One of the biggest issues I have found working with high achieving women that effects their health and happiness is what I call ‘Running on Empty.’ This is one of the biggest signs and symptoms of stress in women.
Now, modern women have to juggle jobs, home life, usually have the lions share of house keeping responsibilities, and that is even without adding kids into the mix! And the good thing is that there is so much about women’s empowerment out there now telling us ‘you can do it all, you can have it all,’ that a lot of women feel the pressure to keep it all up and make it look easy!
But when we feel pulled in a million directions, overwhelmed and not having enough hours in the day to get everything done, we start using up our ‘resiliency stores.’ both mentally and in the brain, and physically in our bodies. One of the main issues that happens in the brain and body is that there is not enough energy being produced in your little energy cell powerhouses called your mitochondria. And because there just isn’t enough ‘juice’ in the tank, you have to do something to keep going!
The most common solution is using caffeine every day or most days to get going in the morning, temporarily get rid of ‘fuzzy brain’ so you can get more done in less time, and still have the energy to go to the gym after a hectic work day when all you want to do is ‘zone out.’ The trouble is, if your brain is trying to deal with low grade chronic stress and daily caffeine is onboard, it can really wreak some havoc on your mood, how much patience you have, feeling anxious, and waking up in the middle of the night or having trouble falling asleep, even if you only drink a coffee in the morning!
If you are a smoker, the half-life of caffeine in the body and brain is cut in half, but if you are a non smoker on a birth control pill, the half life is double—meaning it takes your brain and body twice as long to get rid of the caffeine!!! So you may still have effects at bedtime from your morning cup of coffee—crazy right!?
Caffeine produces a central brain and nervous system stimulant affect by blocking something called adenosine receptors. Basically, what caffeine does is increases the excitatory brain neurotransmitters and ’speeds everything up’ and also releases more NE and dopamine, which is why caffeine feels so good, because dopamine is your brain’s ‘reward’ peptide.
But this is also why caffeine in an already ‘revved up’ too excited all the time brain on the way to burnout is a really bad idea—because your brain and body can only keep this up for so long before living in a ‘hyper-aroused state’ leads to issues like anxiety, irritability, issues concentrating, mood swings and eventually fatigue that is only relieved by more caffeine!
In this hyper aroused always ‘on state’ your body also pumps out more stress hormone from your adrenal glands, which makes you crave carbs and also makes your brain really crave quick fuel from carbs AND not burn fats quite as well, leading to you holding onto every ounce of fat for dear life and creating more ‘metabolically active’ fat around your tummy and middle bit.
OK, so we can now see the connection between juggling a hectic busy life, needing caffeine to keep going, and issues leading to anxiety and burnout BUT now what you can do to stop this viscous cycle ?
Well the first step is weaning off of caffeine, slowly, over 2-4 weeks so you don’t get the energy crash and the headaches! Decrease by about a 1/4 cup of coffee each day. To make it even more painless, I use something with my patients called adaptogens, which are special compounds plants make in nature to protect themselves from stress and they can work for us too.
I use my blend which is a combination of corydceps and reishi mushroom in a tincture taken in the morning for the weeks when you are weaning off to give you energy without the jitteriness and crashes that caffeine gives you and provide stress support your body and adrenal glands. You can also find adaptogen supplements in pill form at many good quality natural pharmacies and health stores.