There's a good chance you've never heard the words "adrenal fatigue" until just now, but it's probably not the first time you've dealt with serious stress. Carolyn Mein and Merethe Najjar at YourTango explain how chronic stress may actually be due to our body's overactive flight-or-fight response.
Tired of feeling burned out?
Adrenal fatigue symptoms can look a lot like the signs of chronic stress. So how can you tell the difference, and what is adrenal fatigue exactly?
Adrenal fatigue is a stress-related condition where your adrenal glands — the ones that control your "fight or flight" response — never shut off, and as a result, your body feels drained from the chronic stress it's experiencing.
According to Dr. Carolyn Mein, adrenal fatigue is very common. Our brains, which developed over millennia of fighting battles and working hard to survive in the wilderness, are completely lost when it comes to dealing with the stressors of our modern-day lives, so our "fight or flight" response is triggered constantly.
What's amazing is that this primal instinct still works as well today as it did thousands of years ago. But the problem is your animalistic brain doesn't understand the difference between getting chased down by tigers and having to finish that big project for your business meeting with the boss on Friday.
So whether you've just choked on the microphone in a room full of people or have someone threatening you, your brain gives your adrenal glands the exact same order: Save me! The resulting panic that can flood your system over a minor issue in your personal life feels exactly the same to your brain as the impending doom of an attack.
This back-and-forth of stress hormones can send your adrenal glands into high gear, constantly readying you for the next big life or death situation — and resulting in chronic stress.
But over time, this response can essentially burn itself out and leave you in the "on" position, since your brain doesn't know the difference between when it should be in high-adrenaline fear mode or the fact that you got embarrassed in a crowd of people.
And since adrenal glands are some of the strongest in the body, says Dr. Mein, they begin draining energy from other parts of your body when they're overworked. This is what leaves you feeling constantly stressed and exhausted.
Here are four signs that your chronic stress and exhaustion might actually be symptoms of adrenal fatigue:
1. You can't fall asleep, even though you're exhausted.
Even though you're tired literally all. the. time, you find it difficult to fall asleep (and stay asleep!). Whether it's racing thoughts or your body feels wired with adrenaline, you simply can't unwind enough to go to bed and get the rest your body desperately needs.
2. Your immune system is down.
Does it seem like you're always battling a cold or your lymph nodes are swollen? All of this emotional and mental fatigue, plus a lack of sleep, can wreak havoc on your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick.
3. You crave salty foods.
Your adrenal glands produce a steroid called aldosterone, and aldosterone's job is to help regulate your body's sodium levels. So if you crave salty foods often, it could be a sign your sodium is low as a result of adrenal fatigue.
4. You shut down when you're overwhelmed.
If your stress and exhaustion levels are through the roof constantly, at some point, your mind and body may have had enough. As a result, you might simply shut down when you have to deal with any stress at all and become detached or non-reactive.
Stress is a constant in life, but if your chronic stress is causing symptoms of adrenal fatigue, it's time to take action.
How your body reacts to and deals with adrenal fatigue depends on your personal body "type," says Dr. Mein, and so what works for one person's body type may not specifically work for the others (there are 25 body types total).
Dr. Carolyn L. Mein is a chiropractic physician with an active practice in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. She works with people to develop healthy eating based on their body types as well as to help them overcome obstacles that are keeping them from attaining lasting love and happiness. You can contact her here for further information.
Check out more great stories from YourTango:
- Red Alert Warning: Hanging in There Is Hazardous to Your Health
- 10 Ways to Get Real With Yourself About Stress (So Life Doesn't Burn You Out)