We are living in a chronically under-rested, over-stimulated, and burned out culture. Most all moms I work with come to me with moderate to sever symptoms of adrenal fatigue or burnout.
I wanted to begin our exploration around restorative rest here. Because while restorative sleep is crucial, what I’ve found is that the state of our waking hours is hugely predictive of how possible it is for us to begin to experience restorative sleep in the first place.
And when we talk about experiencing proper rest, the first place to focus is on the state of our adrenal system. While adrenal fatigue is a hormonal state of being, we feel its impact in our our bodies, moods and minds.
Let’s begin by talking about what a healthy and calm adrenal system will look like during the day: The adrenal glands should produce cortisol in its highest amounts during the morning hours as you are waking. But from waking to sleeping the cortisol levels will gently slope downward to a complete absence when you enter bed-time hours.
This is the curve that should happen when we function primarily in the calm response throughout our day.
But a body under a chronic stress response looks very different hormonally.
And depending on how long you have been under chronic stress, your curve will differ.
At first the body wants to try and answer the bell every time. So as we go through our day triggering the stress response our adrenals do their best to pump our adrenaline and cortisol. Which means while the adrenals still have capacity to do so, they will keep your cortisol high throughout the day in response to the high-alert messages they are receiving from your brain.
Over time, though, your adrenals can no longer keep up this kind of production.
And you will begin to see a curve that has highs and lows—major peaks and major valleys all throughout the day and into the night. Either it is trying to respond to the stress call and pump out cortisol or it bottoms out and flatlines into a valley.
Finally, after more time in chronic stress, your adrenal may simply have nothing left to give and there is a low, flatline response all day long.
What’s fascinating about our body is how integrated it is with our minds. And if you observe your thought patterns, many of us can identify these two extremes in how our thoughts tend to go.
On one extreme, we can shift into a hyper-response to stress. When overwhelm hits we spend our days with the pedal to the metal. We hit the gas and go into overdrive. Trying to force life into our schedules, clinch tighter and control the situations in order to barrel through our days.
On the other extreme, we can shift into a hypo-response to stress. This is where we simply disengage. We feel flat and numb. We go into escape mode and feel disconnected to our lives, to the people we love, to the priorities of our days.
Somewhere in the middle, many of us find ourselves toggling between these two extremes.
But here’s the thing we most need to know about the state of our adrenal system: if your body is hormonally in a stress response, then it can not be in a restorative response.
When our stress hormones are high, our restorative hormones are low. They exist like on a toggle switch—when one’s up, the other’s down.
Some of the most important work you can do in terms of true well-being is to re-establish a calm mind and body. And the first step is always awareness.
So today I want you to ask yourself to observe what kind of internal reaction your thoughts are having.
Are you experiencing a hyper or hypo response to your life right now?
And when you identify that…consider what you could do to help shift back into a center, calm, vital place.
For example: If you are in a hyper-responsive mode, your counterbalancing movement is to help yourself release some control, slow down and return to a pace that honors your well-being. Could you give yourself a 5 minute “time-out” to steady your breathing, shift your thoughts back from overdrive, or intentionally take something off your schedule to free up more room?
If you are in hypo-responsive mode, your counterbalancing movement is something that will help you reconnect to yourself, your life and to others. Could you take a short walk to get fresh air and feel connected to nature (a natural limbic calmer)? Could you call a dear friend and share how you are doing or just hear another person’s voice? Could you linger in a long hug with your spouse to allow your heart rates to sync up (scientific proof this is hugely healing!)? Could you cuddle or tickle your kids to break through the isolation and distancing you feel?
These are practices of self-care because they ask you first to check in and see where you are in the moment and then to use a tool or strategy that brings you back into your own inner alignment and well-being.
We are simply not machines that can go through our whole day in 5th gear and simply “turn off” for the night, ready for another go-go-go day in the morning. We were designed to honor ourselves and our inner needs throughout the day.
Restorative rest means honoring our times of activity and output as much as honoring our times of retreat and restoration.
Beginning to see your own patterns of imbalance is the first step.
ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS
1. Can you identify times of hyper-responsiveness and hypo-responsiveness in your own life? Which state is your default during this season of life?
2. Depending on which state you find yourself in most often, what strategies can you put in place (from Lisa’s list above or something else) to bring yourself back into balance on a daily basis?