Always tired. Always wired. Can’t sleep. Can’t think. Irritable. Moody. Always reaching for the caffeine just to get through the day. Overwhelmed and not even sure you’ll actually make it through the day.
Sound at all familiar? Probably does to at least a lot of you. An estimated 80 percent of people worldwide suffer from some level of adrenal fatigue.
Modern life has brought us here. Here’s what it feels like to be in full on stage three complete fatigue-mode, how stress causes adrenal fatigue, and why you should take preventative steps now.
A Day in My Life with Adrenal Fatigue Stage 3
Yesterday started out pretty well for someone who’s struggling with adrenal fatigue and in the midst of the slow recovery process.
I had actually slept more than 6 hours (huge progress for someone who has often averaged 4-5 hours), got up, brushed my teeth, made my warm lemon water with apple cider vinegar, and even motivated myself to walk to the beach to meditate, sun on my face, fully aware of how lucky I am to live here.
I walked at a moderate pace and settled in for a 10 minute meditation, journaled, did a few yoga stretches, and even did a little reading lying there on my blanket. Came back, rinsed the salty sea air sweat off my skin, made a smoothie, and changed for barre class. I’ve been feeling good lately and am beyond ready to get back in shape and regain my strength, so I was motivated.
After class I indulged in the steam room because my skin and my nerves are all the happier for it when I do. After a full weekend of work, I’ve allowed some space in my weekdays to feel a little bit like a weekend.
Yesterday morning was like that, because rest and recovery is beyond necessary when you have adrenal fatigue. So I went through my morning at a moderate pace, checking and replying to emails in between, refueled with a solid lunch when I got back, and got to work.
Frankly, though, all morning I’d been struggling to get my energy and focus back to the levels I’ve been experiencing for the past week. I had felt like I had turned a corner and was finally on the up and up.
I was feeling ok yesterday morning, but felt like I’d lost a bit of steam. And if I’ve learned anything over the past month-plus since diagnosis of recovery research and trial and error, it’s that when I feel lower energy, I have to honor that. I have to take things down a notch even when I don’t want to.
So I took my morning at a moderate pace. I thought sunshine and beach would start the day on the right foot. Pus I’ve been feeling stronger so I made the call that barre would be ok and would boost my confidence. Steaming would be good for my muscles and my sanity.
But then the afternoon slump hit. Hard. I went from a fairly normally functioning human to one who could hardly keep her eyes open much less get out of bed. Even sitting in bed was too much effort. I lay down and just rested for a bit. I got up after a nap-like rest, hoping I’d be more functional.
Nope. I was down for the count, completely and utterly. My eyes were watering and my muscles felt weak. I almost felt dizzy getting out of bed to get a snack. I at least managed to read a few chapters from a book on my list for professional growth and respond to a few important emails. So I guess at least it wasn’t a total wash of a day…
By the evening I was still feeling useless. I nearly ordered delivery even though I had just bought groceries the day before, because the thought of getting up to make even the simplest dinner was thoroughly exhausting. I garnered enough strength to rinse a sweet potato and throw it in the oven.
I lay back down and read for another hour then finally got up to throw some kale and walnuts in a pan and topped it with the sweet potato and some spices. After dinner, here I was, still tired, but feeling far more functional and alert than I had a couple hours prior, with enough brainpower to start drafting this post.
What it Really Feels like to have late stage Adrenal Fatigue
This it what it’s like to have later stage adrenal fatigue. One day you’re tired but functioning and getting things done. The next day you wake up tired, per usual, but maybe still get things done. The next day starts the same, but then without warning your energy is completely gone and you can do nothing but lie in bed all afternoon. In the middle of the week.
It’s the level of fatigue I felt in the first few days after my each of my intense four-day 24/7 chemo treatments.
It’s the kind of weakness and exhaustion you feel when you have the flu. Except it comes on without warning and with no other symptoms. You are not sick. Just completely bone-weary exhausted. Entirely depleted.
The next day you might feel comparatively amazing – like I do today. But you don’t just feel completely back to normal the next week. Recovery can take months, or sometimes even years.
When you’re out and about, you put in effort to look like a presentable human, so you look and seem fine and normal and maybe even great.
But the slumps are as yet unpredictable. It’s almost like having split personality disorder – happy human one day, zombie the next. Which makes planning and living life a little extra tricky. It sometimes feels like begin trapped in a cage of limited energy. Stuck and powerless over the circumstances.
