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Adrenal Fatigue Stages: What you need to know about this 21st Century Stress Disease

Adrenal Fatigue Stages: What you need to know about this 21st Century Stress Disease

Chronic stress. We’ve all heard of it, but many people are unaware of the damage it can do to the body on a day to day level. In a world where we’ve been taught to multi-task to get things done, live near electronics (or on them most of the day), lack on sleep, and consider ourselves last when it comes to health and wellness, it can be detrimental to your body if you don’t control your stress.

Your body has a built in stress response, which helped keep your Paleolithic ancestors alive, and these little glands on top of your kidney’s are known as the adrenal glands. These little guys help regulate you metabolism, help your body respond to stress, regulate blood pressure, and produces none essential hormones such as adrenaline.

That’s a lot of responsibility, and as a result these little powerhouses are essential to helping you stay healthy, especially if you have weight loss or wellness goals.

When the adrenal glands are over taxed they can create a set of symptoms which alone don’t add up to much, but when repeatedly brought together show the effects of chronic stress. Symptoms can include:

  • Exhaustion (even after a good night’s rest)
  • Not wanting to get out of bed in the morning
  • PMS/Endocrine system problems
  • Inability to handle stress
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Inability to handle the cold
  • Memory/cognitive problems
  • Craving for salt/sugar
  • Low self-esteem due to low energy output
  • Weight gain around your mid-section
  • Weight loss resistance
  • Chronic fatigue coupled with needing copious amounts of sleep

Do any of these sound familiar? It’s not a random bout of symptoms we’re talking about, either. Instead, it’s symptoms which someone has been fighting with for months or even years. Symptoms which in today’s hectic world are starting to appear in children including tween and teens.

I know, you’re wondering why, if this issue is so prevalent, aren’t medical doctors talking about it and counseling patients to help them head off such a problem? Well, for the most part, in western medicine adrenal fatigue doesn’t exist. If you tell your doctor you have adrenal fatigue they’ll say it’s a made up disease, or test you for an extreme case such as Addison’s disease.

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And, yet, every other organ system in the body can have its own set of issues if imbalanced, but not the adrenals? Adrenals which, when overly stressed, may wreak havoc on your thyroid, endocrine system, digestive system, and sympathetic nervous system. For a better understanding of what your stress response is and adrenal fatigue check out this Mayo Clinic Article on stress response.

Read on and you’ll find the 3 stages of adrenal fatigue/exhaustion and some ways in which you can help heal yourself.

Stage 1: Alarm Phase

This is when your body first responses to stress, also known as fight or flight. It’s when stress is perceived, the adrenals rise to the challenge and aggressively respond to the stressor in your life. The adrenals don’t know the difference between a tough work meeting, the death of a loved one, or a random appearance of a grizzly bear charging toward you, mouth open intent on eating you for dinner. All three scenarios are perceived under one heading “STRESS” and the adrenals are called into action.

The anti-stress response is mediate by the one hormone we’ve heard so much about. Cortisol. In this first stage the demand for anti-stress actions is easily handled by the body, and fatigue is usually very minimal. Adrenal dysfunction is probably rarely noticeable.

In this stage you’re cortisol levels are high, and you’re under a lot of stress. Many times it can be a happy stress, like a new relationship, new baby, or new job. Something which is demanding you to move out of your comfort zone, probably keeping you up at night or on high alert during the day, but will eventually level out. Many times this level will leave you feeling charged and more alive than ever. You get a rush from the stress as you meet the challenges required of you.

The problem occurs when you don’t have enough resiliency to meet the stressor, even enjoy it a little, rise above it, and then let the stress dissipate. Instead, you stay under stress, even after it’s passed.

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When you’re in stage one and you’ve finally moved past your stressor it’s important to allow yourself sufficient time (think twice what you’re initial response would be) to rest, recharge, and let your adrenals heal before throwing anything else at your body. Instead, many people throw coffee at themselves in order to keep moving forward despite the sudden fatigue. Cravings for high carbohydrate or sugar foods may begin to develop. The thing about “needing” that cup of coffee to get you moving in the morning, is that this could be a sign of stage one adrenal fatigue.

A few ways to help reverse stage one adrenal fatigue is by making some lifestyle changes.

