Two years ago, this was my life:
I’d go to bed early, get a great night’s sleep, but wake up feeling exhausted. I’d drag myself throughout the day, struggling to stay focused on whatever I was working on and slowly falling behind on deadlines. I started getting stressed out over simple things like an email from a client—I’d work up terrible things they were going to say in the email, only to open it and have a cheerful message inside. I constantly felt worried about what I was going to do with my life and wondered when I was going to stop feeling like this. The afternoons would come and I’d hit this low point, I felt foggy and half awake, and if I stood up, I’d often feel light-headed and dizzy despite staying hydrated all day.
What the heck was wrong with me??!
I also wondered, how the heck did I get here? When did I go from being the carefree, happy girl to the worry wort that was exhausted and falling asleep at her desk in the afternoon.
For the longest time, I assumed this was all part of getting older. I had a busy job, I was running this blog on the side and I was just worn out—right? Didn’t everyone my age feel like this?
If you’ve ever had a weird illness, you might relate. Before I realized what was wrong, I felt hopeless! I spent so many hours on the internet searching for answers, but I didn’t fit any illness or disease I came across. I’d even gone to a doctor, undergone testing and was told to “not eat artificial sweeteners,” which was really annoying because I wasn’t eating them in the first place. I started thinking—was this just my new normal? Was I suppose to feel like this forever? I’m sure you can imagine how depressing that thought was!
But, life has a funny way of timing things just perfectly. A friend suggested a book that ended up changing everything (I go deep on this book here!). I read a section called adrenal fatigue, a term I’d never heard before and instantly thought—this is me. Every single symptom they listed was something I was dealing with.
Finally, I had an answer!
I’d never been more excited to find out that something was wrong with me, ha!
So, today’s post is one I’m really excited about because it’s been a long time coming. I’ve talked to many of you who also deal with similar symptoms and are looking for relief, so I really hope that this post sheds some light on this condition and also gives you some hope and direction for healing and reversing your own adrenal fatigue.
What is Adrenal Fatigue
Let’s start with what are you adrenal glands, how about that? They’re tiny, walnut-sized glands that sit on top of your kidneys and are responsible for releasing the stress hormone, cortisol.
Adrenal fatigue is a condition caused by the overstimulation of these glands. When we live in a constant state of stress, they get overworked and don’t function as they’re suppose to. As your adrenals become more and more depleted, it starts to affect every system in your body leading to more breakdown and negative symptoms. When left unchecked, adrenal fatigue can be debilitating, making it hard to get up in the morning or difficult to get through the day because you feel tired.
Fatigue may sound like a pretty common issue, and sadly, it is. According to James L. Wilson, author of “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome“, up to 80% of Americans will suffer from adrenal fatigue to some degree at one point in their lives. But, crazy enough, it’s rarely diagnosed!
What Causes It?
You guessed it—stress. Chronic stress to be exact.
This doesn’t necessarily mean physical stress either. It can emotional, environmental or even psychological. There’s the obvious things like a stressful job, a boss we hate, unhappy clients, bad relationships or money troubles. Or other, maybe less obvious things, like a poor diet, negative thinking, too much caffeine, toxins from our environment, household and beauty products, long-term prescription drug use, fears, or a lack of quality sleep.
Chances are we all have at least one of those stressors in our life, if not more!
Our bodies are designed to handle super stressful periods like this every now and then–like the rare occasion you’d be chased by a tiger (think way back to our ancestors here!). Nowadays, that same fight or flight reaction that gets our adrenals fired up happens when we get an email from an angry boss, open this month’s bills or continue to fuel our bodies with unhealthy foods and excessive caffeine.
So yes, our bodies are capable of handling stress. But, when our stress levels are already high and then we through another stressor, followed by another, and another, and another and we don’t allow time for our adrenals to recover. We’re simply not meant to live in a constant state of fight or flight! When we are, our adrenals glands eventually become fatigued and we start feeling pretty crappy.
The scary part, most of the time, we don’t even realize it’s happening!
It can take months or years for our adrenals to get to this point, which is why we don’t recognize when or what exactly made us feel this way. Sadly, stress is a big part of our lives these days. Each of us has so many different pressures on us from family members, bosses, and even expectations we put on ourselves. Hello, I know this last one way too well.
Our society glorifies being busy and stressed because we think feeling those things mean we’re being successful. Maybe sacrificing your health and well-being does give you success at work, but at the end of the day, without good health, those victories are short-lived. When we feel good, we can be successful and productive at work and also honor our bodies’ needs for relaxation and peace.
