The Different Stages of Adrenal Burn-out
One of the insanely cool things about the body is how hard it works for you.
It's unconditional love at it's finest, but it's so easy to forget to look at things that way sometimes.
Instead, we see symptoms... annoying symptoms that easily make us feel frustrated and annoyed.
The thing is our body is very protective. It does so much to keep us safe, to protect us from harm and keep the best balance possible while doing so.
You may have heard of your adrenals, these two, little bean size glands, that sit on top of your kidneys and produce hormones.
They are well known for producing steroid stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline), and putting us into "fight or flight mode" when "dangerous situations" arise.
Your fight or flight mode is when your body is amped up and charged, ready to take on or flee from some sort of perceived threat.
When your body goes into "fight or flight" mode, a few things happen:
cortisol is released from the adrenals prompting stored sugar to be pulled into our blood to give us instant energy to deal with the perceived threat
blood is shunted away from things like digestion and pumps to our muscles and our limbs-- giving us energy to move and run
our heart rate and blood pressure increase
our awareness increases-- we become highly alert + anxious— our body is ready to fight!
This reaction is all due to communication along the HPA Axis (or Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal Axis), which is a connection pathway that links our brain directly to our adrenals.
To keep things simple, essentially your brain notices a stressful situation first (in the hypothalamus) and sends signals to alert the pituitary gland.
The pituitary gland then releases hormones to notify the adrenal glands, so that they can begin releasing cortisol- and so begins the bodies switch into a "fight or flight" state.
At a certain point, when cortisol levels are high enough and the body has what it needs, that extra cortisol acts as a messenger to the Hypothalamus and Pituitary -- it signals to them that their request for more hormones has been received and that they can stop calling for more…. for now.
There are a 2 main problems here:
1. CHRONIC STRESS IN OUR LIVES KEEPS US IN A CHRONIC “FIGHT OR FLIGHT”
It is becoming increasingly difficult for our bodies to differentiate between true, life threatening stress, like running the heck away from a hungry tiger because your life depends on it, and the stress we are exposed to today via work, family, relationship, environment, finances, etc. These chronically high stress demands on our body (and the over-wired nervous systems that come along with it) continually keep us in a state where we are demanding more and more stress hormones from our body… and this can lead to…
2. A DISCONNECT IN COMMUNICATION BETWEEN OUR BRAIN AND OUR ADRENALS (THE HPA AXIS)
Imagine the communication line along the HPA AXIS has just been blowing up for months and months— so many calls for more stress hormones.
Over time, communication starts to get a bit messed up. This can be due to the fact that the body is running out of resources to produce enough stress hormones to keep up with the demand— in which case, it will start stealing resources from OTHER hormones like your sex hormones, which creates a whole other cascade of issues. It is in this case that we start to see hormone levels drop and our bodies start to get increasingly fatigued… we also see changes in our neurotransmitter levels so you can imagine this has a major influence on not only our energy, but our mood too.
There tends to be cycle on how these problems build up and affect the body overtime.
There are a few other problems…
These issues aren’t medically defined until they are obvious adrenal diseases
You can call it “Adrenal Dysfunction”, “Adrenal Imbalance”, “Adrenal Fatigue” or straight up “Burn-out”- none of which are true defined medical conditions… so your medical doctor won’t necessarily be quick to address your adrenal issues as a thing. They symptoms that chronically high stress demands can put on our body are so vast and far reaching in how they can manifest in the body. The symptoms can very easily be thought of as “normal’ by the person who has just lived and dealt with stress for most of their adult life OR they can blanketed with treatments like birth control pills, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications and so on and so forth. I see this ALOT in our Adrenal Recovery Community.
THE SYMPTOMS ARE VAST and far reaching… and we often think of many of them as “normal”
Like I said above, the symptoms can man manifest and take a toll on many different areas of our body— some less obvious than others.
Click here to learn more about some of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. The thing to remember is that your adrenals control the resilience and stamina your body has.
As your resilience and stamina starts to decrease from fatigue, this makes you susceptible to many different types of health issues, symptoms, illness and disease.
There are clear symptoms and hormonal changes (that appear on lab tests) that can give you an indication as to what state of burn-out your body is actually in.
Here is a quick overview of what those stages look like.
THE 3 STAGES OF BURN-OUT
STAGE ONE: ALARM
We all know this state, we’ve all been there before, it’s one we cycle in and and out of pretty frequently as we experience different types of stress in our world.
In this case, our body is well equipped with resources to make all the stress hormones needed to combat the stress. In the alarm stage hormones like epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine, cortisol, DHEA and insulin are often elevated. In this stage, it’s common to feel very alert (even anxious)— ready for anything. It’s so common for us to be in and out of this state that if symptoms tend to arise, we are pretty familiar with them (a bit of fatigue, maybe a bit more anxiety than usual, sugar cravings, “normal stress stuff”).
The problem here, lies when we don’t come out of this state— these increased hormone levels may begin to interrupt our sleep patterns and we will start to feel increasingly tired (often tired yet wired).
STAGE 2: RESISTANCE
In the Resistance Stage we start to see certain hormones dropping, often androgenic sex-hormones like DHEA and testosterone— because they can easily be converted into cortisol (our main stress hormone). In this stage, you might still be feeling the effects of “stress” and functioning fine. You might be a bit more tired and may see your immune system struggling, your libido decreasing and finding that you have less and less tolerance for stressful situations or social engagements. This stage can come to feel “NORMAL” and in practice, I find people get stuck in this phase for so long that they come to see this “baseline” of energy and stamina their new normal.
STAGE 3: BURN-OUT
In this stage, BURN-OUT starts to really show it’s face. This is where lab tests will show that many sex hormones, stress hormones AND neurotransmitters are now low.
This is where we feel completely exhausted or “burnt-out” and start to really experience more extreme symptoms from sex hormone imbalance— think little to no libido, fertility issues, irritability, depression, anxiety, low immunity, low tolerance to stress. In this state, our life becomes seriously affected by our health. Many people find health issues piling up on one and another and their ability to function normally or hold down a job becomes a challenge if possible to maintain.
THE GOOD NEWS
The good news is that, you can improve and revitalize your body’s resilience with improved self-care, good nutrition and supportive supplements.
If you would like some professional support and a coach who under stands this condition deeply and can work with you on a holistic, comprehensive level to help you change your life, recover, rebalance and get your YOU back. Let me know.
I hope this info serves you and please comment below if you have any questions!