Superwoman, Super Tired
By Sarah Axtell, ND • May 9, 2015
In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d write about a condition I commonly see amongst my patients that are women, especially busy mothers. In today’s world, women are doing it all. We play roles such as mother, partner, employee, housekeeper, daughter, sister, supportive friend, student. Many women are attempting to be “Superwoman” which can then have depleting effects on their health.
There is often little time in the day to accomplish it all so a constant sense of rushing is ever so present. This constant “fight or flight” state challenges your adrenal glands. Your adrenal glands produce excess amounts of the stress hormone that gives you energy, called cortisol. Too much cortisol results in excess abdominal fat, anxiety, insomnia and thyroid dysfunction, most commonly hypothyroidism. How many women do you know have hypothyroidism? Likely a lot! This is often due to the superwoman complex of trying to do it all.
After an extended period of time of secreting excess cortisol so you can try and accomplish it all, your adrenal glands (or “stress glands”) get tired of producing cortisol at this increased rate and the result is adrenal burnout or fatigue. Signs of adrenal fatigue include:
- Morning grogginess
- Afternoon fatigue 2-4 PM, feeling best after 6:00 PM
- Caffeine dependence
- Difficulties falling or staying asleep
- Increased PMS, peri-menopausal or menopausal symptoms
- High or low blood pressure
- Suboptimal thyroid function or hypothyroidism
- Need to lie down or rest after sessions of psychological or emotional pressure/stress
- Decreased sex drive
- Salt cravings
- Feel better with high fat diet
- Feel hypoglycemic (lightheaded, anxious, irritable) especially under stress
- Difficulties losing weight
- Frequent acute illnesses (colds, flus)
Steps to Take to Combat Motherhood Depletion:
1.Establish boundaries by saying “No.” If you are a superwoman, or the go-to woman that never says “no,” it is time to establish boundaries. The next time you are asked to do something that’s no absolutely necessary, ask yourself these questions:
- “Does it bring me joy?”
- “Is this really how I want to spend my time?”
- “Am I passionate about this?”
If it’s not an absolute necessity and the answer is no to the above 3 questions, say “No” gracefully.
2. Sleep. I know, I know, this is easier said than done when you have small children. Recognize that sleep may be interrupted as a mother so go to bed early (no later than 10 pm) and try and maximize the quality of your sleep by following these steps:
- Sleep in complete darkness.
- Go to bed and wake at the same time every night and morning, even weekends.
- Initiate a “No screen time” rule in your bedroom. That’s right- no tv, no computer, no ipad, no phone in the bedroom.
3. Exercise in a gentle way. When your body is in a state of exhaustion, you can further deplete it by engaging in strenuous exercise. The goal is to reduce stress with exercise not further stress your body out by training for a marathon. Aim for walking, swimming, biking, yoga for 30 minutes 4 days a week.
4. Eat to energize:
- Eat several balanced meals a day. Eat within 1 hour of waking and not within 1 hour of bed.
- Include a protein with each meal and don’t shy away from the good fats (olive oil, coconut oil, butter, seeds, nut butters).
- Eat dark, leafy greens such as collards, kale, chard or spinach every day.
- Do not be afraid of salt. Use sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, or kelp powder to taste.
- Drink half your weight in ounces of filtered WATER every day.
- Sugar and refined (white) carbohydrates
- Fruit juices with the following ingredients: fructose, glucose, corn syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin
- Processed foods
- Hydrogenated fats
- CAFFEINE, Alcohol. See here for more info on the harmful effects of coffee on your adrenal glands.
- Allergic or sensitive foods, such as gluten
5. Supplement with the right nutrients and herbs. A naturopathic doctor can help identify nutrient deficiencies and then recommend the right forms of the nutrients to help you bounce back from that chronic state of exhaustion. A good B complex with extra B5 is one of the first supplements I recommend for mothers. There are several other adaptogenic herbs (for the adrenals and thyroid) that can be beneficial as well. Maca is an energizing herb that also helps balances hormones.
6. Ask for help. Set up a babysitting exchange with a friend where she watches your children for a couple hours one day a week and vice versa. Ask your partner to help with meal planning and prepping on the weekends. Also the help of a naturopathic doctor can reveal components of each superwoman’s kryptonite- hormonal imbalance, adrenal fatigue, depression, poor digestion, inflammation and nutrient depletion. Saliva testing to assess for hormonal imbalances and adrenal fatigue is an invaluable part of my practice.
7. Breathe. Carve out a few minutes daily to focus on taking deep conscious breaths. If you can establish a meditation practice, great! Even if it is not a dedicated meditation practice, I just want you to breathe! Aim for 30 conscious deep breaths daily. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, feeling your belly expand with each breath. This can be in the car while driving to work (turn off the radio). It can be first thing in the morning before the kids awaken. It could be in a relaxing Epsom salt bath.
The bottom line is- Start caring for yourself! Self-care is an integral part of our mental-emotional and physical well-beings. You deserve it, mama!
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.