Common adrenal fatigue signs and symptoms and what to do about them

Author: Elly Prior | First published: 27-11-2010 | Modified: 24-10-2017

'Adrenal fatigue syndrome' is a condition that isn't necessarily recognised by the medical establishment. And I don't normally like 'labels' as they don't reflect the enormous complexity of human nature.

And so often, labels stick, as if they're somehow exacting. Professionals are likely to prescribe treatment for the condition (label) or the organ, instead of looking at you holistically.

Nevertheless, I do think that the term adrenal fatigue syndrome positively organises the diversity of body/mind responses to - and fall-out from - prolonged stress. And I know that if you've found yourself here, you may well be going through one hell of a difficult time. Hence this article...

So, I hope the information will help you on the road to recovery from being fatigued, depressed, anxious and stressed to being your 'old self' again. I'm aiming to inform and empower you so that you can discuss your symptoms with your health professional and decide on the best treatment for you.

Talk to your physician!

If you're suffering from mental or physical health problems, please do not attempt to self-diagnose based on the information on these pages.

I have provided the information for you to start your journey to better health and well-being. You're responsible for your own decisions, based on your own research.

Please consult your health-care provider/physician to discuss the information I have provided.

What do the adrenal glands do?

You adrenal glands manufacture and secrete:

  • adrenaline (epinephrine)
  • cortisol - the 'stress hormone'
  • oestrogen
  • testosterone
  • other hormones

They sit at the top of your kidneys and are about the size of a walnut. They continuously turn processes up and down depending on what's happening in your internal and external environment.

When you're not under too much stress for too long, you're most unlikely to ever suffer from adrenal gland fatigue. However, when the demands on you - your body/mind - outstrip your resources, including those of your adrenal glands, they become exhausted. And with that - you too...

Prolonged stress and your adrenals

Feeling stressed? Your relationship is trouble or your children are? Maybe financial worries are getting on top of you? Or you suffer from excessive stress at work. Importantly, these kinds of stresses are unlikely to be resolved very quickly.

As a result, your adrenal glands will be particularly on guard - they're like two members of your 24/7 personal protection team. They ensure an immediate response to an 'assault' (in the widest sense) or even a perceived attack on your well-being. They initiate all the resources you need to fight or flee (or 'tend and befriend' - this is more often a female response).

These days, the stressors you're exposed differ greatly from those your adrenal glands were originally designed for. In ancient times, human beings had to deal with stressors of much shorter duration - like marauding animals, for example.

So, after a prolonged and highly stressful situation or event, the demand on your adrenal glands is above that which they can endure. This leaves you at risk of developing adrenal fatigue syndrome on account of the exhausted glands. And that may affect the normal function of your thyroid too, which could lead to a potentially under-performing thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).

How pressure turns into stress and stress into adrenal fatigue

What might have put you at risk of developing adrenal fatigue syndrome?

To determine your particular risk factors, take the following into consideration:

6 Factors that increase (or decrease) your risk

  1. your perception of the stressor, rather than its precise nature
  2. the length of time you're exposed to a stressful situation
  3. your personality
  4. your personal history and development - both mental and physical, including any childhood adversity
  5. your family history
  6. your genes (remember, though, that you can 'switch' genes on and off through lifestyle choices!)

When it comes to the stressors in your physical environment, remember: you body and mind were designed for life as it was thousands of years ago. Take that into consideration and you'll find it easier to see what potential harm your body is exposed to every day...

15 Potentially harmful influences on your body/mind

  1. Environmental pollutants
  2. Noise - some people are naturally more sensitive to noise than others, BUT there is a limit to what's healthy (see Lowertheboom.org further down)
  3. Dehydration - your body consists of about 60% water if you're a man and 70% if you're a woman, so of course it's going to be stressed if it's dehydrated!
  4. Vigorous and excessive exercise
  5. Poor food choices/availability - not fresh, poor quality, full of antibiotics and/or pesticides, too much of one type or another and so on
  6. Food intolerance or allergies, malabsorption (nutrients are poorly absorbed), maldigestion (poor digestion)
  7. Other allergies
  8. Exposure to extreme hot or cold, or damp
  9. Poor housing - this potentially has social, environmental, psychological and physical consequences
  10. Disruption of the 'natural' light cycle (shift work)
  11. Addictions
  12. Inflammation - swelling, sensitivity, pain, heat in your body
  13. Lack of sufficient sleep - either because you stretch the time you stay awake, or because you suffer from sleep deprivation for other reasons
  14. Relationship problems
  15. Work-related problems
Piles of paperworkModern day stress!

Signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue

You now know that when the demand on your adrenal glands outstrips their ability to respond efficiently, adrenal insufficiency and fatigue occur.

It was Dr James Wilson (see links) who first coined the phrase adrenal fatigue syndrome. Here is a quote from Dr Wilson's website:

"In short, adrenal fatigue occurs when the amount of stress or combined stresses over-extend the capacity of the body (mediated by the adrenals) to compensate for and recover from that stress. Once this capacity to cope and recover is exceeded, some form of adrenal fatigue is likely to occur."

- Dr James Wilson

When your adrenal glands are no longer able to recover fully from the excessive demands of ongoing stress, you start to become troubled by adrenal fatigue symptoms.

Below, you'll find a list of some of the most common signs of adrenal fatigue. But do bear in mind that these can all indicate other potential health problems too. So, you'll need to talk to your healthcare provider to help you figure out what's really going on for you.

17 Signs and symptoms of potentially poorly functioning adrenal glands

  1. Feeling fatigued after even minor effort (physical or mental)
  2. Waking up feeling tired, not refreshed after sleep, starting your day off worrying and feeling depressed
  3. Being troubled by unpleasant or excessive dreaming
  4. Rest doesn't provide relief
  5. Feeling depressed
  6. Anxiety - as if something bad is going to happen (if you've always been anxious, have a look at this well-researched method: Panic Miracle)
  7. Excessive worrying
  8. Irritability, frustration, anger
  9. Difficulty concentrating, confusion, 'brain fog'
  10. Sleep problems - racing thoughts at all hours of the night, difficulty falling and/or staying asleep
  11. Needing caffeine in whatever shape or solution to get you through the day
  12. Low blood pressure, dizziness when standing up, light-headedness (your blood pressure should rise when you stand up to accommodate the change in posture; if this doesn't happen it could be a sign of weakened adrenal glands)
  13. Inflammation of various kinds through low immunity - this in itself can cause strain on the adrenal glands
  14. Autoimmune disorders
  15. Alcohol intolerance
  16. Weak nails
  17. Reduced thyroid output (hypothyroidism)

This list of symptoms is by no means exhaustive, but it gives a real insight into the huge role your adrenal glands play.

The consequences of adrenal fatigue syndrome

When you're suffering from adrenal fatigue syndrome, your capacity to deal with what others may call normal day-to-day activities becomes severely challenged.

Any ordinary demands from your loved ones, from work, from friends - regardless of how enjoyable or simple they may seem - can all feel too much. Particularly stressful events or stressful periods of time appear even more insurmountable. And it's utterly frustrating when you're used to living life to the full then suddenly you feel irritable, tired and generally under the weather all the time.

You may start to see your bed as your sanctuary... but find that rest doesn't lead to recovery and you feel exhausted as soon as you wake up. Extreme fatigue can make it impossible for you to meet your essential emotional needs. So it's no wonder that you then start to feel depressed and like you're desperately struggling to get a grip.

Your relationship or marriage may well suffer, as the dynamics between the two of you will change. This is only natural, if you're finding that you're constantly irritable and/or becoming more dependent on your partner.

If you think you're suffering from adrenal fatigue symptoms, this is a major warning sign that your body/mind is being severely compromised. It's time to take heed and slow down - at the very least!

3 Step treatment plan for adrenal fatigue

Step 1 - Support your parasympathetic nervous system

The key to adrenal fatigue treatment is to understand first that there are two parts of your nervous system that deal with the ups and downs of daily life, under the influence of your adrenal glands.

One part consists of a set of nerves that take control when all is calm (parasympathetic nervous system). The other part consists of a system that takes over when there's a demand for action (sympathetic nervous system).

There is a constant interplay between the two parts, depending on whether you're required to act or relax.

Adrenal fatigue treatment involves, in part, consciously learning to influence the parasympathetic nervous system.

Watch the video for further information...

Step 2 - Rest and research

It can be really hard to find the energy to try to make things right when you're feeling so exhausted.

So, here are 5 easy tasks to get you on the road to recovery:

  1. Visit your doctor to get a proper diagnosis
  2. Familiarise yourself with Dr Kelly Brogan's work
  3. Learn to delegate - you don't have to do everything yourself!
  4. Rest whenever you can and use the Adrenal Fatigue Treatment hypnosis download (click the link for further information and type adrenal fatigue in the search box)
  5. Revisit the list above with potential harmful influences and see which ones you can easily eliminate from your life

You may have to ditch old prejudices about what may or may not work for you at different stages of your recovery. So keep an open mind - that's the best way to find what works!

Step 3 - Stop the stimulants

I'm really sorry to have to do this to you, but you're going to have to take a look at these chilling pictures of damaged brains. You'll have much less of a problem coming off all of the following...

... cigarettes - it is easier when you keep in mind what's in those cigs:

  • Benzene: petrol additive
  • Formaldehyde: embalming fluid
  • Ammonia: toilet cleaner (each time you want to light up, think: "toilet cleaner!")
  • Acetone: nail varnish remover
  • Nicotine: insecticide/addictive drug
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO): car exhaust fumes
  • Arsenic: rat poison
  • Hydrogen Cyanide: gas chamber poison

... sugar - it's poison - really

... coffee - a small cup once a day is fine

... tea

... chocolate - though you can have a small piece if it's over 70% cacao

... diet drinks - they contain sweeteners

... anything with aspartame (a sweetener)

I know it's disappointing and you won't really want to do it, but I'm afraid there's no choice now if you want to get better. There are, however, relatively 'painless' ways to come off whichever of the above you need to. Take a look online - there's plenty of help available.

Self help for adrenal fatigue

3 Tips to increase the rate of your recovery

  1. Learn to say "no" - feeling 'put upon' is particularly stressful
  2. Stop 'having to' - you have choices and now you're feeling so unwell it's even more important to understand that if you carry on doing the same, the outcome is going to be the same
  3. Ditch perfectionism - give up on wanting everything to be 'just so'. It might cause you some anxiety in the short-term, but believe me - it's going to save you heaps of stress in the long run

Finally...

If you're suffering from adrenal fatigue symptoms, any therapy that requires too much navel-gazing really doesn't cut it - in my view. Being confronted with painful, dysfunctional, traumatic or otherwise emotionally arousing 'stuff' is stressful.

However, I do recommend you get some professional support. You can 'borrow' someone else's brain to help you deal with immediate problems. But, you'll also be able to off-load and get to grips with stuff that's been lurking in the background, zapping your energy. If you know precisely what I mean - get some help now.

Adrenal fatigue treatment will be most successful with a holistic approach.

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Other Helpful Links

Dr James Wilson

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