And days where you feel truly amazing – well that’s a rare gift.
How did I get here – to Adrenal Fatigue Stage 3?
Stress. Chronic stress and chronic insomnia. I’m telling you now – if you are experiencing chronic stress and/ or insomnia, do something about it NOW. The longer you wait, the worse it gets. It can result in serious illness, as it did in my case.
Hoping it will resolve itself isn’t enough. You need to take serious, deliberate action steps to resolve stress and insomnia. In the world we live in, these issues won’t simply resolve themselves over time. They require attention and deliberate change, because our environment is not set up in our favor.
What Happens to the Adrenal Glands to Cause Adrenal Fatigue
Chronic stress continually burdens the adrenals, requiring more and more cortisol to be produced. High cortisol levels keep you tired but wired. You rely on caffeine to get through the day and feel perpetually overwhelmed by the daily burdens of life.
Common symptoms include racing thoughts, rouble concentrating, salty and sweet cravings, moodiness and irritability, body aches, and hormone imbalances. This is list is far from inclusive – there is a vast array of symptoms linked to adrenal fatigue, making it such an elusive condition to diagnose.
Also known as adrenal insufficiency, adrenal fatigue is technically a subclinical diagnosis not recognized by many trained in modern medicine. There is no pill or procedure that fixes it. Only diet and lifestyle changes and perhaps a few supplements will help you heal.
The adrenal glands are two thumb-sized organs that sit on top of your kidneys. They are responsible for producing over 50 hormones which control and influence nearly every bodily function.
As part of the stress response,the adrenal cortex releases corticosteroids which dampen bodily processes not necessary in the face of an immediate threat. Notably, digestion and the immune response are shut down. This is how stress contributes to digestion issues, inflammation, and weakened immunity.
Eventually, your adrenals can’t keep up with the amount of daily stress you’re experiencing. They become overloaded and eventually hormone production is impacted. Cortisol pulls resources and depletes the building blocks necessary to make the other hormones. Thus the reason for wide-ranging, seemingly unrelated symptoms that can vary dramatically from one person to the next.
Setting the Stage for Adrenal Fatigue: My Story of Stress and Burnout
I was diagnosed adrenal fatigue stage 3, but truthfully my struggles with stress, anxiety, insomnia, and burnout began exactly 3 years ago, about 3 and a half months before I first had symptoms of lymphoma, and a little over 7 months before the lymphoma was discovered – an aggressive form of lymphoma that grows quickly. Between 6 months to a year to get to the size of a grapefruit as the growth in my chest was. Interesting timing.
Three years ago, August 2015, I hit full-on burnout. I had been running around for work, dealing with one stressful living situation after another, and feeling like I was drowning in overwhelm. I’d been feeling stuck and like I’d lost control of my own life.
I woke up for work on a Tuesday morning in early August feeling barely alive. I had a sense that if I got in the car to drive to work I wouldn’t make it. I felt less coherent and coordinated than I was at some of my drunkest moments (and trust, me, there have been moments…).
The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation and the Serious Health Consequences of Insomnia
So by that point, insomnia ruled my life, and it had caught up with me. Abundant research has shown how dangerous sleep deprivation can be on many levels, and I can tell you from experience it’s an awful feeling to experience chronic sleep deprivation. My brain was not on point, my body was losing steam. I could barely get through my day. I was barely holding things together.
I called out that day and stayed in bed. I was mercifully able to nap and by the next morning felt like I could at least function again, as drained as I still was. I slowly began to create more boundaries when it came to my work schedule, and in the face of push-back I stood my ground. I knew my health and sanity depended on it.
However it was apparently too little too late. There were already enough straws that the camel’s back had already, imperceptibly, broken.
My energy deteriorated. I felt less and less like myself. It was getting to be winter, and the holidays entered full swing, so I chalked it up to winter and stress and colds. But when I wasn’t getting over those colds and things continued to get worse, I knew I had to take serious action.
The chest irritation was growing worse. I had a bad feeling. I called my doctor for that CT scan and sure enough there was the grapefruit-sized lymphoma
With cancer treatment on the horizon, one of the first things I did was to sign up for a meditation course. I knew I had to get the stress and insomnia under control. So I meditated and rested my way through treatment and came out on the other end feeling motivated and energized and inspired by my second chance at life.
