I ran a nonprofit in a war-torn region of Africa for six years and during those six years I pushed through exhaustion and didn’t pay very close attention to the idea of self-care. The ministry was everything and any sacrifice seemed worth it, including my own health. Gradually in the busyness, I stopped running or eating healthy. It felt like I lived life in emergency mode rushing from one crisis to another.
I was so stressed out my sleep was disrupted and my hair began to fall out.
Somewhere between the myriad of problems I had to solve, and the idea that I had to put everyone else before myself, I developed adrenal fatigue.
It seems when we are so focused on serving others, we rarely have a value for taking care of our bodies, because we’re too busy taking care of everyone else.
In my sector, it seemed people earned gold stars based on how much abuse they’d endured to “sacrifice” for the cause. How many times they’d had malaria was lauded.
A Cultural Epidemic
In our culture, we love to say how “busy” we are as we stare mesmerized by our smartphones. We wear it as a badge of honor instead of realizing that a lack of control over our own lives makes us a victim. We use coffee and stimulants to help us get through our day, often exacerbating the problem.
As Christians, we mistakenly link self-abuse to holiness as though it is some kind of contest for who can earn the title of “most miserable.” We buy into the lie that self-victimization means we’re more serious about our calling. Maybe deep down we believe the lie that God will be more pleased with us the more hardship we endure for His sake.
I now have new perspective.
Harming ourselves is a kind of false humility we use to garner the world’s approval. But deep down all it really is, is pride. We care more for the accolades of the world or the opinions of others than we do our own souls.
Our bodies are His temple and the more we take care of them, the healthier we will be to do His work.
Overcoming Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue can develop after periods of prolonged or chronic stress. It’s been called a 21st century problem.
The adrenals produce many hormones that regulate our body’s functioning, including cortisol, a hormone activated when our stress levels rise, signaling our body to enter a heightened state of emergency. When cortisol levels remain elevated over time, it disrupts immune function, sleep, blood sugar, and the thyroid which can lead to extreme fatigue.
You may feel guilty because you feel exhausted all the time, but perhaps there is something deeper going on.
Some signs of adrenal fatigue include, body ache, depression, irritability, inability to lose weight (especially around middle) despite exercise, the need for stimulants like caffeine to get going in the morning, tiredness when you wake up, no matter how much sleep you get. They also include food cravings- especially salt and sugar, impaired immune function- getting sick more often, difficulty falling asleep or waking up, inability to face stressful situations, blood sugar or digestive problems, reduced memory or ability to concentrate, dizziness when standing up too quickly, thyroid problems or low thyroid hormone production.
You can test for adrenal fatigue through saliva cortisol tests. It can take a while to recover from adrenal fatigue and it will require lifestyle changes and a reduction of your stress levels to do it.
It’s been three years, but after a lot of commitment and lifestyle changes I’m finally recovering from my health issues and living a fuller life. Going into therapy helped me uncover the root issues that were holding my sense of over responsibility in place.
I’m now able to use the energy I have to life coach other aid workers and missionaries.
Here are some steps I’ve learned to recover from adrenal fatigue: Rest when you feel tired as much as possible. Sleep 8–10 hours a night. (Calm or Melatonin are what I’ve used for sleep). Avoid staying up late and stay on a regular sleep cycle — ideally, in bed before 10 p.m. Laugh and do something fun every day. (Funny TV sitcoms are great for this). Minimize work and relational stress. Eat smaller more frequent meals on a regular food cycle, and reduce your caffeine and sugar addiction. Heal your gut (The gut controls much of our immune system). Exercise (even moderate exercise like yoga/Pilates and walking can help). Avoid negative self-talk. Take time for yourself (do something relaxing like journaling). Seek counsel or support for any painful experiences. (Negative beliefs lead to stress)
There are also dietary choices and some great supplements you can work into your diet and routine that will significantly help you.
I believe that God can heal us from any of these issues. But I also believe He’s given us wisdom and tools to help us heal ourselves if we’re willing to take responsibility.
The reality is we are made up of body, soul, and spirit, created in God’s image as Triune beings. Each part is equally important.
If you abuse your body eventually it will affect the other areas of your life. All these things affect our connection to Father God and our effectiveness to do His work.
Not dealing with adrenal fatigue in our body can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout. How are we going to spread God’s message of love, joy, and freedom to the rest of the world if we are exhausted and aren’t modeling it in our own lives?
It’s time we start taking care of all the aspects of our being, including our bodies. We will be able to serve our communities better with more energy and love if we spend a little effort on ourselves.
[This article was first published in 2017]
Sarita Hartz is a writer, life coach, and former humanitarian worker who writes about wholehearted living and healthy missions in her blog Whole at www.saritahartz.com. She loves helping people transform their lives.