What Missionaries Need to Know about Adrenal Fatigue

May 10, 2016

Adrenal Fatigue Missionaries

One of the things we don’t talk about too often on the mission field is our bodies.

Ok, we think about them all the time, like “Is Africa making me fat?” or “Do I have a tapeworm?” or “I wonder what kept me up on the toilet all night long.”

But rarely as missionaries do we have a high value for taking care of our bodies because we’re too busy taking care of everyone else.

Some people overseas seem to feel they earn gold stars based on how much abuse they’ve inflicted on their bodies to “sacrifice” for the cause.

We say things like, “I haven’t showered in five days,” “Well I’ve only eaten posho and bugs,” as though we’ll gain more street cred.

Often, 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 “bad-ass” or serious about our calling.

I was guilty of this myself.

Or maybe deep down we believe the lie that God will be more pleased with us the more hardship we endure.

The truth is God is already pleased with you.

The hardships of the mission field are real and require sacrifice and it can be more challenging to implement self care due to harsh conditions, but not impossible.

Some of us slowly stopped taking care of our bodies because we didn’t see it modeled by missionaries before us and so we let demands rule us.

Many missionaries are struggling with weight issues or chronic health problems.

Somewhere between the heat and exhaustion I stopped running or eating healthy. Over the years I forced my body to endure extreme stress and malnutrition and ended up with candida albicans of the gut from all the antibiotics I was on from various diseases. I had chronic joint pain which is linked to candida. I also developed adrenal fatigue and thyroid issues because I didn’t understand the long term effects of my lack of self care.

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. 

I believe God wants us to take care of our bodies.

Our bodies are His temple and the more we take care of them, the healthier we will be to do His work. And yet so often as missionaries our bodies come in last. The result of this is that many missionaries and ministers are developing things like adrenal fatigue.

Adrenal fatigue can develop after periods of prolonged or chronic stress. 

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 it disrupts immune function, sleep, blood sugar, and the thyroid which can lead to extreme exhaustion. You might feel guilty because you feel exhausted all the time, but perhaps there is something deeper going on.

Some signs of adrenal fatigue include:

  • Body aches
  • 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
  • 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 and I highly recommend this for people on and transitioning off the field. 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 I’m finally recovering from my health issues and living a fuller life in the Kingdom.

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 thoughts lead to stress)

Some of the top superfoods for adrenal health include:

  • Celtic or Himalayan sea salt
  • Kelp and seaweed
  • Seeds, such as pumpkin, chia and flax
  • Nuts, such as walnuts and almonds
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Fatty fish (e.g., wild-caught salmon)
  • Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.)
  • Avocado
  • Olives (olive oil)
  • Coconut oil

Some great supplements to include in your diet to heal adrenal fatigue are:

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.

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. For example, poor gut health is linked to depression and anxiety. 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 health, 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.

How are you learning to take care of your health?

**I work as a life coach with missionaries overseas and in transition to reduce stress, identify negative beliefs, and develop a self care plan so they can be more successful on the field or in re-entry. I want to see you thriving, not just surviving. Contact me today if you are in need of help in these areas: saritahartz@gmail.com 

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