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I recently wrote an article about adrenal fatigue (here). In it, I revealed how I had suffered with adrenal exhaustion years ago, and I listed some of the symptoms I had when my adrenal fatigue was at its worst. The article is being shared rather widely, validating once again how many people suffer from adrenal issues and are searching for a cure. The information I shared wasn’t readily available when I looked for it in my 30’s and 40’s. That’s part of why I decided to share more about this problem with you today.
Though my adrenals have been fine for a long time, I began noticing they needed attention again this year. After dealing with a difficult problem over the last 10 months, I can’t say I’m surprised my adrenals began to speak out. If you think of the adrenal glands as the “first responders” of the body, it’s easy to see how they produce some of the first noticeable signs when the body falls out of balance again. Because the adrenals are quick to react but slow to calm down once they’ve been stressed too long, they produce a range of uncomfortable symptoms that are just too hard to ignore.
I’d like to offer a short anatomy lesson, for those who aren’t familiar with the location and job of the adrenal glands in the human body.
Adrenal Glands: A Quick Overview
Every one of us has 2 adrenal glands, each about the size of a thumb, which are located on top of each kidney on either side of the body. The primary job of the adrenal glands is to produce a variety of hormones (more than 50 I believe) that are necessary for human life. Most people have probably heard of the adrenal hormone called “adrenaline”, which is the one that comes to our rescue during times of extreme fear or situations requiring quick action. Adrenaline is the hormone that rushes blood to our heads so we can think clearly in emergencies. It also rushes blood to our hearts and muscles so they can briefly become super-powerful and quickly react to whatever emergency situation is at hand (think of the parent able to lift a vehicle off a child after an accident).
Another hormone released by the adrenals is “cortisol”. In a perfect world, cortisol would be released in precise dosages into the body throughout the day, helping us rise in the morning, perform our daily activities with an appropriate amount of energy, and feel ready to go to sleep at night. Cortisol function is disturbed when the adrenals are severely under stress, however. What would normally proceed like clockwork becomes greatly out of balance, and the changes in cortisol levels are felt as the various symptoms we commonly associate with adrenal fatigue or exhaustion. (See this list of symptoms.)
Typically, this excess cortisol produces a feeling of being on constant “high alert” without the ability to calm down. With the adrenals overloaded and hormone levels unregulated in the cyclical way I described earlier, the body remains in a continually heightened state (some call it fear, nervousness, stress, or anxiety). It’s like the high alert can never be turned off. Which is why adrenal fatigue sufferers always feel so wired, so anxious, so nervous, and so jittery all the time; or in contrast, so utterly exhausted and practically unable to move when the alert has finally ended.
Fight or Flight Response
In reality, the stress response I’ve just described is life-saving and necessary for humans to react to real emergencies. If we look back in time to when humans would flee from wild animals or, later, human predators, we can understand why “fight or flight” is necessary for actual survival.
[An easy book for learning about stress and relaxation is, “The Relaxation Response” by Dr. Herbert Benson. If you’re interested in learning more, even though it’s an older book, it’s a good one to start out with.]
A problem today is that the human body hasn’t quite adapted to face the situations it’s living under in modern society. We are constantly bombarded with information and other stimuli, and we’re surrounded by mock emergency situations, or at least those we perceive as being urgent RIGHT NOW. The typical American lifestyle can wreak havoc on a body not designed to handle the overload of modern western culture. Our bodies lose the ability to chill out between episodes of stressful activity and bounce back to its naturally restful state.
Here’s a simple equation representing what I’ve just said:
Modern living = too many emergencies = adrenals can’t rest = bodies unlearn how to calm down.
Here’s the translation:
The adrenals get fooled into thinking there’s an alarm going off all the time.
I’ve learned so much by healing myself and helping others over the years. In the next installment I’ll begin sharing specifics to start healing the adrenal glands. There’s a subscribe button at the very bottom of my home page if you want to follow along.
Here’s that book by Dr. Benson again (affiliate):
To your health and healing,
As a coach, writer, recovered over-doer and busyness addict, I understand the challenges of creating a balanced, healthy lifestyle while the mind tries to sabotage your success. In my journey to vibrant health, I created a personalized health system of nutrition and supplementation, lifestyle changes, and I retrained my mind and the energy of my body. I view my success as the formula to my happy, healthy life. I now empower other women to create their own personalized formulas, including the tools and strategies just right for them! Amazing life shifts come from our relationships. I look forward to helping you, too!