Adrenal Fatigue can have a catastrophic impact on your quality of life, and it often goes ignored or mistreated by doctors for years.
Adrenal Fatigue is not a diagnosis or disease. It is a dysfunction of the entire stress response system, and each person affected by it has a very similar “symptom picture.” Unfortunately, each of those symptoms is often mistakenly attributed to another illness or condition.
I have seen thousands of patients over the past 20+ years. I have dug my heels into researching every aspect of the stress response, chronic fatigue, and the myriad symptoms associated with this condition. While I know that no two Adrenal Fatigue patients are the same, most of them share 3 or more of these 7 major symptoms.
#1 Anxiety (“Wired” But Tired)
A large portion of my patients are not only tired, but they are “wired” as well. When we talk about feeling “wired,” I mean feeling hypervigilant, adrenalized, stuck in a stress response, or overwhelmed because the anxiety can make everything feel that much harder to do.
This “wired” state is very common if you have a stress response dysfunction, aka Adrenal Fatigue. It is also the most unpleasant, debilitating state associated with this condition, causing anxiety, insomnia, shakes and tremors, racing and ruminating thoughts, worry, and fear.
Being wired or anxious is not only psychological; a big part of it is physical, biochemical, and neurological.
This wired feeling is a sign that your stress response is active, most likely overactive. Being wired is keeping you hypervigilant and even more prone to stress. It means your body is pumping out stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline.
It is these hormones that spread throughout the body and cause all the damage associated with Adrenal Fatigue, especially this wired but tired feeling.
#2 Insomnia and Frequent Waking
You hit the pillow each night and simply cannot get your brain to slow down and let you fall asleep. Or perhaps falling asleep is okay, but you routinely wake up every night only a few hours later to lie in bed wide awake, exhausted and frustrated. These nights turn into weeks, months, and maybe even years of restless, interrupted sleep.
Chronic stress disrupts healthy sleep patterns and keeps the body out of ‘heal and repair’ mode.
Sleep is essential to well-being, healing, and repair. The actual mechanisms that control our sleep are complex, and all of the events that must occur in order to get that shut-eye are disrupted by chronic stress.
Especially in combination with other symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue, these sleep disturbances can become completely consuming and anxiety-provoking, preventing you from living your normal life.
The paradox of this condition is that sleep disorders occur because of Adrenal Fatigue, and Adrenal Fatigue is worsened by sleep disorders. Without the necessary healing and repair that occurs while we sleep, it is hard to break this harmful cycle … but it is possible!
Your body is telling you that Adrenal Fatigue has taken over.
#3 Chronic Fatigue
When you’re more than “just tired,” it affects every area of your life.
Your family misses you. Your spouse doesn’t understand where their partner went. Your career suffers. Your home is more difficult to keep neat or clean. Sometimes even taking care of yourself seems impossible.
Fatigue in Adrenal Fatigue patients is more than “just tired.”
Perhaps you’ve gotten some “helpful” advice: just get some exercise, eat some red meat, or go to a therapist.
These unfortunate, ignorant comments come from people—often well-meaning—who simply don’t get it. It is not a choice. You cannot physically or mentally push yourself any further.
For most of us, fatigue is a difficult condition to quantify and describe. We’ve all been “tired” before; but we rest, catch up on sleep, take better care of ourselves, and rebound.
When you have Adrenal Fatigue, that is not the case. There is no rebound. Your body has been pushed too hard for too long, and it’s telling you that it cannot function this way any more.
#4 Bodywide Pain or Fibromyalgia
If you’ve gone to your doctor with complaints of body-wide pain, they probably tried to rule out several well-known causes, such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and muscle strain.
If those causes can be ruled out, they may have then told you it’s the aches and pains of getting older and to take some NSAIDs when it’s bad. They may have even given you a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, especially if you are also fatigued.
Fibromyalgia is medical jargon for chronic transient pain of unknown cause with no known effective treatment.
I assure you, there is a cause for the body-wde aches and pains you’re always experiencing.
Adrenal Fatigue causes inflammation. Inflammation causes pain. Chronic inflammation also acts as an additional biochemical stress, which perpetuates the entire body’s dysfunction and causes it to over-perceive its environment. This is called “Central Sensitization.”
