I’ve seen an interesting pattern emerge in many of my clients. Many of them had a period of prolonged stress or a traumatic life event happen sometime before their IBS symptoms started.
We know that stress can effect the gut directly but it can also affect it indirectly, through the adrenals. The adrenals are organs that respond to stressful emotions by pumping out hormones. Balanced, healthy hormones are important for maintaining a balanced gut. When hormones get out of whack, we almost always feel the effects in our digestive systems. If we don’t recognize adrenal fatigue and intervene in time, it will eventually cause IBS-like symptoms.
How adrenal fatigue causes digestive issues…
The adrenals are two small bean shaped organs that sit on top of the kidneys. They produce hormones that protect and regulate the gut. They produce adrenaline, DHEA and cortisol.
Cortisol is amazing. It can lower inflammation and balance unstable blood sugar. DHEA bolsters the immune system and helps fight or prevent pathogens from infecting the gut.
In times of perceived danger and stress, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol to energize you to fight or flee. If the adrenals are constantly pumping out hormones to regulate unstable blood sugar, battle infections, and in response to stress, they become depleted. Acute trauma can also crash the adrenals.
Because adrenal hormones protect the gut, when these defenses are down, the gut becomes vulnerable to inflammation and infection. This is when it’s self care becomes crucial to stay in balance.
Unfortunately, during times of stress self care is the last priority as we go into survival mode. We eat for comfort and distraction from our overwhelm. Sugar, alcohol, and sleep deprivation rule supreme.
If you’ve had adrenal fatigue before, like I have, you become familiar with the warning signs and can often correct adrenal fatigue before it becomes debilitating.
Adrenals care is preventative medicine for your gut. But most people don’t know that until it’s too late.
My clients, in particular, are sensitive and anxious perfectionists. And the combination of these traits cause them to crash and burn faster and more dramatically than others who don’t share these qualities. I know from personal experience because I share those traits with my clients.
Personal experience has also taught me that it’s not easy to recover crashed adrenals. It requires the right foods at the right times, supportive supplements and radical self care (which often require lifestyle changes and some emotional/psychological shifts.)
I healed adrenal fatigue along with my IBS, and I kept it away for years by avoiding chronically stressful jobs and situations. Then I started my health coaching business….
Two years into running my business, I tested positive for stage 2 adrenal fatigue with a saliva-based cortisol test. There are 3 stages of adrenal fatigue. Stage 1 you feel energized, like a superhero, and manage to do everything. That was me during the first 6 months of my business.
Then the symptoms of stage 2 caught up with me. I experienced fatigue during the day and a tired but wired feeling at night when trying to fall asleep. I slept fitfully, woke up at 3 or 4 am was exhausted in the morning. I would get light headed or dizzy when getting up from a seated position and I gained hard to lose weight around my midsection. There were also mood swings and depression. Good times.
And yes the irony of this does not escape me. But there’s a reason for everything, and adrenal fatigue, just like IBS before it, became my new teacher. It has shown me where I still need healing. How unhealthy emotions, beliefs and habits could sabotage me. It has brought me face to face with old fears and insecurities.
And it became clear to me that my perfectionism, with it’s mix of high expectations and painful self doubt was the main reason that my adrenals burned out. It’s like having your foot on the break and the accelerator at the same time. It is what made me work compulsively and without balance as if I had something to prove to the world.
So right now, my emotional work is examining my tendency toward perfectionism. And what I’ve discovered is that it’s just fear in fancy clothing! We often wear our perfectionism with pride because we don’t realize that below that shiny facade there’s a feeling of never being good enough.
My perfectionism manifested as a desperation to achieve. For other people, it’s a desire to please or put on appearances. When perfection is the goal, failure is inevitable, which feeding fears about self worth. I compared myself to others and felt crushing responsibility for people’s actions and welfare, things that were way out of my control.
This is the perfectionist trap. The need for control and to do it “right” and a basic distrust of life and self. Having to overcompensate. Never ever being enough.
I am lucky. I’ve been here before so I knew what to do.
I caught myself before before my digestion was affected. I put myself first.
I stopped blogging, social media and marketing my business. I became selective about taking on new clients.
I ate a diet that was low in sugar and high in protein. I took the right adaptogen supplements and practiced yoga nidra.
I let go of my ambition, desire to succeed, and caring about what people thought. I lowered my expectations of myself and took a good look at my self judgement. And then I let that go too.
Gaining expertise on adrenal fatigue has been extremely helpful with my clients. And as I took radically good care of myself, my experience of my business began to improve. I got better clients, who got better results. As I put less pressure on myself to perform, things fell into place. I began working on replacing my fear with faith.
The healing work I’ve done on myself is a big deal. Now is it keeping me healthy but I’m a happier person and feel more peace. And eventually I’ll learn how to do things I care about without burning out.
These days, I feel better, but honestly, I’m not at 100 percent yet. I’ve still got things to learn and I’m working on them. And I will share more about this in future blogs.
I feel good enough to start blogging and sharing my journey. I love reading about the healing journey of others and think it’s important to share mine, even if it is slightly scary to be so vulnerable.
I want you to know that healing is hard and overwhelming for everyone, if it’s done right. It usually takes a few tries, some disappointing failures and some painful lesson to get to where you want to go. Change is hard. The unknown is terrifying.
All you really need to persevere is some faith. And some support. And then the journey unfolds exactly like it is meant to.
This is what I find people struggle the most with. Believing they can help themselves. Believing healing is possible. That they can overcome their personal hurdles and pain.
When you see others take brave steps, it’s easier to take your own.
We are human. We are all afraid and we are in the same boat.
My next few posts will be dedicated to the details of addressing adrenal fatigue and the missteps I took along the way. Mistakes are the most powerful way to learn. Because even if you’re an expert you’re never perfect. But you do get better and better.
Angela Privin is proof that IBS is NOT an incurable disease or a disease at all. IBS is a body out of balance. It’s an invitation for change. After solving her own IBS mystery more than a decade ago Angela trained as a health coach to help others.
Angela uses both science and intuition to help people figure out what’s out of balance in their body. She works with lab tests, dietary changes, supplementation and nervous system rebalancing. Get help rebalancing your digestive system and solving your IBS mystery here.