I was never addicted to caffeine, drugs, or other substances, but I was addicted to cortisol and abusing my body.
I used to feed off the rush that I would get from working under pressure. It was almost as if I would intentionally wait until the last minute to do things, or I would take on extra projects and responsibilities just so I could work under pressure and get naturally high from it. It was a happy, anxious feeling.
I remember buzzing around like a crazy worker bee, fueled by being overly productive all the time, and I was damn proud of it! I viewed being productive as one of my best qualities.
I worked long hours during the week, I exercised for long hours almost every day, and I stayed up burning the midnight oil on the weekends.
I fed my body processed, low-calorie food to keep my weight down and alcohol to let loose, and I starved it from having any downtime.
I eventually started to crash and burn—it all started to catch up with me.
I was what I now call a “cortisol junky,” living off cortisol all the time and feeling turbo-charged as a result of it.
Cortisol is our fight or flight hormone that is released when we’re stressed. It is supposed to give us the energy we need to run from whatever danger is stressing us out—a lion, a car accident, a natural disaster.
Our body doesn’t know the difference between those life-threatening circumstances and the artificial stress that we create in our lives with work, devices, and expectations that we place on ourselves.
The adrenaline can be addicting. We feed off of that stress response, feeling amped up from the cortisol rush, and keep pushing through whatever the pain might be.
When I was about to turn 30, but felt like I was 40; I knew something had to change.
The constant stress put me in a state of cortisol or adrenal dysfunction, and it was taking a toll on my health. I didn’t know it at the time, because my adrenals were in overdrive, pumping out cortisol and making me feel like the Energizer bunny.
I look back at how I was moving through life, and I can’t believe what my body was tolerating. It was screaming at me to slow down. I was anxious all the time, had dizzy spells, constantly felt like my heart was pounding out of my chest, and I was always running out of time.
I eventually reached my rock bottom and got the reality check I needed the first time I ran an adrenal test on myself. My cortisol was off the charts, and my estrogen and progesterone were super low as a result.
I decided I wasn’t going to tolerate living this way anymore. Three years later, my days look and feel much different.
Here’s a snapshot of what a day in the life of a recovered cortisol junky looks like:
Then: 5:40 a.m.—Drag myself out of bed, immediately have coffee, check emails, feel stressed and anxious about number of emails and things to do.
Now: 5:40 a.m.—Wake up without an alarm, feel rested and peaceful, mosey around the house.
Then: 6:45 a.m.—Do a crazy, intense workout and feel wired but tired after.
Now: 6:45 a.m.—Do a workout that is energizing, but not exhausting, with some stretching.
Then: 8:45 a.m.—Rush to get ready, check emails every minute, move a mile a minute to get things done and get to work, spill things, and forget stuff.
Now: 8:45 a.m.—Get ready, meditate, and set mindful, positive intentions for the day.
Then: 12:00 p.m.—Scarf down food while working before next meeting that I crammed in, fighting to keep my eyes open and energy up.
Now: 12:30 p.m.—Eat a relaxing lunch while sitting outside.
Then: 4:00 p.m.—Hit an afternoon slump, need coffee to stay focused on work and to be awake.
Now: 4:00 p.m.—Meeting with clients and working on projects at full steam.
Then: 7:00 p.m.—Check emails until bedtime, watch TV, Facebook, mind racing about the next day.
Now: 7:00 p.m.—Walk the dog, meditate for 30 minutes, check Facebook for five minutes.
Recovering from cortisol dysregulation means learning to let the little things go.
I had the power to change things. I didn’t work in an emergency room, so no one was going to die if I decided to do things differently.
Getting my adrenals tested is what empowered me to make the changes.
Cortisol dysregulation inhibits our ability to handle stress, thus making us feel more stressed and dysregulating cortisol even more. Yet, we feed off the artificial energy and adrenaline-like feeling that cortisol gives us. It’s addictive just like a drug, and it can become a vicious cycle.
The long-term side effects of cortisol dysregulation can be very serious. It predisposes us to cardiovascular and autoimmune disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and premature aging—just to name a few things.
In this day and age, with all the stressful demands in our lives, I’m a firm believer that everyone should be getting their cortisol tested as a tool to improve their health. It was just the reality check that I needed to turn my life and health around.
The symptoms of adrenal dysfunction (fatigue, weight gain, wired energy) can be easily overlooked, and most people don’t realize they’re in it until it’s really affecting their health.
I like to say, “Don’t guess, let’s test!” Then you can consciously do something about it. Become empowered in your health.
Author: Jenn Malecha
Image: Unsplash/Carl Heyerdahl
Editor: Travis May
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