As my mum handed over her card to pay the £517 bill that my full medical had just cost, I felt numb. This couldn’t be right, It just couldn’t. I refused to believe it. Was I ill in some way? Had they detected a virus? No, much worse… they’d found nothing. £517 and several invasive tests and they’d found nothing abnormal whatsoever. I was so sure that the blood tests would confirm some sort of allergy or that I was anaemic… Maybe I had an inflamed intestine, or heck a dodgy vagina! Anything would be better than nothing.
This was when my mental health was at its worst. I’d experienced random physical symptoms prior to this, but nothing so intense. These symptoms were vicious and impossible to ignore:
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Heavy/aching limbs
- Fatigue to the extent that I would nap for hours
- Stomach cramps (particularly after eating. I felt like my body was rejecting the food).
- Cloudy vision
- Mild insomnia
- Mouth ulcers
After doing some online research (which I wouldn’t recommend while unstable), I diagnosed myself with one of the following: Parkinson’s Disease, ME, Cancer or some form of heart deficiency.
My mum decided that I should have a full medical to put my mind at rest, so you’d think I would’ve been delighted to receive a clean bill of health? But as selfish as it may sound I wasn’t, in fact I was devastated. “Nothing wrong,” meant that I was insane, it meant that all the pain and discomfort was in my head and there was nothing anyone could do to help.
This is fairly common for people who experience anxiety. In fact, I’ve heard many similar stories. People who’ve had multiple hospital visits and tests, only to come out with no answers and a hefty bill.
After the medical I remember thinking, “I definitely don’t feel right, so what the f**K is going on?”
Did you know that anxiety, although a mental condition can trigger very physical symptoms in the body? I know, how can this all just be anxiety yet AGAIN? However, when we feel anxious or stressed our brain overproduces both Adrenaline and Cortisol (the stress hormones), which in theory give us the strength to fight or run away from whatever is troubling us. Unfortunately it’s never a giant bear or an axe murderer that we’re faced with is it? It’s some dickhead of a manager, or a group of people who for some reason make us feel smaller than a cockroach. So over time this constant production of stress hormones begins to have an effect on the body.
I’ve mentioned her previously, but Fawn Hansen talks about Adrenal Fatigue and the importance of the ‘adrenal glands.’ In basic terms, adrenal glands control the DHEA levels in the body. Trust me, the only thing you need to know about DHEA is that it’s a collection of hormones which regulate the heart rate, immune system, energy levels and most importantly the stress hormones. If the adrenal glands are overstimulated for long periods of time then they start to weaken. Can you imagine running a marathon and at the end someone says, “right you are then..go round again!” They stop working correctly and this is when symptoms start to appear. Some people get Eczema, some have stomach problems, while others just feel exhausted and run down constantly. These are all signs that your adrenal glands are over worked and need time to recover.
So the good news is you’re NOT imagining it, those nasty symptoms are in fact real.
The bad news is that can’t just pop a magic pill and make it all better, it takes time and effort.
Essentially you need to rest both your body and mind. Easier said than done I know, if someone says “RELAX” to me, I immediately feel stressed!
- EXERCISE – My number one ‘go to’ response. It’s never what anybody wants to hear, but it works. The important thing is to listen to your body, don’t punish it. E.g. If you’re completely knackered, then going for a run probably isn’t the best idea. Instead try walking, swimming or yoga. However, if you feel strong enough for a cardio session then do it, as this will help to regulate cortisol levels.
- DIET – Yes I’m fully aware that when you’re tired and feeling low, the last thing you want is a salad. However, the bacon sandwich that you’re craving has zero nutritional value and will only prolonged the symptoms. Instead go for something rich in Omega three and zinc.. Fish is good, or avocado, chicken and almonds. Leon and Pret have lots of yummy options!
Drink plenty of water (at least two 50cl bottles a day), yes you can add a little cordial if needed. This will help the body to flush out any toxins and keep you feeling hydrated. Oh and for God’s sake cut down on your coffee intake, it might help in the short term but caffeine is like fuel to adrenaline and is therefore counter-productive. Btw, fizzy drinks and tea also count as caffeine.
I’m not suggesting that you go on a diet, just keep an eye on what you’re putting into your body.
- NATURE – If you live in a big city that’s filled with noise and disruption, then plan a day out to the countryside. (Neither Green Park or Hyde Park count, because they’re always rammed and filled with overpriced ice cream vendors!) Instead, find some proper leafy trails to have a wonder in. The tranquillity of the countryside is incredible. When I was very ill I took long walks in the Lake District and it was such a tonic. There’s no need to invest in hiking gear, just find some sensible shoes and a coat and you’re off!
- TACKLE A PROBLEM – The 80/20 rule sums this up perfectly in economic terms, but we can also apply it to our everyday lives. Write down a list of things that are on your ‘to do’ agenda and which are causing you stress e.g. Complain about Ebay purchase, clean the house, ask boss for pay rise. Give yourself three – five days to either tackle the things on the list head on, OR let them go. There is no in between, snooze button or deferral… you either do it or let it go. You’d be surprised how liberating this can be.
- TIME OUT – Take some time out for yourself. (At least two hours a week). Let everyone know in advance that you will be unavailable during this time. I normally have a hour on Tuesday nights and an hour on Sundays. Taking time for yourself means exactly that. Leave your phone and laptop in another room, shut the door and put your feet up. You can read, listen to music or have a bath. The point is that it’s YOUR time and you spend it 100% on yourself, not thinking about other people.
- MEDITATION(ISH) – I must admit that I really struggle with meditation. It’s not something that’s ever ‘stuck’ with me. However, I can definitely see the benefits and would recommend taking at least 5 minutes a day to do some deep breathing and focusing your attention on the body. Apps like Headspace offer easy guided tutorials.
I’m going through a phase of adrenal fatigue at the moment. I’m recovering from a nasty cold virus, I’ve just finished my book and I’ve been burning the candle at both ends too much. Therefore, I intend to make my mental health a priority this weekend and I encourage you all to do the same. 🙂