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Is adrenal fatigue real - or am I just a mad woman?

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

Kimberley Wright Health  - adrenal fatigue

You may have heard the term 'Adrenal Fatigue', the condition that results from chronic stress leading to an overstimulation of the adrenal glands. There’s a big question in the medical world at the moment asking, are we just crazy stressed out mum’s, or is Adrenal Fatigue Real?

At the end of last year, when I was getting ready to launch two businesses, juggling two children still in nappies, I was definitely feeling pushed to my limits. It wasn’t a surprise then, when I started seeing multiple women in my clinic with adrenal fatigue, that I had to stop and take note of where I was at in my own life. I realised I had so many of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. What was most upsetting, however, was that I was doing none of the simple treatments to keep my own body healthy and at ease.

I remember discussing this with some colleagues and realising I had two of the most common symptoms: waking up exhausted, and being emotionaly fragile – think flying off the handle constantly, yelling at the kids like a madwoman…and thinking, yep, that’s me!

Can you relate?

Adrenal Fatigue (or more correctly, Hypothalamic - Pituitary - Adrenal Axis dysregulation) is not currently recognised by the conventional medical system. There is no recognised diagnostic criteria or testing, and if you mentioned the condition to your doctor, she would most likely turn around, take a deep breath, and quietly roll her eyes at the wall.

But, whether the condition is recognised by the medical system as “real” or not real, many modern day mum’s juggling work, children and keeping up with self-imposed ideals of perfection, the symptoms most certainly are.

In addition to screaming like a madwoman, and falling asleep at the wheel, a woman suffering from Adrenal Fatigue might also experience the following:

Signs And Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

  • Persistent brain fog that leaves you wondering why, exactly, you came into the kitchen?

  • Waking up feeling like a half-dead zombie

  • Afternoon slump’s where all you can think of is downing five block’s of chocolate, followed by a second wind in the evening when you’re supposed to be winding down to sleep

  • Trouble falling asleep, or trouble getting back to sleep if woken during the night

  • No sign of your libido (much to hubby’s distress)

  • Feeling out of control of your wild-mama emotions (he’d better not say anything about your waning sex drive, or you’re likely to sob for hours)

  • Feelings of mild depression or anxiety (jaw clenching and shallow breath), or even literally shaking with stress

  • Carrying pesky weight around the middle

  • Lowered body temperature

  • Lowered blood pressure and dizziness

  • Hair falling out and clogging up the bathroom drain

So, what exactly causes the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?

According to studies, the culprit is exposure to chronic stress. This leads to overstimulation of the adrenal glands, which causes inconsistent cortisol to be produced. Cortisol itself is inflammatory, and increased levels are linked to reduced immune function, increased heart rate, increased blood sugar and insulin resistance (cortisol makes cells resistant to the action of insulin). High levels of circulating insulin also makes it harder to burn fat, leading to increased weight, distributed mainly around the abdomen.

There is also an inverse relationship between cortisol & melatonin (the sleep hormone). Increased cortisol inhibits melatonin production, and when these levels are disrupted, you will have difficulty falling asleep, getting back to sleep if woken, and falling into deep REM sleep: hence waking feeling like a zombie and wondering why, for Pete’s sake, the children must crawl all over your face. The problem is then exacerbated; as your body is unable to repair and reset through sleep, a vicious cycle begins.

Extra tricky is that the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are not exclusive to the condition, and actually mimic hypothyroidism. The two conditions may actually co-exist, given the role of both glands in producing hormones, making adrenal fatigue difficult to pinpoint. Both also commonly develop in those months post childbirth.

There are The Four Stages of Adrenal Fatigue

  • Fight or Fight

  • Wired but Tired

  • Resistance

  • Burnout

As the body moves further into the stages, the condition becomes more difficult to treat. The recovery from Burnout stage can be long and arduous, so early recognition and treatment is a must.

Who Is Most At Risk of adrenal fatigue?

Those most at risk for the condition are:

  • new parents

  • those with stressful or unrewarding jobs

  • students

  • caregivers, or

  • anyone under undue life stressors: the loss of a loved one, loss of a job or other sudden or chronic financial stress

If you feel like you might fall into one of these categories, it might be time to take a close look at your life. Often, we get so busy that we don’t even stop to see how our behaviours are affecting our lives.

Exercise to assess adrenal fatigue:

Chronic stress can often be relieved by taking action. So, grab some paper and a pen, your favourite beverage (maybe not caffeinated ;-p) and take a few long slow breaths. Find a quiet spot (if such a thing is possible in your house) and answer the following questions:

  • Where in my life am I feeling overwhelmed or suffocated right now?

  • What is my first emotion when I wake in the morning?

  • How is my relationship to sleep? How many hours per night do I get on average each week? How long does it take me to fall asleep?

  • Am I handling small stressors and maintaining calm with my children?

  • How often am I enjoying a little bedtime fun?

  • How is my relationship to food? Sugar? Caffeine? Alcohol?

  • What is the state of my body? Am I physically relaxed? Is my jaw soft? Does my belly expand fully when I breathe?

  • What is the state of my mind? Does it feel like it’s racing, and can’t shut off at the end of the day? Or is there a sense of peacefulness and space?

Once you have your answers, check out our next blog Stages of adrenal fatigue - where do you sit on the spectrum?

Get in touch now to discuss your personalised guide to a fast recovery.

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