Are you feeling tired and yet can’t sleep? Craving sugar and salt to the point of almost passing out or committing a felony? Maybe PMS is kicking your ass this month with incredible irritability, brain fog, and energy fluctuations? Or your period is irregular, heavy, painful, or straight-up absent?
All of these can be related to the constant stress we feel in our lives. We know that stress can have a huge impact on our health and wellness. And, since your adrenal glands produce stress hormones, adrenal fatigue (or HPA Axis Dysregulation) is becoming a household phrase.
Your adrenal glands look like walnuts that live on top of both of your kidneys. These important glands produce many hormones, including stress hormones.
But what happens when they become overworked?
Adrenaline and cortisol are the stress hormones that give you the well-known adrenaline rush. It increases focus, makes you feel alert, and raises awareness in the moment. This feeling is known as your body’s fight-or-flight response.
Some people love that intense feeling and actively seek it out with stimulating or even extreme activities, like literally fighting or flying (such as by pursuing boxing or MMA, maybe bungee jumping or sky-diving), or enjoying scary movies and public speaking.
Thrill-seeking or not, the release of hormones in the fight-or-flight response is your body’s normal reaction to a sudden or short-term trigger. This type of stress can sometimes be positive, like when it helps you swerve and prevent a crash.
After a short time, the flight-or-flight response dissipates, your body goes back to normal, and all is good.
But what would happen if you felt constant stress? Like all day, every day?
The rush doesn’t occur so readily, though you might find you get startled more easily without that accompanying heady swell of adrenaline, and you don’t feel awesome. You take a longer time recovering from what might otherwise be minor triggers.
The adrenals are getting tired, peeps. This is where adrenal fatigue might set in.
Here’s the other kick: your adrenals also produce sex hormones. As in the ones that help manage your sex drive, menstrual cycle, and symptoms thereof.
When chronic stress takes its toll on the adrenal glands, it’s not only the stress hormones that fluctuate and dwindle. The sex hormones do too, so the reproductive system is among the first to suffer as adrenal fatigue takes hold.
Do I have adrenal fatigue?
When your adrenal glands start getting tired of secreting stress hormones day in and out, you can start getting other symptoms.
Symptoms like fatigue, difficulty sleeping, weight loss or gain, joint pain, frequent infections like colds and the flu, sugar cravings, mood swings, intense PMS, and absence of periods are signs that your adrenals are overworked.
Unfortunately there aren’t medically-accepted blood tests for adrenal fatigue. In fact, it’s not recognized by most medical professionals until the point when your adrenals are so fatigued they almost stop working. At that point, the official diagnoses of adrenal insufficiency or Addison’s Disease may apply.
However, if you do have symptoms, you should still see your doctor, or consider a naturopath to rule out other conditions. Your physician may be open to discussing adrenal fatigue, or at the very least, wellness strategies that can help to reduce your stress (and symptoms). A naturopath may also be able to order saliva hormone testing to get a picture of your adrenal status.
What if I have these symptoms?
There are many actions you can take to reduce your stress and improve your health and energy levels, and start to bring your sex hormones back into balance as well.
Ideally, if you think stress is starting to burn you out and eff up your cycle, stress reduction is key. There are tons of ways you can reduce your stress. My favourites are meditation and journaling, regular light to moderate exercise, implementing a night-time tea ritual, getting more quality sleep, indulging in fantasy and role-playing (the literary and gaming genres – no kink-shaming here, though, friends!), or taking a bath.
Of course, I also recommend reducing sugar and processed food intake and eating more fruits and vegetables. Better nutrition can only help your body. And if you’re struggling, you know you’ve got me in your corner, so hit me up.
Your adrenal glands produce hormones in response to stress. After long-term daily stress, they may get tired, and your sex hormones suffer too, throwing your cycle off-kilter.
Adrenal fatigue is a controversial disease that doesn’t have a true diagnostic test, nor specific telltale symptoms.
The most important thing you can do is to get tested with what’s available to rule out other potential conditions. You can also try stress reduction techniques like meditation, exercise, more sleep, indulging in something fun, or even a lovely bath.
Check out this relaxing soak idea for your next de-stressing bath!
Lavender Bath Salts
- 2 cups Epsom salts
- 10 drops lavender essential oil
As you’re running your warm bath water, add ingredients to the tub. Mix until dissolved.
Enjoy your stress-reducing bath!
Tip: You can add a tablespoon of dried lavender flowers, or toss in a bath bomb.