Last updated on June 18th, 2019
Ever wake up feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck? It could be that your adrenal glands are struggling to keep up with what you’re asking of them.
Only the size of a walnut, these mighty glands—you have two—are part of your endocrine system and they sit just on top of your kidneys. They produce an array of hormones (chemical messengers), which include adrenaline and cortisol, sex hormones such as progesterone, and hormones that help control blood pressure, fluid balance and salt retention in the body—just to name a few.
If we live a high-stress, fast-paced lifestyle, or live our lives on an emotional rollercoaster, it can take a toll on our body. To our body, any kind of stress—be it because we’re in immediate danger or simply feeling financial, relationship or work pressures—is interpreted as a direct threat to our life.
Historically, the only stressors we faced were typically life threatening. We might have had to fight or flee from a sabre-tooth tiger or a neighbouring tribe for example. Our only long-term stressors were things like famine, war or drought. So, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense that our bodies are primarily wired for survival.
The problem is, in the last one hundred years or so our way of living has taken a radical change. In the last twenty to thirty years, it’s changed even more significantly. But in terms of evolution, this is just a tiny speck of time, so our biology has not yet had a chance to evolve to cope with our modern lifestyle.
The body’s protective mechanism is to fire off stress hormones, namely adrenaline and cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands. Adrenaline is our acute stress hormone, designed to get you out of danger, and cortisol is the stress hormone produced in excess if the stress becomes chronic. If we’re living life at a million miles an hour, rushing around trying to get through our endless to-do list and feeling as though we’re not getting anywhere, our adrenal glands can get a walloping.
If the stress response doesn’t truly switch off and you have had a high cortisol output for many, many years, your adrenal glands may not be able to sustain this. They aren’t designed to withstand this kind of output, so they ‘crash’ and cortisol output is no longer optimal or elevated; it will plummet. This has become known as adrenal fatigue, or ‘burn out’.
Here are some signs that your adrenals need support:
- A deep, unrelenting fatigue
- Feeling tired but wired
- Feeling stiff, particularly on waking
- Extreme difficulty getting out of bed in the mornings
- Feeling like you NEED sugar or caffeine to get you through some mornings and most afternoons
- Unless you go to bed by 10pm, you will typically get a second wind and it will be much harder for you to fall asleep if you’re still up at midnight
The pituitary gland in your brain regulates your adrenals (and the rest of your endocrine system), and, although treatment for adrenal fatigue usually involves a range of strategies that support the adrenals themselves, going one step further and assisting the pituitary gland can also be immensely powerful and highly beneficial to restoring your health and vitality.
In my opinion, a form of yoga known as restorative yoga, or Stillness Through Movement, is one of the most effective ways to make progress in recovering from adrenal fatigue. With that said, never underestimate the healing and restorative power of food the way it comes in nature. With a combination of restorative practices, herbal medicine and a nourishing way of eating, it is possible to regain your health and vitality and recover from adrenal fatigue. Prioritising your own health is a necessary step your recovery.