The Healing Process Takes Time
But I hadn’t fully healed. I was out of the woods when it came to cancer, but I still had a whole heck of a lot of healing left to do. And with the complex side effects that come along with cancer treatment, I figured the ongoing insomnia issues were related to the many disturbances caused by that. I already had the daily meditation thing under control.
So I dealt with my gut issues and detoxed the crazy chemicals out of my body and kept meditating and ate super clean most of the time and did a full-on kidney and liver detox and I did all the things I could think of.
And then winter came again and hit hard and I decided I had to move to my happy place because I was not happy. The beach. That’s my happy place. I picked up and moved to Miami. Three months and still a lot of uncertainty in, I can say it was definitely the right move. I can feel it. But transition is never ‘easy’ – as good as it may be – and moving is always stressful. And you can bet I wasn’t sleeping super well all throughout.
So when my insomnia and fatigue issues gave no signs of improving, I decided to bite the bullet and pay out of pocket for some holistic expertise. I got my stress hormones tested.
Adrenal Fatigue Stage 3. You don’t wind up there overnight.
What Makes us Susceptible to Adrenal Fatigue
Due in part to genetics and in part to environmental circumstances, some people are more resilient to extreme and chronic stress, while others are more stress sensitive.
On top of the insidious daily stress, over the years I’ve dealt with a number of very stressful circumstances, a great deal of transition, and a number of traumatic events. Sometimes you think you’re coping with things just fine – even well, perhaps – and perhaps in the face of everything you’ve gone through, you actually are coping admirably well.
But truthfully our bodies and our brains – as beautifully resilient as they are – can only handle so much on their own. If you don’t process these events completely, or properly, they just wind up repressed in your body and your psyche turns to numbing.
Not feeling anything doesn’t mean you’re coping well. It means you’re burying the pain and allowing it to brew. So many of us numb – through food, alcohol, or even extreme exercise. Any way to escape the difficult emotions.
Many of us are unequipped to handle heavy stuff, and many of us don’t even know how to recognize when something requires deeper, perhaps professional, attention.
This is how we are taught to cope: Move on. Get over it. Buck up. Get on with your life. Keep calm and carry on. Just do it.
To a point, yes to all of that. But only to a point. Beyond that, we cross over into the state of numbness.
Add to that the incessant stressors of modern life, and you get a recipe for adrenal overload. Which eventually results in adrenal fatigue if left unabated.
Our Bodies are Living in a Foreign World
Our bodies were designed to cope with acute stressors, such as running from predators like saber tooth tigers. Our bodies were not designed to deal with chronic ongoing stress that results from modern day life.
Nearly everything about modern society is set up against optimal functioning of the nervous and hormonal systems. Seriously. Nearly everything.
We’ve been artificially removed from natural circadian rhythms and nature itself.
Artificial lights, perpetual noise, cubicles, desks, and processed foods have removed us from our natural state in our natural habitat, and our bodies don’t like it. Nor do our brains.
Curb Adrenal Fatigue before it happens… or at least before it Gets Worse
Everyone knows what it feels like to be tired, to go with less than the optimal amount of sleep, and to be a little unfocused.
But real Fatigue is a whole other level of ‘tired.’ That general feeling of tiredness does not touch this extreme fatigue. It is extremely frustrating. So if you’re experiencing stress, don’t just ignore it. Don’t keep pushing through. Don’t go past that tipping point where constant tiredness becomes true fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue – no matter what stage – doesn’t happen over night.
It happens after months and years of chronic stress. The longer the stress, the longer it takes to heal.
Don’t let yourself get to the point where it will take years to get your body back to its optimal state.
Take steps to reduce stress and overwhelm from your life NOW.
The Upshot: You Can Heal Adrenal Fatigue – Without Fancy Treatments
Sure, I had to take a special test that insurance doesn’t cover. It took a day to collect the samples and a day to do some minor prep (like not have caffeine or alcohol). It’s annoying to be sure. But it cost significantly than $200.
And it’s saving my life. One month in and while I’m still struggling with the ups and downs as evidenced by my down day yesterday, my sleep is improving dramatically. I slept almost 7.5 hours straight last night – HUGE. My sleep average for the past week is nearly 6.5. AMAZING.
I went for over a week without having a major dip in energy. That’s actually major progress.
All it requires is a lot of patience and a lot of dedication to the diet and lifestyle shifts. Which isn’t easy, but at least it’s simple. And it’s completely within your power. You can free yourself from the cage.
Life is far too precious to waste feeling less than amazing.