It’s the holiday season! What a wonderful time of the year, bringing with it all the holiday decorations, yummy food and a time to catch up with friends and family. But it also comes with more commitments, spending more time in the kitchen, running around in the freezing cold (as I write this it’s 2 degrees in snow-covered Denver), buying gifts, and spending more time with family and friends. It’s enough to throw many of us over the edge. As if we don’t have enough stress in our regular daily life!
Being tired around the holiday season might just come with the territory. But if you find yourself regularly tired, run down and stressed on a normal basis, it’s possible you have adrenal fatigue.
What is adrenal fatigue?
Our adrenal glands, often referred to as our “fight or flight” glands, sit on top of our kidneys. They help our body cope with stress - physical, emotional, environmental, physiological and/or infectious. Healthy adrenals help with stress by balancing our hormones, cortisol, DHEA and epinephrine (adrenaline).
In the past, when a cave man had to out run a tiger to survive, his hypothalamus sent a message to his adrenal glands to produce more cortisol and adrenaline, so he had the energy to run faster. Physically the heart pumps faster to send more nutrients to your arms and legs. At the same time your eyes dilate to see better. Your digestion, sexual desire and immune function shut down, so as to not waste energy and make you lighter on your feet so you can out run that tiger.
Dial it forward to modern times. When we are constantly stressed (running from a tiger), we are calling on our adrenals to keep us balanced and give us more energy to keep going even when we need to rest. When this happens, the adrenals are constantly in the “on” position, producing cortisol all the time. If the stress is not addressed the adrenals will eventually reach exhaustion and cease to produce any cortisol. This damage leads to many health issues and conditions.
Many traditional western medicine doctors still don’t recognize adrenal fatigue as an actual diagnosed condition. However, Dr. James Wilson, an endocrine specialist, says it’s “estimated up to 80% of adults experience adrenal fatigue during their lifetime.”
Part of the reason is that our adrenals also help our bodies balance blood sugar, thyroid, sex hormones and neurotransmitters. They do so much for our bodies that fatiguing them can be hard to avoid.
So, how do you know if you have adrenal fatigue? Here are some of the more common symptoms:
low energy throughout the day
trouble getting out of bed
dark circles under the eyes
irregular menstrual cycles
inability to lose weight
reduced immunity, beginning/worsening allergies
brain fog, mental exhaustion
being exhausted after workouts
low or no libido
low blood pressure
dizziness when standing up
cravings for salt and/or sugar
anxiety, mood swings, depression
low thyroid function (hypothyroid)
As you can imagine with a few of these symptoms - like being too tired to get out of bed even after a reasonable amount of sleep - it can make you feel like you are crazy, especially if doctors are telling you nothing is wrong with you. You might even seek out a therapist for some of these issues.
Just know you are not alone. There are a lot of things you can do to help yourself.
To start, seeing a therapist is fantastic. I am a big advocate of therapy and I believe everyone can benefit. You can also see a naturopathic doctor, a nutritionist, back off exercise or meditate. Healing our adrenals can be as simple as changing our diet. Once you make a diet and lifestyle change, you should notice a dramatic change, including better moods, better blood pressure, less cravings and more energy.
So, if you generally feel rested but the holidays have you running around like crazy, be sure to take some time for yourself. But if your sense of tiredness is constant, you might be suffering from adrenal fatigue.
As a holistic nutritionist, my practice is focused on making my clients feel their best and live a balanced, full life. As a part of this, I work with my clients on specific conditions, including adrenal fatigue. If you have any specific questions about adrenal fatigue or would just like to chat in general, I’d love to hear from you.