Why am I so exhausted? The low-down on adrenal fatigue.
Chronic exhaustion is often the product of long-term stress, which results in adrenal fatigue. In modern society, where stress and busy timelines prevail, adrenal fatigue is becoming more and more common, with many people finding it hard to get themselves out of bed, let alone get themselves through the day. We’re relying more and more on stimulants such as coffee and alcohol to keep up going – but in the long run, this simply isn’t sustainable for our health.
What is adrenal fatigue?
Your adrenal glands are two walnut-sized glands that sit above your kidneys. Despite their small size, they exert a powerful effect upon your entire wellbeing. The adrenal glands are responsible for secreting your two main stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, in response to stressors in your environment.
For many, many people in today’s fast-paced world, stress hormones are being secreted all day, every day, due to over-activation of the nervous system, and a dominance of what we call the ‘fight-or-flight’ nervous response.
Our bodies enter a state of ‘fight-or-flight’ whenever we find ourselves in a challenging situation. This can be something as simple as bad traffic, getting the kids out the door to school, a stressful conversation, or an excessively tight daily schedule.
When we exist in this state of ‘fight-or-flight’ for too long, it’s easy to enter a state of adrenal fatigue, where our adrenal glands can no longer keep up with stress hormone production.
In this state, we feel burnt out, exhausted, rundown, and irritable, finding it hard to face our daily lives, with no energy. This poses a particular problem for women, whose delicate reproductive hormones are profoundly affected by their adrenal status, and who consequently may experience symptoms such as imbalanced hormones, chronic PMS, endometriosis, challenging menopausal symptoms, amongst others.
Many of today’s modern health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, challenged immunity, and poor digestion are hugely influenced by the state of the adrenal glands.
Boosting adrenal health requires addressing both physical and lifestyle factors, including diet, supplementation, exercise, sleep, stress, and more. Balancing your stress hormones and adrenal gland function will, without a doubt, contribute to your greatest health picture.
In my personal and client experience, these are 7 common reasons why people can be experiencing exhaustion due to adrenal fatigue.
Can you relate to any of them?
- Too much caffeine.
The second that coffee (or any other caffeinated beverage) hits your stomach lining, caffeine passes into your blood stream, which leads to stress hormone release from your adrenal glands. For someone who has multiple caffeinated beverages daily, this can contribute significantly to the development of adrenal fatigue.
Caffeine may pep you up in the short term, but it inevitably leads to a crash in energy. Try cutting back, or replacing your coffee with a gentler caffeine hit, such as black or green tea. Even eliminating coffee from your diet for one week will have you feeling SO much better if you’re experiencing ongoing exhaustion.
- Too much alcohol.
It’s wise to be mindful of alcohol consumption when you’re feeling particularly stressed. Alcohol, despite feeling like it relaxes you, concurrently raises your stress hormone production, just like caffeine. So, although you might feel nice and sleepy after a few wines, you’ve got extra stress hormones circulating through your body. This contributes to exhaustion more than you might like to believe.
Giving yourself a couple of alcohol free days a week can do you the world of good if you’re experiencing stress, hormone imbalances and adrenal fatigue.
- You get to bed too late.
Our body biologically needs sleep. Adequate sleep does wonders for lowering stress hormones in the body, as well as allowing hormones to naturally balance overnight (the body does all sorts of miraculous things as we sleep).
It’s amazing how many people are exhausted, rundown, and burnt out, but not willing to prioritise their sleep. Aim to get however many hours of sleep you know your body thrives on. It’s usually around 7 hours.
Sleep is free, and it’s honestly the most underrated thing we can do to achieve great health, and beat the exhaustion.
- You’re too wired in the evenings.
Following on from above, it’s no use getting to bed earlier if you’re too wired to actually fall asleep. Nighttime is for winding down. I get that this may not be an option every night, but for the most part, it’s ideal to be getting into ‘wind down’ mode by around 8.30pm each evening. Dim the lights, have a warm shower, read a book, do some gentle stretches. Nourish yourself.
You need to feel calm when you get into bed, to maximise your sleep quality. Do what you can to reduce disturbances before and during sleep time, and you’ll find you may sleep a lot more soundly.
- You can’t say no.
Inability to draw gentle, healthy boundaries, and say no to things that you feel are a bit much, or that deplete you, is the quickest way to exhaustion. Even if you had all the physical vitality in the world, it’s genuinely exhausting to spend your days consistently doing things that you don’t want to do, just to please people.
It’s so important to prioritise. There’s seasons in life, and depending on the responsibilities that are currently on your shoulders, you’re going to have to learn to say no to things that just aren’t important. Other people will get over it when you say no to their requests, but you’ll continually suffer if you keep on saying yes, yes, yes.
Say more ‘no’ to other things, so you can say more ‘yes’ to yourself.
- You have a problem with delegating.
As much as we need to learn to say no, we also need to learn to delegate. We must be able to delegate non-essential tasks to other people. We cannot do everything ourselves. Asking people to help, allows them to step up and grow into their potential. It also means we don’t exhaust ourselves by trying to take on the world.
The mindset of ‘no one can do it as well as I can, so I’ll just do it’, or, ‘if I don’t do it, it won’t get done’, can contribute majorly to your exhaustion.
- You’re not creating ‘nothing’ space in your life.
If you’re feeling exhausted, often, it’s a sure sign that you’re likely filling your days, and leaving zero space for rest. If you’re feeling stressed and rundown, it’s important to schedule small pockets of space to do ‘nothing’. To just relax and recuperate. Our bodies are not designed to operate, without some degree of rest.
So, how do I heal my adrenal fatigue, and help my body cope with stress?
Most of the things that we turn to when we’re exhausted – caffeine, alcohol, sugar, late nights in front of the TV – they’re an attempt to combat the exhaustion.
Except, they only make us more exhausted! It really is a vicious cycle. To beat exhaustion, you often have to get really back to basics.
Naturopathy and other holistic therapies, will help you to uncover the ‘why’ behind your stress and adrenal fatigue, and make sustainable, long-term changes towards resolving them for good. The effort will be more than worth it, as you banish burnout and reclaim your vitality!
Beth Bridges is Quay Health’s Naturopath. She specialises in helping people deal with stress and fatigue.