  • Get to bed by 10pm
  • If you’re okay to use salt, make sure you’re using a high quality sea salt
  • Limit coffee
  • Remove processed foods and sugar
  • Exercise regularly (nothing too taxing, think movement and a little sweat)

Be patient and give yourself plenty of time to heal.

Stage 2: Resistance Phase

In this stage you’ve stayed under stress for a considerably longer amount of time than your body expected, and it’s beginning to show. It’s also where many people begin to realize “there is something wrong” even though they may not know what it is, or where to get help.

At this stage you may begin to develop a dependency on coffee or other caffeinated drinks to help you get through the day, being able to muster of the energy for your obligations, but crashing hard when you get home at night. Another symptom is “being wired, but tired” – the problem of being exhausted, but unable to sleep.

In this stage your endocrine system is still pumping out the hormones needed, but in order to keep up DHEA and other sex hormones – mainly testosterone – are down regulated. If tested you’ll see the levels begin to substantially drop, along with your sex drive. The reason for this is the body is using all the materials it can to produce cortisol, stealing the needed building blocks from the sex hormones, putting additional stress on the endocrine system.

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You can also see problems in digestion at this point and the body starts to slow metabolism and other bodily functions in order to conserve energy. Sugar imbalances and insulin sensitivity can begin in this stage. At this point your cortisol levels are starting to fail. You’ll see weight gain, and suddenly have more sleepless nights than before.

In addition to the points covered for healing stage one adrenals, you can make sure you add in a few more lifestyle changes to help yourself heal.

  • Choose nutrient dense foods
  • Eat regularly
  • Avoid intermittent fasting
  • Turn off electronics an hour before bed
  • Give yourself space to unwind
  • Take naps and listen to your body, extra rest helps with healing
  • Support with adaptogenic herbs as appropriate
  • Practice grounding or earthing
  • Put routine stress-management practices into place
  • Make self-care and the pleasure principal a priority to help you relax and heal

Stage 3: Exhaustion Phase

At this point the body is breaking down due to the amount of chronic stress it’s under. Cortisol levels are failing, sleep is nearly none existent, and fatigue is a constant friend. On top of it, when you’ve reached this point the body is trying to compensate in every way possible, which means multiple organs and/or system failure is completely possible.

The body has run out of ways to develop the stress hormones it needs to counteract the chronic pressure it’s under. Now the sex hormones are low and the stress hormones are low. This phase is also often called the “Burnout phase”. Aside from a fatigue and low libido someone in the burnout stage can suffer from

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Constipation
  • Sluggish thyroid
  • Compromised mental function
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Bed ridden
  • Fibromyalgia

It seems extreme, but when your adrenals have reached exhaustion the body has slowed as many functions as possible, including metabolism and food digestion. Much like the domino effect, the body will keep down-regulating internal functions until it reaches a point where it no longer feels threatened.

For many this could be bedridden, for others the breakdown in the body happens first resulting in issues such as stroke, kidney conditions, or severe hormonal conditions. Each body reacts differently, but it’s always in an attempt to protect itself. For a better understanding of the effects of adrenal burnout read this article by Dr. Lam.

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At this point a trained professional is your best option to help you heal your suffering and damaged adrenals. Some basic things to implement though.

  • Moderate exercise, with twice as much rest. Too much exercise can cause you to crash harder.
  • Dietary control to help manage and balance blood sugar levels
  • Electrolyte balance
  • Vitamin/mineral support
  • Rest. Rest.
  • Prayer, massage, meditation, and other relaxation techniques 

Keep in mind, healing whichever stage of adrenal fatigue you might find yourself in, can take anywhere from six months to 24 months depending on how bad your adrenal fatigue is, your dedication to getting better, and application of lifestyle changes to prevent it from happening again.

For more information on adrenal fatigue and ways to heal it, check out the pages below.

Dr. Axe: Ways to heal Adrenal Fatigue

Dr. Mercola: Misdiagnosed Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

MD Junction: Adrenal Exhaustion

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Last Updated on October 9, 2018

Why Am I Exhausted? The Real Causes and How to Fix It Forever

Why Am I Exhausted? The Real Causes and How to Fix It Forever

Do you say “I’m exhausted” all the time? Do you constantly feel exhausted for no reason?

Fatigue shows up in many ways including pure exhaustion, the inability to concentrate, anger, frustration and behavioral issues, memory problems, decreased work performance, and slower reaction times. Chronic fatigue has also been linked to medical problems including obesity, hypertension, depression, diabetes, as well as increased automobile accidents.

We attempt to combat fatigue with coffee, sugar, energy drinks, vitamins and a variety of other products that claim to increase our energy and stamina. But what if your exhaustion is trying to tell you something?

If you’re getting enough sleep and you’re still feeling exhausted, it’s time to stop, take a step back and look at what else is contributing to your exhaustion.

As a life-coach and consultant with a diverse background, I like to look at things from a holistic view – from multiple levels – including your body, mind and spirit.

So before you reach for that next cup of coffee, the 3pm sugary snack or the toxic energy drink, let’s look at some other reasons why you might be tired all the time, and more importantly, what you can do about it.

Here are 11 potential reasons why you’re exhausted even when get enough rest, and what you can do about it.

1. You are out of alignment mentally, emotionally or spiritually.

Essentially, you’re off track with who you are and what works for you. Maybe you’re unhappy, unfulfilled, stressed out or just plain bored with some areas of your life. You might be in a relationship that isn’t working, a job you can’t stand or a situation that drains your energy.

Think about a time in your life when you were in the flow, in the zone, and totally engaged and excited about what you were doing. How much sleep did you need then? Even after only a few hours, my guess is you probably found yourself jumping out of bed in the morning without an alarm clock, excited about embarking on the day.

On the flipside, think about a time in your life when you were in a relationship or job that zapped your energy. No matter how much sleep you got, you probably found it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and were tempted to hit that snooze button just a few more times.

We all have things that make us feel great and energized and things that completely zap our energy. Maybe you’re someone who likes to move quickly but you’re drowning in detail; maybe you’re someone who thrives when you are on top of things and you’re feeling like everything is completely out of control. Or maybe you thrive on spontaneity and variety and you’re bored with your life.

When I asked my 11-year-old daughter why she thought people are tired even when we get enough rest, here’s what she said.

“Maybe people are bored and so they’re tired.”

Ever wonder why you can’t drag your kid out of bed for school on the weekdays but they pop out of bed on the weekend? Perhaps this is the culprit.

I had a client share this sentiment recently as she described a period of time in her life: “My boss sucked, the work was boring and it made me tired all the time.”

Exactly.

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When you’re doing things that align with who you are, in environments that align with what you need, you will feel more energized and alive. On the contrary, when you’re in environments that go against your grain, you will feel drained and de-energized.

What can you do?

Take a step back and identify what’s not working. Figure out what you want and work towards it. Do things that give you energy.

What makes you feel healthy and alive, energized and excited? What gets you in the flow and makes you feel most like you? Aim to get more of that in your life.

Find more ways to be in alignment with who you are with these tips:

How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

2. You are out of alignment physically.

When we are structurally out of alignment, it can cause all sorts of issues. When things aren’t moving properly, it makes it hard for your body to do its job. Not to mention, pain is exhausting and zaps energy. And we are pretty hard on our bodies, aren’t we? We drag them around and tell them what to do. They need to be taken care of too.

Here’s what Chiropractor, Dr. Ruth Ziemba, who specializes in NSA (Network Spinal Analysis) has to say:

All of life is energy. We are energy. Any disturbance or blockages to the energy flow creates imbalances… Physical, mental and emotional stressors can cause subluxations (misalignment of the vertebrae) which interfere with signals getting clearly through your body. This can result in many health problems, including fatigue and insomnia.

Recently, I was feeling tired all the time – and felt like I was doing “everything else” right. So, I went to see my chiropractor and a cranial sacral therapist. Two days later, I felt much more energized and clear in my head.

I love the analogy I was once given by a chiropractor: “It doesn’t matter how well you can play an instrument if the instrument is out of tune.”

Such is true with our bodies.

What can you do?

Get some body work. This might include getting a massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, reiki, cranial sacral therapy – anything that works for you.

Don’t know where to start? Ask a friend or colleague for a recommendation. Even better if you have a friend in the field who can refer you to another practitioner. And make sure to schedule regular body work, not just when you need it.

3. You are not eating right (or enough).

What – and how much – you eat has a significant effect on your energy levels.

While there are many different diet protocols, there is one thing all the experts can agree on: sugar and processed foods make you feel sluggish and exhausted. They make your blood sugar go haywire, causing you to feel a brief period of energy followed by a crash.

Paradoxically, those are the very things we reach for when we need a hit of energy.

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What can you do?

I’ve found two things to be consistently true:

One, you need to eat real, clean food. The food you’re putting into your body is either real or it’s not. Avoid processed foods and especially refined sugars. You’re going to feel so much better for it.

Two, find what works for YOU. Gluten-free, Paleo, Mediterranean, high-fat, plant-based, you name it. Experts and well-meaning friends and family may tell you what’s best, but no one knows your body as well as you do. Pay attention, do you feel energized or fatigued after you eat certain foods? What works – and what doesn’t for YOU? Our bodies have intrinsic wisdom if we are willing to listen – and hear them.

4. You are not really sleeping.

We’ve established that you’re (hopefully) getting enough sleep. But are you getting enough high-quality sleep?

Some of the top causes of poor sleep quality include: being on electronics right before bed, interruptions, an uncomfortable mattress or the wrong pillow, grinding your teeth, an inconsistent sleep routine or the fact that you’re not getting through all of the sleep cycles.

What can you do?

Start with the basics:

Get off your electronics at least an hour before bed, make sure you have a comfortable pillow and mattress, set a consistent sleep routine, reduce outside noise and sleep in a well-darkened room or wear an eye mask.

If you have difficulty falling asleep or have poor sleep quality, this guide will help you get a good night’s sleep back:

Poor Sleep Quality Comes from All the Things You Do Since Morning

5. You are stressed or worrying too much.

When you’re stressed, you produce more cortisol (the stress hormone), which can significantly affect your sleep.[1] This is why one of the common side effects of stress is sleep problems.

On top of stress hormones, excessive worry can drain your energy. When you worry, you’re using energy. It’s like when you have an app on your phone that takes up a lot of battery and you have it constantly running the background, your battery will drain more quickly. Such is true with worry and stress.

I think of this very simply. We all start the day with 100 units of energy to use throughout the day. If you’re using half of your energy units worrying, you’re inevitably going to be tired.

What can you do?

Find things that reduce your stress levels. I’ve seen clients have great success with yoga, meditation and exercise. Worrying too much? Get a clear plan in place to take action on what’s worrying you.

    6. You are not breathing deeply enough.

    Deep breathing increases circulation by bringing oxygen to your muscles and brain. This increased oxygen content in the bloodstream leads to greater energy and healthier muscles, organs and tissues.

    To highlight the benefits of deep breathing, I reached out to longtime Yoga Instructor & Ayurveda Wellness Counselor, Vivica Schwartz. Here’s what she shared:[2]

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    “Most people breathe in to the chest only (shallow breathing) and don’t allow the breath to reach deeper into the abdominal region, due to stress and anxiety. Shifting the breath down, so that it expands the belly (and all the muscles that comprise the diaphragm) is one of the best ways to shift our awareness, quiet the mind, release tension and increase our energy levels”.

    What happened when you started to read this one? Did you start breathing more deeply? Great, you’re already on your way.

    What can you do?

    Make a conscious effort to breathe deeply, more often. Try this from Vivica:

    1. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your lower belly.
    2. Breath smoothly in and out through the nose, noticing how your breath expands three-dimensionally in the ribcage.
    3. Now begin to shift the inhalation into the lower abdomen first, so that the lower hand rises first, then fill the chest area.
    4. Reverse the process on the exhalation, emptying the chest area first, then the lower belly.
    5. Continue like this for a few rounds, visualizing the diaphragm contracting and pushing down and expanding the belly area.

    7. You are hanging out with the wrong crowd.

    Have you ever known someone who “sucks the life out of you”? After spending time together, you feel tired, drained and exhausted? “Energy vampires” do just that, they suck your energy. It doesn’t matter how much sleep you’re getting; if you’re spending time with people who drain your energy, you’re going to feel tired.

    What can you do?

    Grab some garlic and your stake and ditch the energy vampires. Make a conscious effort to hang out with people who feed your soul and make you feel energized and alive.

    If you need a little help to spot these people out, here it is: 15 Signs Of Negative People

    8. You are not moving.

    There’s been a lot of research conducted over many years that shows physical activity and exercise improves energy and decreases fatigue.

    In a widely acknowledged 2006 study published in Psychological Bulletin, researchers analyzed 70 studies on exercise and fatigue which involved more than 6,800 people. Over 90% of the studies showed the same thing: Sedentary people who completed a regular exercise program reported improved fatigue compared to those that did not exercise.

    What can you do?

    Get moving! Find ways to increase your exercise and movement. General guidelines are 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity (or a combination of the two). This can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking 20 minutes a day or participating in a sport you enjoy.

    Here’re some tips for you: How to Instantly Fall in Love With Moving and Start Shaking off the Extra Pounds

    9. You are dehydrated.

    The human body is composed of 50-65% water. Some parts of our bodies, like our brain, heart and lungs are more than 70% water. This means even mild dehydration can cause your energy levels to fall.

    Fatigue is a telltale sign you are dehydrated. In fact, in a survey of 300 doctors in the UK, 1 in 5 patients who saw their doctor for symptoms such as fatigue and tiredness simply weren’t drinking enough water.

    What can you do?

    First and foremost, drink enough water. A simple rule of thumb is eight 8-ounce glasses per day. And before you reach for your coffee in the morning, reach for a glass of water first.

    However, Doctor and hydration expert Dr. Zach Bush noted,

    “Proper hydration is not simply infusing your body with water. More specifically, it’s about getting the water inside your cells. To do that, you need to improve the electrical charges across your cellular membranes. Strategies that improve the electrical charge across your membranes include: reducing EMF (electromagnetic field) exposure, increasing electrolytes, and boosting your fiber intake.”

    So, try this intensive hydration protocol: Drink 4 ounces of water every 30 minutes from 7am-7pm for 3 days. During this intense hydration, add electrolytes to every other 4-ounce dose. Then give your body a break from food and water between 7pm and 7am.

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    Learn more about intracellular hydration with Dr. Bush here .

    10. You are too busy.

    You know the saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” I say, leave the busy person alone. They clearly have enough on their plate.

    I work with many clients, especially moms, who wonder why they are so tired all the time. When I ask them to tell me about “a day in their life”, I get something like this: 6am wake-up , exercise, get the kids off to school, work, drive to after-school activities, get dinner on the table, do hosework, coordinate schedules, bath and bed time (for the kids of course), and then back to work after the kids go to bed. And they wonder why they are tired?

    I get it. I’ve been there and I have to be careful of this myself. As a working mom of three young girls, who also wants to be social and active in my community, I know all too well the life of being busy. I’ve had to reign it in, create strategies and make very conscious decisions.

    What can you do?

    Look at your life as an outside observer or “fly on the wall”. What do you notice? Maybe you need to learn to say no? Perhaps you need to take a step back and identify what’s most important? Or set better boundaries?

    Perhaps you need to delegate more, outsource or just get some stuff off YOUR plate! Take just ONE thing and start from there.

    If you want extra advice on this, check out this guide:

    The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

    11. There is something else going on.

    If you’ve tried everything above, you are getting enough sleep and you are still tired, you may want to see your doctor or healthcare professional to uncover any underlying issues.

    Amongst other things, what leads to exhaustion could be medication side effects and other health concerns including thyroid and adrenal dysfunction, anemia and sleep apnea.

    What can you do?

    Talk to your doctor. Seriously. Make an appointment.

    If you’re sleeping enough and doing all the “right” things above and you still feel tired, it’s important to identify what could be the cause.

    The bottom line

    If you’re sleeping enough and still find yourself tired and exhausted all the time, it’s time to step back and see which of these reasons resonate with you.

    In order to get a different result, you have to DO something differently. In order to be more energized and less exhausted, you’re going to need to make some changes.

    What changes will you make? Are you going to eat better, exercise more, stay hydrated, take something off your plate, reassess the job you hate or relationship that’s draining you?

    Take a few minutes right now and think of 1-3 things you’re going to try. Write them down in your journal, on your phone or send an email to yourself.

    Change takes action and it’s time for change. You’ve got this. Take action now and your energy levels will be glad you did!

      Reference

      [1]Dr. Doni: How Cortisol Affects Your Sleep
      [2]Vivica Schwartz,Yoga Instructor & Ayurveda Wellness Counselor

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