Central Sensitization is the phenomenon of an upregulated nervous system and a trigger-happy limbic system that causes the body to be on high alert, all the time. This is easiest to observe in the sensory nerves.
This over-perception creates hypersensitivity to touch and physical sensations: body-wide, transient, chronic pain. Once the Adrenal Fatigue and Stress Response Dysfunction are healed, the chronic pain dissipates.
#5 Immune Weakness or Recurring Viruses
Most of us know inherently that stress weakens the immune system. We go through a stressful time, and we get sick or get a cold sore. The reason for this is that while stress hormones will help our physiology rise to the occasion to meet whatever stressful situation that comes along, it does so at a cost.
Excess stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline cause a predictable immunological shift in the body. This shift weakens one side of the immune system while leaving another side overactive.
The weakened side of the immune system is the side that fights infection. This is why many patients who suffer from Adrenal Fatigue will catch every cold or virus that comes along, and they have trouble with viruses that can reactivate, like Epstein Barr.
The side of the immune system that becomes overactivated is the part that creates antibodies. When this occurs, patients will develop allergic reactions to their environment and food.
The key to being free of chronic infections, allergies, and even autoimmune diseases is not only to support and balance the immune system; it’s far more effective and longer-lasting to treat the underlying cause of Adrenal Fatigue, so that the immune system can come back into balance on its own.
My patients with Adrenal Fatigue are commonly dismissed as having depression. This myth stems from most well-meaning physicians finding no biological abnormality (though they exist) for the various symptoms with which my patients present. The next logical—though inaccurate—step for these physicians is to assume and often tell the patient “it’s all in your head” and write a prescription for an antidepressant.
The excess cortisol produced by the stress response dysfunction eventually gets into the brain and can affect your neurotransmitters, like serotonin, dopamine, or gaba. It puts a major strain on those neurotransmitters, and causes the symptoms of depression. The depression is secondary to the Adrenal Fatigue.
I constantly have to reassure my Adrenal Fatigue patients: ‘It’s not all in your head.’
This is not to say that my patients do not suffer periodically from depression. Honestly, I’d start worrying about their mental health if they didn’t. One way to tell if it’s clinical depression or secondary depression? Ask yourself, “What would I be doing if I felt better?” Most often, clinically depressed patients have no answer and no interest. On the other hand, if depression is secondary to other factors, the answer is usually a long list of things that you used to love about life.
#7 Digestive Disorders
Many of us already know stress leads to GI upset, but not everyone thinks about the physiological correlation between the stress response and the digestive process. Chronic stress is detrimental to the entire gastrointestinal process; it leads to more than just a little indigestion on a bad day.
Digestion, when functioning properly, is a well-orchestrated process involving the nervous system, digestive enzymes, and stomach acid. But if we’re in a constant stress response, as we are if we have Adrenal Fatigue, the limbic system of the brain is telling the digestive system to shut down. All the body’s resources and energy are needed to fight whatever the stress may be. (After all, if you’re under attack, sitting down for a meal or having a bowel movement aren’t ideal activities.)
If you have chronic stress coming from everywhere all the time, your body begins to think there are threats lurking around every corner. If it perceives everything as a threat, then, by design, it will continually suppress your digestive function so you are able to deal with all those hazards.
This chronically suppressed digestion is what leads to IBS, leaky gut, acid reflux, diarrhea, constipation, and dysbiosis.
How Can Anyone Possibly Enjoy A Life Like This?
As these symptoms occur and worsen, the chronic exhaustion associated with Adrenal Fatigue increases.
Even basic tasks—climbing stairs, folding laundry, a trip to the store—can leave you spent for the rest of the day. You drive yourself with caffeine (or sugar), but you experience only a brief lift in energy before the inevitable crash.
A “detox” or artificial hormones alone won’t fix things either. These are all just well-marketed, one-size-fits-all products aimed at temporarily alleviating symptoms. None of these will address the root cause of your exhaustion, depression, insomnia, or immune weakness.
Healing the Root of These Symptoms Starts Here
Fixing the entire stress response system, not just the dysfunctional adrenals, heals the root cause of these symptoms. We must balance the hormones of the HPA Axis, heal the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and calm the limbic system of the brain. I do this using My “Trilateral” Approach to Healing Adrenal Fatigue.