The Stages of Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue has three stages, and identifying which one you’re in might help you in creating a treatment plan that’s best for you and where you’re at. Something else to note—you maybe in one of these phases for a long time—months, even years. When you’re in one of them for so long, it just becomes your normal and makes it even harder to recognize. Hopefully these descriptions can help you identify where you are!
Stimulation or Alarm Phase
This is the event or stressor that sends your adrenals into action. It’s your body’s immediate response to whatever stressful thing is happening in your life. Your body is pumping out cortisol, which can actually leave you feeling very alert. That’s the point!
If you’re in this phase, you might not even realize it. It’s hard to identify it, especially if you feel like you have tons of energy out of nowhere. If you’re feeling like this, take a look at your sleep. Are you sleeping well, or is that interrupted? When your cortisol levels get out of whack, your circadian rhythm can suffer, making it harder to fall and stay asleep at night.
The next phase is depletion. The phase before this, cortisol was fueling us and giving us energy. At this phase, it comes in spurts—you might feel bursts of energy, only to hit a low point where you feel extremely fatigued later in the day.
When I think of my own adrenal fatigue, this is the stage that I most associate my feelings with. I’ll have these bursts throughout the day where I feel so energized and excited that I’m literally dancing around the house entertaining Owen, or writing up a storm because suddenly I have all the inspiration. A few hours later, I’m sitting on the couch, chugging water wondering what the heck happened.
I still feel like I’m in this phase a bit. It’s not as pronounced as it once was, but I still feel the effects, which is a constant reminder to focus on removing stress, practicing self-care and listening to what my body needs.
During this phase, your body starts producing stress hormone at the expense of other hormones in your body. Typically DHEA and testosterone, sex hormones, starts to drop, which means your sex drive may be affected.
If you feel like you’re having these bursts of energy followed by crashes, it’s time to start healing yourself before you hit the final stage.
At this point, you hit rock bottom—you crash from all the stress. In this final stage, your cortisol levels really begin to drop. Both your stress and sex hormones are low. Symptoms like extreme fatigue, depression, anxiety set in and it can be incredibly difficult to do the simplest of things like get up in the morning.
A few months after Owen was born, I found myself in this spot. The sleep deprivation, combined with breastfeeding, work, family life, etc. had finally taken it’s toll. I crashed hard. It was actually at this point that I finally decided to call the functional medicine doctor, though I so wish I had done that earlier!
If you find yourself in this final stage, I’m sorry. It’s a crappy place to be, but the good news is that there is so much you can do to heal and find relief. It will take time, patience and I urge you to be kind to yourself, putting more stress and pressure on yourself to heal fast, won’t help!
Looking back, I can see the stages in my own life. Medical issues and surgeries can be stressors in our body, and I think Owen’s birth was a stressor on my already fatigued adrenals. The weeks leading up to his birth, I was really anxious about child birth—I mean, I’d never done it before and had no idea what to expect! The last two weeks, that changed and I was just so ready for him to be there! Then he was born—whoop!
Around 6 weeks after he was born, my energy levels were at a high—this is was stage one. I was surprised by how good I felt after having a baby, considering how little sleep we were getting. Then things shifted. At 10 weeks old, I started getting really tired, I’d have moments of energy, but crash in the morning and afternoon. Finally, I hit burnout where it was incredibly hard for me to get out of bed in the morning. Literally the only thing that kept me motivated was his sweet smile every time I opened the door!
Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?
I did a lot of research on this, and found that a lot of doctors don’t believe that adrenal fatigue is a real disease. And, maybe it’s not a “disease”—there’s no test that can determine whether or not you have it, but if you’re dealing with any of the above symptoms, you know that while you may not have a disease per se, you know something is clearly not right in your body!
So, I’m going to call it a condition. Because it’s just that, a condition, and hopefully a temporary one by the time you’ve finished this article! The treatment plan calls for diet and lifestyle changes as well as supplements when needed.
I’m not telling you to not trust your doctor, but it’s always bothered me that traditional doctors don’t suggest diet and lifestyle changes in tandem with the medication they prescribe. I could go on and on about this, but I’ll save that for another post!
Even if adrenal fatigue isn’t a real “disease,” when this medical condition is left unchecked, it can lead to much bigger issues down the line like depression, anxiety and severe fatigue.
Adrenal Fatigue Signs
There are a lot of signs that point to adrenal insuffieciency and you most likely won’t encounter all of them. The symptoms will be different in everyone. Here are some of the most common signs—I put an asterisk by the ones that I experienced and sometimes still experience for your reference.
