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Stress: It’s an everyday part of life and a completely natural physical and psychological response to feeling overwhelmed, threatened, or challenged. Once the factors causing this stress have been dealt with, the body calms down again. But what happens in periods of prolonged stress, when you barely have a chance to recover before feeling stressed and overwhelmed by something else? This is where the theory of adrenal fatigue comes in. In this article, we will take a closer look at adrenal fatigue and stress, and what your body might be trying to tell you.

What is adrenal fatigue?

When we are stressed, our bodies produce hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, to help with the flight-or-fight response we are naturally programmed for. Once stress dissipates, these hormone levels go back to normal. Adrenal insufficiency occurs when the adrenal glands, which are located at the top of each kidney, are unable to produce sufficient amounts of hormones – this may be due to being overworked or caused by another problem with your adrenal glands, such as Addison’s disease. Adrenal insufficiency can be diagnosed through a series of tests, although it is quite a rare condition.

Adrenal fatigue is thought by some to be a mild form of adrenal insufficiency, which is near impossible to pick up with current adrenal insufficiency tests. As such, adrenal fatigue is dismissed by much of the medical profession and many claim that it is not a real condition. (The same is often said about chronic fatigue, although this condition has slowly begun to gain more recognition in the medical and scientific worlds.) This can be incredibly frustrating for people dealing with the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, such as ongoing tiredness, lethargy, disturbed sleep, body aches, headaches, nervousness and anxiety, digestive issues, and craving salty or sugary foods.

As so often happens when it comes to our bodies, a variety of symptoms such as these can be caused by a range of illnesses, and as such, doctors can be dismissive at best, and misdiagnose at worst. But for someone who believes they may be suffering from adrenal fatigue, trying to get a diagnosis and treatment can leave some feeling lost and hopeless, and unsupported by doctors. For those thought to be suffering from adrenal fatigue, what they really need is a solution.

Adrenal fatigue and stress: What is your body telling you?

If you believe you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue, you’ve likely read about the symptoms and find yourself suffering from a number of them on an ongoing basis. While being able to get a diagnosis from your doctor is a rabbit hole you may prefer not to be going down (with endless tests without a solution, or a complete dismissal and being told to ‘get some rest’ or ‘lose weight’ or any number of other unhelpful suggestions), there is some good news: There are many things you can do! And none of them involve medication.

If you’re suffering from one or several of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, your body could be trying to tell you that your stress levels are too high and that you need to address them. But how do you address stress in your life? It’s not as easy as just ‘stressing less’, as we all know.

Lowering your stress levels

Stress is widely understood to play a major role in our health, both mentally and physically, and is even associated with a lower life expectancy. So, addressing your levels of stress is not only important for your day-to-day wellbeing, but also for your long-term health. Thankfully, there are a range of things you can do to manage your stress. The trouble is, most people struggle with these. That’s because high levels of stress have become so normalised in this day and age that they’ve become just a part of life. In fact, around 72% of Australians report that stress is affecting their physical health and 64% believe it is affecting their mental health. Making a concerted effort to reduce your stress levels takes work, but is something that is very achievable, with some support. Here’s how you can reduce your stress levels:

Get your diet right

Alcohol, coffee, drugs, and cigarettes can all contribute to stress, as can refined foods. Identifying which of these are contributing to your stress is as simple as reducing them or cutting them out entirely. That’s easier than it sounds, especially when addiction or dependency come into the mix. Expert help in overcoming these is the first step, so don’t try to go it alone. More about that later in this article.

Is it stress or anxiety?

Although closely related, stress and anxiety have some important differences, and this will make a difference in the type of treatment that is right for you. If you’re wondering whether you’re suffering from stress or anxiety, you should read our article, Is it Stress or Anxiety?, for more information.

Exercise and rest in balance

Exercise is an important part of any healthy lifestyle and a huge contributor to our overall well-being. However, too much exercise can have a negative effect on your health. Getting enough exercise, and factoring in appropriate levels of rest, are equally important and can help to reduce your stress and improve your health.  Any form of intense exercise is the worst thing you can do for adrenal fatigue because it puts your body into more stress, so instead opt for gentle forms of exercise, like walking or yoga.

Address the underlying issues

Why is it that you find yourself constantly stressed, or tired, or suffering from the symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue? They don’t happen on their own. The factors contributing to your high levels of stress are often deep-seated and lifestyle-based, and can take quite a bit of work to uncover. That’s why seeing a counsellor or psychologist who is an expert in stress management is important. Your therapist will help you to uncover the underlying beliefs, behaviours, and causes of your stress, before assisting you in unpacking these and learning new and improved responses to stressful factors.

At Integrated Health Specialists, we see many people suffering from stress and the many symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue, and we understand just how big of an impact these can have on a person’s health, both physically and mentally. That’s why we’ve developed a specialised 8-week Integrated Anxiety and Stress Management Program. Read more about our approach to stress management here, or get in touch with us today to book an appointment and get started on your journey to a happier, healthier, and more stress-free life today. 

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen