“I just can’t go on!” she sobbed mournfully. “I wake up exhausted, everything hurts, and I feel so depressed all the time!!!” “I am so sorry you are suffering like this Sweetie. What can I do to help?” he murmured gently. “There is nothing anyone can do to help!!! I am a stupid-fucking loser, and a burden for you and anyone else who is unfortunate enough to come in contact with me! I just wanna die!!!” she shrieked woefully. “Sweetie, you are so talented, beautiful, and sexy; and I could not imagine living without you! If your antidepressant and thyroid meds aren’t working, then we will keep trying until we find something that does!” he asserted encouragingly, while holding her close and tearing up.
Revealing the Impalpable Pachyderm
After bearing the burden of negative emotions (like anxiety or depression), or undergoing the painful disruption of a traumatic event (like a car accident or the loss of a loved one); we can become drained in body, mind, and motivation. Such circumstances can give birth to the invisible behemoth of adrenal fatigue. If untreated, this lusty leviathan can lead to a lifetime of exhaustion, emotional instability, or muscle and joint pain. It can also inhibit the treatment of hypothyroidism, diabetes, and fertility. Although a known causal factor in a variety of physical and mental conditions, this temperamental tusker is rarely mentioned, assessed for, or treated by traditional medicine practitioners. To have it considered, we would typically need to visit an alternative medicine professional, such as a Naturopathic Doctor (N.D.). Adrenal fatigue may be the most robust, wildly trumpeting, and fluorescent of the elephants crowding your doctor’s exam room.
Enter the Dragons
As a therapist and alternative healer, some of those I work with experience uniquenesses commonly referred to as depression, anxiety, panic disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and ADHD. While helping them heal, I have frequently noticed how drained they can become after enduring prolonged or extreme periods of stress. Adrenal fatigue can be both a response to and stimulus of such episodes. With these same individuals, I have also observed the impact such neurological uniquenesses have upon the brain, and subsequently its exacerbation of the conditions.
Our Kidney Toppers
Our adrenal glands are perched on top of the kidneys, and each boasts a cortex and medulla. The three sections of the cortex produce mineralocorticoids such as aldosterone, glucocorticoids such as cortisol, and gonadocorticoids such as estrogens and androgens. The adrenal medulla produces epinephrine and norepinephrine. Its cortex is essential to life, its medulla influences energy and stress response, and, when depleted, these hormone-secreting glands can be both a cause and effect of negative emotions. But, hold on to your renal hats. The stress generated by negative emotions also causes our brain to believe that we are in danger, and shifts us into Survival Mode, increasing stress levels and energy consumption; further depleting our adrenals and intensifying our physical and mental illness.
Adrenals and Energy
The adrenals produce steroidal hormones that help regulate our blood sugar levels, assisting the body with the management of its rising and falling tides and surges of energy. When blood sugar drops, our adrenals release hormones that cause the blood sugar to rise, increasing our energy level. They also release hormones when we are under stress, producing more energy to help us deal with challenging situations. Cortisol is the hormone that tells the pancreas to make more insulin. When cortisol levels drop below a critical point, the other hormones produced within the adrenals are converted into cortisol (like pregnenolone and DHEA) to help the body regulate insulin. When this occurs, these other hormones are also depleted and need support. This could occur by providing supplements to boost levels of cortisol, pregnenolone, and DHEA.
Stress and the Brain
The stress from negative emotions, such as depression and anxiety, shift the brain into Survival Mode, just like real danger would. When in Survival Mode, or stress response, our brain limits our range of thought, perceived possibilities, and courses of action to those associated with staying alive in the face of mortal danger. In addition to its impact on our thoughts and emotions, when in Survival Mode the brain commands its organic militia to pump us full of stimulating hormones to provide enough energy, strength, and endurance to fight or run away from the threat. Negative emotions were solely intended to be an aid to survival (we become angry or fearful when running into a snarling tiger in order to fight for our life or run to safety). Such murky miasmas were not intended to become a part of our daily lives, or an extension of our egos. Their only natural purpose is to help us survive when under threat. So, when we feel negative emotions, this is exactly what our brain believes — that we are under threat. Since Survival Mode strengthens negative emotions and survival instincts (like anger, aggression, fear, running away, or avoiding), and further depletes our adrenals; in order to get it to shift back into Safe Mode, we must show the brain that we are out of harm’s way.
Removing the Invisibility Cloak
Adrenal fatigue is commonly caused by lifestyle factors such as stress and nutrition; is frequently triggered by mental illness or trauma; and may occur suddenly, or may take months or years to develop. Those afflicted may suffer these and other symptoms:
- Non-refreshing sleep (you get sufficient hours of sleep, but wake fatigued)
- Feeling overwhelmed by or unable to cope with stressors
- Feeling run down or overwhelmed
- Craving salty and sweet foods
- Feeling most energetic in the evening
- A feeling of not being restored after a full night’s sleep or having sleep disturbances
- Low stamina, slow to recover from exercise
- Slow recovery from injury, illness, or stress
- Difficulty concentrating, brain fog
- Poor digestion
- Low immune function
- Food or environmental allergies
- Premenstrual syndrome or difficulties that develop during meno- pause
- Consistent low blood pressure
- Extreme sensitivity to cold
- Lack of sex drive
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Lines of dark pigment in the nails
- Startling easily
- No stamina for confrontation
Lab tests that assess for adrenal fatigue usually consist of either salivary or urinary samples collected at several points throughout the day. They are usually not paid for by insurance companies, so most traditional medicine practitioners do not order them. After confirming its presence, and relevant levels; your naturopathic doctor’s remedy may consist of pregnenolone, isocort, DHEA, or other hormonal supplements; along with dietary changes like ditching dairy, caffeine, and carbs. They might also advise you to eat five small meals each day rather than three regular ones, and to take naps when you get tired. When adrenal fatigue is competently treated, many who also suffer from hypothyroidism will discover that their thyroid has returned to normal. Adrenal fatigue is the reason many have struggled with the symptoms listed above; along with the physical and mental disorders that contain them.
In Sum, In Many, Indeed
This is an oversimplification of a complex process that influences our physical, mental, and emotional well being; and is not intended to be seen as a comprehensive review. To learn more, you may want to read “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Syndrome” by James L. Wilson. My hope is that, after reading this, if you or a loved one is suffering from the symptoms listed above, you will find an alternative medicine professional and get tested for adrenal fatigue. If you do not, then you may be destined to a lifetime of anxiety, depression, or other negative emotions; fatigue, borderline diabetes, or hypothyroidism; or infertility, hormonal imbalance, or decreased sex drive; all of which may be preventable (without the use of pharmaceuticals). I am also hoping that you will gain mastery over your emotions by clearly understanding how the brain responds to stress. Somewhere over the rainbow, within the sevenfold vibrations of light, you will find Happiness, health, and laughter; day and night.
Photo Credit: Flickr
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