• chronic fatigue*
• anxiety and stress*
• brain fog*
• dizziness or light-headedness*
• unexplained weight loss or weight gain*
• body aches
• trouble sleeping*
• inability to handle stress
• skin issues*
• hormone imbalance*
• hair loss
• cravings for salty and sweet foods*
One of the biggest indicators that something wasn’t right in my body was my inability to easily get up in the morning, even after a full 8 hours of sleep. I was dragging myself out of bed and forcing myself to stay awake while feeding Owen.
Every afternoon, I’d get terrible brain fog which made it hard to focus on anything. If I stood up too quickly, I’d often get light-headed. I craved salty foods all the time and remember eating an entire bag of pretzel chips a few weeks after Owen’s birth. Okay, that actually happened on multiple occasions!
Lastly, skin issues. Ugh, this one was another major outward sign that something was off in my body. I’ve talked about this so much, so I’m sorry if I sound like a broken record. But, if you’re in your 20s and 30s and still deal with bad breakouts, you probably understand. It sucks—it’s so embarrassing!
For the first time EVER, my skin is actually improving drastically! No, it’s not perfect yet, but I’m in disbelief each morning when I wake up and there’s less redness, inflammation, breakouts and bumps.
Can You Test For It?
Unfortunately, no, there is no test for adrenal fatigue at this time. That’s a big reason why plenty of doctors don’t recognize it as a real disease or syndrome.
How To Reverse Adrenal Fatigue
Okay, now onto the good stuff!! Like I mentioned earlier, one of the upsides of adrenal fatigue is that it can be treated without a doctor. Balancing hormones like cortisol are essential to our overall health. Yes, you’ll have to make changes, sometimes major, but the moment you start feeling some relief, you’ll be so happy you did it and you won’t want to go back to your old way of life.
Below are all of the things I’ve been doing, plus a few more, that are helping me to reverse my adrenal fatigue. Even if you’re not sure you’re actually suffering from adrenal fatigue, these practices will make you feel better and give you more energy.
Clean Up Your Diet
Whenever I start feeling bad again, the first thing I look at is my diet. Have I been eating more junk food, eating out too often, drinking too much coffee (oops, I do that a lot!).
When shopping at the grocery, the best food for adrenal fatigue is on the perimeter of the store. Even if you don’t suffer from adrenal fatigue, the healthiest choices are here. Think fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins and fish. Everything in the middle of the grocery is more likely to be processed and refined and we want to get rid of as much of that as possible.
Eliminate things like processed foods, junk food, white flour, white sugar (and any sweeteners), caffeine and cut back on carbs which are quickly turned into glucose in our bodies and can spike our blood sugar.
Make sure you’re eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruits that are nutrient-dense as well as proteins rich in healthy fats and omega 3s. These foods are all extremely healing. I eat lots of avocado, cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, seeds and nuts (flaxseed, chia and almonds are my go-to), and fish like salmon and tuna.
More recently I’ve been adding more probiotic-rich foods to help heal my gut.
Our gut health is so closely tied to stress. When you’re stressed, the bacteria in your gut can get off balance causing digestive issues, bloating, gas, IBS, inflammation and more. Probiotic foods help naturally restore the good bacteria in your gut and help with healing.
I love starting my days with apple cider vinegar with hot water in the morning, it naturally helps me perk up in the morning and is great for digestion! Other probiotic foods I love are kombucha, which is technically a drink, Bubbie’s pickles, which are fermented (not made in vinegar), and Siggi’s yogurt. Sauerkraut and kimchi are also great ones, but I haven’t warmed up to their tastes just yet.
Eat More Often
Turns out that many people who suffer from adrenal fatigue also have issues managing their blood sugar. Thankfully, this is an easy one to get under control if you can get yourself on a good eating routine.
My dietician suggested I eat every 2-3 hours throughout the day. Having mismanaged blood sugar was making a big impact on how I felt and was responsible for that afternoon brain fog. Once I started eating on a more regular basis, I started feeling better almost immediately. Here’s my average daily eating schedule:
11am: Morning Snack
4:30pm: Afternoon Snack
I actually have alarms set on my phone to remind me to eat, because some days I just get distracted with work, running errands or playing with Owen and forget! It sounds like a pain, but it’s the only way I can make it happen!
Before Owen, we went out a lot, stayed up too late, ate more heavy meals, and drank more than we should. Becoming a parent changes a lot of that, but the lifestyle change has been really welcome to me. I used to dread our weekend plans knowing I’d have to stay out late and then would inevitably feel like crap the next day.
