I could not get out of bed. I could barely tolerate stimulus of any kind…even the laughter of my own kids. Life had become overwhelming and in order to manage I had to retreat into a quiet, dark room for weeks.
It was terrifying lying there wondering if I would be able to live my life again, to get back to the office, to be the husband and father I was committed to being.
Through tests, we discovered my adrenal glands (a body part I had never heard of) were barely functional. Among other things, the adrenal glands produce Cortisol which is a key element in dealing with stress. Basically, I had no longer had a stress response and anything taxing was an ordeal, even climbing the stairs. To say I was exhausted was an epic understatement, I was diminished. This was my rock bottom.
As I educated myself about cortisol, adrenals, the impact of chronic stress, and the importance of sleep, I began to understand how I created this. Up to that point I had worried a lot, stressed about everything, and pushed hard physically to be “healthy” but this was further stressing a system already on the edge. It explained why I had felt so terrible for so long, even though I looked healthy. Through these profound learnings, I developed strategies to cope at first, then to grow.
That was 4 years ago and I am happy, and very proud, to say that I am back to my life and better for it.
For the record, I am not a health professional or doctor, I am simply a regular guy interested in living a happy, fulfilled, and healthy life. But I can pass along what I learned at rock bottom and a few practical tips you can quickly implement in your own life quickly.
Where are you going? What does “success” look like to you?
What galvanized me in my darkest moments was a vision for where I was going. Something I could picture, a very specific target that would signify I was healthy. For me, that indicator was cortisol. I created a chart that showed a perfect cortisol test result and put it up everywhere. On the mirror, at work (only I knew what it was), and on the steering wheel of my car. I visualized this perfect result daily and over time it manifested in my life.
Since then, I have used this visualization technique to bring a number of dreams into reality. Right now, the picture is a collage representing completing an ultra-marathon that I will run in a few months.
Tip: Make a picture of your success, your vision, your ultimate objective. Put the picture up all over the place. Look at that picture with joy in your heart every day, believe it to be true.
Confession: I have never been a good sleeper. It was often the first thing I’d sacrifice. It was easily disrupted by anxiety about the next day, the next conversation, the next deliverable and the arrival of kids only increased these disruptions.
The importance of sleep can’t be overstated; it is foundational to our health.
I have spent a lot of time learning to sleep better and have experienced benefits from
- Targeting 8 hours of sleep every night
- Using ear plugs and an eye cover
- Making the room as dark as possible
- Sleeping in a chilly room
- Using a good pillow (I’ve tried 5)
- Taking melatonin when traveling (and sometimes at home)
- Separate covers and mattress from my wife (yet still same bed)
- Taking magnesium
- Not using screens, wifi, or bluetooth within 30 minutes of bed and leaving all devices outside the room
- Reading a couple pages from a paper book just before bed-time
- Doing breathing exercises
- Avoiding alcohol or caffeine within 4 hours of bedtime (as much as it’s possible)
- Not eating within 3 hours of bedtime.
Tip: The sleep habit that seems to have the most consistent positive impact is waking at the same time each day. It sets the rhythm for the day and will have you tired in the evening and ready for bed.
“You are what you eat.”
This is an old adage yet one that rings true. Our body is a complex system with a myriad of biochemical reactions taking place at anytime. It is possible to improve how we feel by what we eat.
In order to recover, it was necessary for me to remove stimulants, sugar, most carbs, processed food and even alcohol.
Through the last 4 years, I’ve overhauled my diet numerous times from slow-carb to Bulletproof and, most recently, to high fat or, at times keto. Through the journey key principles come up again and again:
- Sugar is terrible, avoid it as much as possible. Minimize simple carbohydrates and keep on eye on how much fruit you eat.
- Foods with many ingredients should be avoided, as should deep fried foods.
- Alcohol is not good for you (pains me to type this), consume in moderation.
- Vegetables are fabulous, eat them; as much as possible.
- Drink water.
With all of that said, you need to live your life and its okay to enjoy a glass of wine or a bagel once in a while.
Tip: Eat within a 12-hour or less “window” each day – between 7 am and 7 pm, for example, or between 8 am and 6 pm. This includes all non-water food and drink.
Often called Intermittent Fasting or Restricted Eating, emerging research suggests wide ranging benefits (good summary here: https://selfhacked.com/blog/intermittent-fasting/).
Originally published at www.randomthingsithink.com