As I dig in to work with yet another chronically overtrained client, I'm compelled to share my simple approach to coaching through adrenal fatigue.
First, let's back up. What is adrenal fatigue? Adrenal fatigue is an amorphous set of symptoms resulting from a chronically-taxed adrenal system. When the body lives in its fight-or-flight (sympathetic) nervous response for too long without a break, it exhausts its hormonal response to stress thus becoming disregulated. This disregulation can cause chronic fatigue, extreme weight gain or loss, thyroid disorder, increased propensity for musculoskeletal injury, and a suppressed immune system. On a subtler level, those suffering with adrenal fatigue might report a lack of appetite, increasing anxiety, less motivation to train, and emotional volatility. Essentially, the body in this fatigued state becomes unable to cope with stress.
The athletes with whom I work generally have adrenal fatigue originating from one or both of the following:
Clients with a heavy load of multigenerational trauma or with a history of abuse, neglect, or other attachment issues often exhibit signs of adrenal fatigue - even without having overtrained. This happens because people with a higher nervous system set point often have a hair trigger response to stress. These athletes are victims of sexual assault, descendants of genocide survivors, those raised in extreme poverty, those who were adopted or fostered as children, and people with absent or uninvolved parents. Though they might maintain a reasonable training load, they are often functioning in an activated nervous state without knowing it.
In our work together, clients exhibiting this wing of adrenal fatigue learn the tools and tricks of controlling and calming one's autonomic nervous system. Over a series of several months these clients begin to report increased awareness of their surroundings, reduced phobias of being alone/in the dark/etc, and they begin to heal long-term injuries and nagging yet unspecific illnesses.
As I've written about extensively before, overtraining in our yang athletic culture is all too pervasive. Pushed by Western society to 'conquer', to 'push through it' we lose track of our body's intelligent cues to rest. Clients dealing with long-term overtraining often present with adrenal fatigue - the condition that finally makes them stop and rest. Overtraining is often coupled with dysmorphic body image issues and/or eating disorder. Would you believe that about 75% of my clients, male and female, self report having had or are currently amidst an eating or exercise addiction?
In order to recover, these clients work with their mental health professional concurrent with me. We begin to reframe the concept of yin athletic practices as part of the athlete's job. Again, over the course of several months, these athletes begin to dig themselves out of their deep energetic hole to rise again like the Phoenix.
By partnering with Seattle-based acupuncturist and ND, Dr. Liz Carter, and bodyworker, Alex Sollek, I work closely with my clients to allow them to simultaneously rehab their adrenals AND continue to progress on their path of mountain endurance.