Spa resorts Koh Samui Thailand

When stress takes its toll

By Caroline Sylger Jones

On a research trip through Sri Lanka a few years ago, I sat opposite a chilled out American woman at The Secret Garden guesthouse in Unawatuna. She took one long look at me and said in a deep, relaxed accent: "Man, your adrenals are on the floor". Uptight, stressed, overwhelmed by the heat and only just holding myself together, I looked at her in uncomfortable bemusement, wondering what my adrenals were and how I might pick them up off the floor.

 As I continue travelling – too much and too often – therapists regularly tell me I need to restore my depleted adrenals, which are the body's "fight or flight glands". When humans were cave dwellers, their adrenals would kick in when they hunted or ran from wild animals. Today, our adrenals work overtime in reaction to minor and major incidents alike:when multiple telephones ring at once or swerving the car to avoid hitting another vehicle.

Our bodies don't differentiate between physical stress (being mugged), emotional stress (an unhappy relationship) and psychological stress (meeting constant deadlines), so when such stressors are prolonged and unrelenting, the adrenal glands can slowly deplete. My symptom was constant tiredness, but other common signs include weight gain, poor immunity, stomach ulcers, hormone imbalances, problems with fertility, insomnia and even diabetes, elevated cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

There is little research on the depletion process – conventional medical tests can only show when the adrenals are seriously burnt out, a rare condition called Addison's disease. Otherwise, there is no way of checking your adrenal health except through self-monitoring. Feeling exhausted and irritable on a daily basis could be a sign.

If you're hovering on the brink of burnout, there are no quick fixes. You need a dedicated period of rest and rejuvenation, followed by an overhaul of your lifestyle. I started by visiting a naturopath who offered tips on how to downsize my life, treatments tailored to my needs and nutritional advice.

I was advised to eat foods rich in calcium and magnesium such as seaweed, leafy vegetables and beans. In particular, reddish vegetables such as carrots, peppers and aubergines would help "build up my blood". I was encouraged to choose oily fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, and eat animal protein at least twice a week. Chinese astragalus herbs, Siberian ginseng, Indian ginseng (withania) and liquorice are also known for helping to treat long-term fatigue. I take my herbs twice a day in water and can really feel the difference.

To prevent adrenal burnout, go for treatments that restore and release energetic and emotional blocks, such as deep tissue massage, Thai or ayurvedic massage, acupuncture, shiatsu, and the uncomfortable but effective Thai abdominal massage "chi nei tsang".

 A dedicated period of time at a wellbeing retreat is a good way to kick start your rest period and to learn de-stress tips and techniques to take home. I checked in for two weeks at Kamalaya in Thailand (www.kamalaya.com), an exceptional, nourishing, holistic retreat that offers a clever Balance & Revitalize programme specifically designed to treat burnt out adrenals – you can book it and other de-stress programmes with specialist Wellbeing Escapes (www.wellbeingescapes.co.uk). As for me, I'll be doing as little travelling as possible for quite some time.

Caroline Sylger Jones is the author of Body & Soul Escapes and Body & Soul Escapes: Britain and Ireland, compendiums of places to retreat and replenish around the world. See www.carolinesylgerjones.co.uk.