Creating a better bed time routine, getting more sleep, exercising more, and cutting back on drinking are all easy ways of giving your body a break!
I’ll be the first to admit that I love wine, and still drink it several times a week, but I drink far less than I did before. When I don’t drink as much, I sleep better, I wake up feeling better and when I feel better, it’s easier to make healthier choices.
Yoga & Meditation to Reduce Stress
Since adrenal fatigue is caused by stress, it’s important to actively try to reduce stress in your life. Everyone has different things that make them feel calm, so find what works for you.
For me, that’s yoga and meditation. I’m working to get into a regular meditation practice and I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not perfect. But, when I am meditating on a regular basis, I feel so much more calm, I don’t get overwhelmed as easily and life just seems to flow at a better pace. Yoga is a bit like meditation for me too. I love the focus on breathe and the gently movements and twists that help stretch out my body and support my mental and physical health.
Other simple ways I like to relax are to read a book or go for a walk without my phone.
There are so many toxins around us from the skincare and beauty products we use, to the detergent we wash our clothes with to the candles we burn in our homes. If you smoke, it’s time to quit! Over the past year, I’ve become far more educated on toxic products and have been slowly replacing our old products with safe ones. I try my best to use only safer skincare products and makeup, which has the added benefit of bringing me joy every time I use them because I know I’m doing something good for myself!
Vitamins & Supplements
Supplements and vitamins for adrenal fatigue shouldn’t be something you rely on to heal your body. Instead, these act as boosters to help your body get the extra vitamins and nutrients it needs to balance itself faster than it would on it’s own.
I haven’t taken ashwagandha, but I’ve heard that it’s great for relieving stress. Vitamin C is directly involved with the production of cortisol and is essential to healing your adrenals. We usually think of citrus fruits when it comes to Vitamin C, but kale, parsley, strawberries, brussel sprouts, kiwi and yellow peppers also have lots of Vitamin C.
B12 can help boost your metabolic function and give you more energy. For me, I’m always looking to boost my energy and I take a B12 vitamin as part of my treatment.
There are so many different supplements, vitamins and adaptogenic herbs out there that can make a huge difference in how you feel on a daily basis. Before you just start taking them all, it’s smart to ask your doctor what’s best for your body.
I wrote a whole post about my experience with acupuncture and I couldn’t recommend it more. It’s helped calm my digestion, boost my liver function, raise the heat energy in my body and has helped a ton with sleep!
Lastly, essential oils are an easy wellness practice to add to your life. Scent is so powerful and can make it easier for us to relax. We have a diffuser in our bedroom and we diffuse calming lavender or peppermint at night to help us fall asleep. In the morning, I add eucalyptus, orange or lemongrass to the diffuser in our living room to help me wake up in the morning. Whenever I have that one, I just feel so much calmer. Maybe the scent reminds me of . spa?! Either way, it’s an easy way to boost relaxation and reduce stress.
How To Cure Your Adrenal Fatigue Fast
It’s important to remember that you didn’t get to the point of adrenal fatigue overnight. Though the sudden realization of all your symptoms might feel like that! But in all reality, our bodies are designed to handle stress. However, when it becomes our regular state, it wears down our adrenals. It might take years to show up as these symptoms, so when it comes to reversing it, be patient my dears! This isn’t a quick fix!
I’ve gotten so many questions on how to cure your adrenal fatigue fast. We live in a busy world and we want relief fast—I get it. But a big part of healing is reframing the way you think about and handle stress, and making lifestyle changes to avoid and reduce stress when you can. While I wish I wish I had some secret shortcut or magic supplement to recommend, but there’s no quick fix when it comes to adrenal fatigue.
The one thing that will help you to heal fast is dedication to healing.
Maybe that means leaving yourself notes on the refrigerator or bathroom mirror, setting alarms in your phone to take the time to meditate or eat regularly. Or scheduling time for self-care and relaxation! The more diligent and committed you are to healing yourself, the faster you’ll heal.
Just remember—be so kind to yourself! This is not the time to put harsh routines in place. If you miss a day of meditation or don’t workout all week, don’t get angry. Just accept that this is life. Not every day or week will go as planned. The more you can show yourself grace, the better!
FYI, this goes without saying, but I am not a doctor and this information is for educational purposes only and hopefully sheds some onto what adrenal fatigue, the factors that contribute to adrenal fatigue, and what I’ve been doing to heal my adrenal glands!
Do any of you suffer from adrenal fatigue?
What symptoms were the toughest for you and what has helped you to heal?! If you have any questions about adrenal fatigue that I didn’t answer, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to get you the right answer!