Adrenal Fatigue – What is it and How do you Deal with it?

Stress is a part of the busy world in which we now live. Between the demands of work and family pressures, there is often little time for rest and relaxation. It’s not surprising that this constant diet of stress can lead to adrenal fatigue in some form.

Signposts for stress

Adrenal fatigue syndrome is a set of signs and symptoms that develop as a result of a prolonged or very intense period of stress.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?

  • Chronic, overwhelming tiredness that is not relieved by sleeping.
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning, you can’t really wake up until 10 am.
  • Lack of energy – everything feels like hard work and needs so much effort. Your energy hits a real low between 3 pm and 4 pm, but you come alive in the evening.
  • You crave salty foods.
  • You have difficulty handling anything that stresses you. Little things really wind you up, you find yourself yelling or feeling really anxious. You turn to food , drink or a cigarette just to cope.
  • You take longer to recover from any illness, injury or trauma.
  • You feel light – headed when you stand up quickly.
  • You enjoy things less than you used to.  You really can’t be bothered – nothing feels worth the effort.
  • You feel fuzzy headed and struggle to remember things.
  • You PMS is worse.
  • Your sex drive decreases – you can’t be bothered.

Who suffers with Adrenal Fatigue?

Anyone can, it affects people from all walks of life and all ages.

What causes Adrenal Fatigue?

The adrenal glands sit just above the kidneys. These tiny glands control your response to any kind if stress, whether its physical, emotional or psychological stress. They produce chemical messengers in the body, in the form of 3 hormones. These hormones are – adrenaline, cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).

The amount of cortisol in our bodies changes over the course of the day. Levels are at their lowest between midnight and 4 am. Levels gradually rise again peaking at 8 am to get you up and into your day. As the day goes on, the levels steadily decline and fall, allowing you to wind down ready for bed and sleep. Cortisol is important for our energy levels because it helps to maintain steady blood sugar levels during the night and mobilises fat and carbohydrates during the day to give us the energy we need.

However, if we are stressed, physically, emotionally or psychologically, and those stresses keep piling on, then the cumulative effect of this stress over a long period of time means that our cortisol levels remain high. You feel exhausted but you can’t rest. In short, you feel ‘wired and tired’.

It is at this point that people tend to turn to caffeine, alcohol or sugary foods to give them a quick energy rush to cope. Or they decide they should exercise more to get more energy. This stresses the body even more. Just at the time when your body needs all the nutrients it can get, you are giving it stimulants, which further over excite the hormones and deplete the body’s precious nutrients. You get into a vicious cycle where the very behaviours you are using to cope, are actually making you more ‘wired and tired’.

How can I get Better?

If your symptoms are severe, then the best course of action is to see a nutritionist who can not only advise you about your diet, but also prescribe supplements as appropriate to support your recovery.

However there are a number of things you can do for yourself, such as:

  • Go to bed before 10 pm. Our body needs time to rest and repair itself. The best quality sleep comes before midnight. This will stop your adrenal’s kicking in with a second wind which will then keep you awake until 1 am – 2 am or later. If you struggle to sleep, try a relaxing bath before bed, and listening to some relaxing music. Avoid using, iPads phones etc. Leave them out of the bedroom.
  • Sleep in until 9 am. Do this whenever you can. This gives time for your body and mind to rest and repair itself.
  • Address you Stress!  Try a complementary therapy – reflexology, aromatherapy, massage, or something like yoga. Make time to do something pleasurable each day. Something which is relaxing or makes you laugh!
  • Exercise. Gentle exercise such as walking, swimming or yoga . Something that allows you to stretch and move you body even for just 10 minutes is good.
  • Eat whole foods. Foods that are not processed, by which I mean they don’t have a label with a list of contents. Combine starchy carbohydrates with proteins and fats at every meal.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol.
  • Eliminate ‘energy robbers’ any activities that drain you. Sometimes, that can also mean avoiding the company of people you feel drained by.
  • Build short periods of rest into your day. Where possible of course. A short 15 minute lie down during the day can help when you are feeling fuzzy or tired.
  • Consider your job/lifestyle. Sometimes more drastic changes are needed – is your job or the life you lead putting you under significant ongoing stress ? Is there an alternative that would be better for your health and well being.

Dr. James Wilson’s book ‘Adrenal Fatigue in the 21st Century ‘ is a great read if you want to know and understand more about this. He gives a detailed plan of how to recover, and how this condition affects and interacts with other illnesses as well.