Perhaps more than any other holiday, Christmas is the one where we take time off specifically (or so it seems) to beat ourselves up. It’s a time of excess drinking, eating, spending and partying, and it takes its toll.Even those who try to moderate their excesses fall prey to the pressures of trying to shop, wrap, cook, entertain and, let’s be honest, simply smile, more intensively than at any other time of year. Most of us emerge from the festivities in worse health than when we started, due to over-indulgence of various kinds.
Then, suddenly, we’re back to work and the annual cycle begins all over again – and your body has a lot of catching up to do.
It’s widely recognised that our brains need time off work, but we rarely consider that the rest of our body could use a break. The nearest most of us get is a half-hearted New Year detox designed to take the stress off the liver – but what about our other organs?
The Western lifestyle is particularly hard on the adrenals, the pancreas and the mitochondria (the energy making ‘organelles’ inside every cell). Sugary, caffeinated diets, chronic stress, and 24/7 living push these organs and the systems they control to the limits of their capacity all year round; even a strenuous exercise plan can have an adverse effect if your diet isn’t up to it, or if your alcohol intake is high.
I know it’s inconvenient to have to slow down because your body can’t keep up – but it’s important to see these as early warning signs. The problems caused by fatigue in these organs can quickly become more serious if they are ignored. They set the stage for diabetes and obesity, heart disease and cancer, hypertension, depression and chronic fatigue. By the time clients come to see me they have often been ignoring the signs for years- until something happens that can’t be ignored any longer.
So what are the signs to look out for?
Adrenal fatigue: erratic sleep patterns,difficulty getting up in the morning, drowsiness during the day or evening (or sometimes an evening energy bounce after feeling tired all day), feeling more tearful and emotional than usual, brain fog, light-headedness or dizziness, irritability and lack of stamina, lack of sex drive, frequent colds and infections, allergic reactions, poor wound healing, low blood pressure, fainting, inability to deal with stress, craving salty foods, frequent urination.
Pancreatic fatigue: an increasing ‘sweet tooth’, an expanding waistline (or unexplained weight loss while eating the same amount), feeling hungry right after eating, frequent urination, unusual thirst, increased sweating, dry mouth, dehydration, feeling very tired, blurred vision, headaches, slow wound healing, recurring thrush infections, itchy skin, pins and needles, erectile dysfunction, type 1 or 2 diabetes, indigestion, constipation, tummy upsets, IBS, allergies, food sensitivities, skin rashes, acne & acne rosacea, intestinal wind, bloating.
Mitochondrial fatigue: because mitochondria in habit every cell of your body the symtoms are less defined. Mitochondrial insufficiency is a core factor in chronic fatigue; think poor stamina, aching muscles, heavy limbs, hyperventilation, immune disturbances, low blood pressure, feeling better lying down. In truth all of your systems will be impacted, resulting in a general feeling of being run down and demotivated. Even the brain is affected so you may experience memory problems, mental slowness, difficulty focussing or multi-tasking.
In real life they tend to be linked, and it’s not unusual to see a cascade reaction where adrenal fatigue leads to pancreatic fatigue and then to mitochondrial fatigue. If you recognise some of the tell-tale signs it’s relatively easy to reverse the damage. The further down the track you are, the more TLC you’ll need but essentially all we’re talking is a very good diet, a few weeks of early nights and some time each day spent switching off. It’s not rocket science, but it does require you to recognise that your body needs your help – especially if you are several decades into a high octane lifestyle.
So, if you are thinking about how to spend your time this Christmas, or dreaming up holiday plans for 2016, do yourself a favour and schedule some time off for your body as well as your mind.