor.