I don’t like to open an article by giving away the point of it, but let me answer the question of whether Adrenal Fatigue is fact or myth by saying it is a real thing.
So, if it’s real, let’s try to understand what exactly it is, why it matters and what to do about it. We have to start by understanding what the adrenal glands are in the first place.
First question: What are the Adrenal Glands?
They’re two glands located right above your kidneys, and they control the release of your fight-or-flight hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. These two hormones trigger a series of biological reactions that allow you to do intense things in the face of danger, stress or some other major, physical thing. The story people always use is the one of the woman who lifted her car off her baby after an accident. Or you hear an animal kingdom reference of a gazelle using fight-or-flight to get away from the cheetah that’s chasing it. In both cases, the hormones released divert your body’s energy to what matters most – fueling and using muscles. Immune functions shut down, blood pressure and heart rate rise, the body releases lots of sugar to fuel muscles through the use of insulin, etc.
This is all fine and useful in extreme moments, but when your body is pushed into this state too often, the system gets exhausted and so do you. We’re not meant to be in a constant state of emergency – the cheetah doesn’t catch us, or the car accident we were almost in was avoided – yet our society and our diets have driven our systems to be in this high-stimulation state nearly all the time.
Second Question: What is Adrenal Glad fatigue?
We seem to compete on who gets less sleep or has more work to do, and wear it like a badge of honor. The way we eat with high levels of processed and inflammatory ingredients (gluten, refined sugar, dairy, etc) taxes our system and not purely nourishing it. So many of us have a dependency on caffeine. The workday truly never ends and neither does the stress that comes with it given our constant flow of emails (who works 9-5 anymore when you get work emails 24/7?), texts, tweets, Facebook notifications, etc. through the night and over the weekend.
The result of all of this is that we end up in a near permanent state of stimulation. Our body responds by calling on more of the stress hormone cortisol and the cycle just ends up intensifying and draining us more and more. The adrenal glands are literally working non-stop to respond to the state of stress we operate in, and that eventually starts to wear on them and creates adrenal fatigue.
Third Question: So why should I be concerned about Adrenal Fatigue?
What are typical symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
The list is long, and many signs of it can be from other things, too, but generally you would see:
- Body aches and muscle pain
- Excessive sweating from little activity
- Issues concentrating
- Easily startled or irritated
- Low blood sugar
- Salt and sugar craving
- Muscle twitches
- Sensitivity to light
- Heart palpitations
- Easily irritated
- Salt cravings
- Light-headedness upon standing
- Feeling tired and wired at the same time (and resultant poor sleep)
- Premature aging
- Dry skin
- Low sex drive
- Women may experience cystic breasts
- Thyroid imbalances
It’s a long list, but you can see a theme in it.
Exhaustion down into your muscles that sleep doesn’t seem to help – if it comes at all, spiky energy (low sugar, then highly stimulated) and just a general theme of being imbalanced.
If you suspect it or aren’t sure, you should see a doctor, but know that adrenal fatigue is still not widely understood or accepted by traditional, mainstream physicians, so you are often best served by an integrative medicine physician. For example, Dr. Will Cole is a frequent writer on the subject and has a good approach to identifying and addressing it that he describes in this article.
We seem to compete on who gets less sleep or has more work to do, and wear it like a badge of honor.Tweet This!
Fourth Question: So what can YOU do about Adrenal Fatigue?
- Adequate, consistent sleep – get into bed at the same time each night, and avoid stimulation for at least an hour and half before bed (TV, bright light, etc). This can sound tough, but the payback is huge. It can take time to start working, so build the habit and stick with it for at least a few solid weeks.
- Take time out for yourself. You need some ‘me time’ to decompress and just pay attention to your needs without the demands of external stressors.
- Meditate daily. It doesn’t have to be long, but it’s important to take some time to recenter, focus, and calm yourself. Yoga is another great way to bring peace and focus into your life.
- Cut out alcohol. There are so many reasons for this, including the high sugar content, the chemicals in it, and the toxins that you’re asking your already-taxed body to process.
- Eliminate refined sugar and processed carbs. Try to eat a clean, whole food diet where sugar is the sugar that naturally grew in the plant you’re eating, and the carbs exist as they grew and not after some process involving machines, heat and chemicals to reshape and recolor them. Like with alcohol, the less the you tax your body, the better, and food can heal or hurt, so choose wisely.
- Kick the coffee habit. I know Dai would disagree on cutting it completely, but let’s at least talk about how much coffee you’re having. We’re talking about the habit – the dependency you may have developed on coffee to get you through your day. That’s a clear sign you’ve gone too far. I was drinking 4-6 cups a day at one point, and when I didn’t have it, I was a dysfunctional mess! A morning cup o’ joe is one thing, but if you find you’re having multiple cups at regular intervals to keep you going, it’s time to cut back on that over-stimulating dependency.
- Take a look at your life choices and boundaries. This isn’t one you’ll find on the web explicitly, but I think it’s crucial. After you’ve done the first six items above, ask yourself where you’re making choices that are hurting you – not drawing a line on when you’ll handle work emails into the night or on the weekends; over-exercising; skipping meals; being in a relationship that drains you (that includes friendships); not going to a therapist when you have some issues you know you really should be dealing with, etc. Find some places you know you haven’t respected your needs, and build structure in your life to protect yourself.
Our amazing bodies are built to respond to stress in impressive ways that can literally save our lives in the face of great danger and adversity. But they’re not designed to do this all the time, and the way so many of us live has us stressed too much too often. We’re wearing ourselves down. Luckily, we can change this by making the right choices, drawing some boundaries and bringing our body back into balance.
And if all else fails, maybe take a page from the “Office Space” playbook on de-stressing your workspace…
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Bryan Falchuk is the founder of newbodi.es health and fitness coaching and training. He spent the first 2/3 of his life overweight or battling being overweight before transforming his life into one focused on health, fitness and happiness. He coaches and trains people looking to change their lives, has an active YouTube channel and podcast, and shares his own health journey and inspiration via his blog, Instagram and Twitter.