This time of year, many people find themselves feeling super frazzled with social events, gift-buying, and general running around. How do you know if you’re just stressed out, or if something more worrisome is going on? Here are signs that your stress symptoms are pointing to adrenal fatigue, and what you can do to start to feel better.
Many of us tend to bite off more than we can chew commitment wise like it’s our jobs (well, sometimes it is our jobs), and all too often, we may not get enough sleep. Basically, lots of folks are chronically overworked, stressed out, and needing more sleep and time to unplug. Proponents of the notion of adrenal fatigue say that, over time, the frenetic and tech-driven nature of our modern lives has a wear and tear effect on our bodies — and, more specifically, it wears out our adrenal glands.
What Are Adrenals Again?
The adrenal glands are small glands that sit on top of each kidney, and they produce essential hormones like cortisol, which help regulate the body’s stress response. With severe adrenal deficiency like that found in Addison’s disease, there is too little cortisol being made by the adrenal glands to help the body function as it should. This results in extreme fatigue and low blood pressure among other symptoms. Without adequate treatment, Addison’s disease can be fatal. While it might not be as severe as Addison’s disease, non-Addison’s adrenal fatigue results in symptoms of burnout that are very real.
According to Dr. Berzin of Parsley Health (via Mind Body Green), adrenal fatigue symptoms follow a progression, and all symptoms are associated with an imbalance in the body’s cortisol levels.
At first, we might feel “wired but tired.” At this stage, high cortisol levels can lead to insomnia, weight gain, and insulin resistance.
At stage two, Dr. Berzin states that sleep disruptions start to shift. At this point, we might start waking up around 3 a.m. or so, and have trouble falling back to sleep. Cortisol might then peak around midday or early evening, leaving us feeling stressed and tired, but wide awake at all the wrong times.
By the time adrenal fatigue has progressed to the third stage, we’re pretty much exhausted all the time, no matter how many hours we sleep at night. Dr. Berzin further notes that lab tests might show low DHEA and unusual thyroid levels, and this stage of adrenal fatigue might also leave a person vulnerable to autoimmune illnesses.
Other symptoms of adrenal fatigue might include brain fog, depression, cravings for sugar and salt, and dizziness.
When in Doubt, Get Checked Out
While conventional medicine claims that there’s no scientific consensus that adrenal fatigue exists as a diagnosable illness, there’s no doubt that prolonged stress can wreak havoc on our health. And while the jury’s still out as to how stress might negatively affect the adrenal glands, specifically, chronic stress can definitely predispose us to illnesses and mood disorders. In short, stress-induced burnout is very real for many people, and it goes without saying that medical symptoms should never be ignored. If you are experiencing adrenal fatigue symptoms, make sure to check in with a Functional Medicine doctor or trusted physician to get a full workup — you may need a targeted treatment plan to address the cause of your symptoms, and you’ll also want to rule out any other potential medical conditions.
If your labs look pretty normal and you feel that stress is at the root of your issues, then first things first: prioritize your rest. By going to bed early and getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night, your body can rest, recover, and repair from the effects of daily stress. And staying well hydrated while following a healthy Clean Program-approved diet is also helpful.
Magnesium, selenium, zinc, and vitamin D supplements are also helpful for healthy thyroid and adrenal function. Other stress-busting techniques include yoga and meditation practices, and you might want to ease off of extreme exercise and cardio routines if you’re feeling chronically wiped out, and opt for more moderate workouts while you recover. Adaptogens and EPA-DHA supplements can also help replenish our depleted systems.
And if you do have persistent symptoms, check in with your doctor. The symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be complex, and recovery from the effects of prolonged stress can take some time to resolve.
Written by Carolyn de Lorenzo
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