By Ali Damron

We all know by now that stress impacts our health in small and more profound ways depending on the level and duration of our stress.  This happens in part due to the hormone cortisol, which is known as our “stress hormone.”

If you want to start sleeping better, have more energy, have better digestion, less anxiety, balance hormones, and a healthy sex drive, read on!

When we are under prolonged physical and/or emotional stress, it can lead to a condition called adrenal fatigue.  Adrenal fatigue is a condition defined by multiple symptoms caused by suboptimally functioning adrenal glands.  This can change the hormonal dynamic in your body to cause a cascade of blood levels being out of range and you feeling the effects physically, mentally, and emotionally by symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, brain fog, changes in body composition and trouble with digestion.

How Does the Stress Response Work?

Cortisol and adrenaline were designed to be secreted by the adrenal glands when your body was going through a process called “fight or flight.”  This is a lifesaving process to be used when we are in a life or death situation and we need all of our body’s resources to go to dilating our pupils and giving blood and oxygen to our heart and muscles to get us out of danger.

In today’s society, people perceive stressful situations in this light and the physiological responses ensue which doesn’t give our system a chance to rest and recuperate.  When we are constantly in the state of secreting cortisol and adrenaline, our body starts producing more inflammation and decreases resilience to illnesses created by hormonal disruption which creates a decline in health.


People suffering with adrenal fatigue can range from feeling a little more exhausted, not recovering from workouts as well as before, feeling more anxious than normal, all the way to hardly being able to get out of bed, getting sick frequently and surviving on caffeine to get them through the day. 

  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Feeling unrested in the morning
  • Insomnia – especially waking up in the middle of the night
  • Feeling “tired but wired” in the evening
  • Blood sugar dysregulation, insulin resistance or pre-diabetes
  • Frequent colds/flus or low-grade infections
  • Fat storage especially in the midsection
  • PMS symptoms
  • Overreacting to perceived stressors that wouldn’t have bothered you previously
  • Feeling “ragey,” irritable or anxious
  • Depression
  • Cravings for salty and sugary foods
  • Need for caffeine
  • Low sex drive
  • Easily bruising or injuries that take longer to heal
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Feeling achy or having joint and muscle pain

Causes of Adrenal Fatigue

The causes of adrenal fatigue are things that cause a perceived stress either physically, mentally or emotionally.  Obviously, cortisol is released when we are in a state of stress, anxiety or panic, but it’s also released when your body is exposed to toxins, foods you’re sensitive to, inflammation, and a lack of sleep.

Common Situations That Cause Adrenal Fatigue

  • Having a baby
  • Buying a house
  • Work or career-related stress
  • Strained relationships
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Moving houses or cities
  • Starting a new business or career
  • Not getting adequate sleep and rest
  • Lack of exercise or overtraining
  • Overwork
  • Prolonged illness or injury
  • Grief and loss of a loved one
  • Eating foods that you’re sensitive to
  • Being exposed to environmental toxins daily
  • Heavy metal exposure
  • Eating too many carbohydrates in one sitting or processed food as a whole
  • Consuming too many alcoholic beverages

What Can I Do To Get Over This?!

  1. Whole Food Nutrition – When we are in a state of adrenal fatigue, our bodies need nourishment that they can readily use.  This means eating foods that are in their natural states such as high-quality protein sources, healthy fats, lots of vegetables and fruit.  Make sure to eat your carbohydrates paired with protein and fat to buffer the insulin response invoked by eating sugar (yes – even fruit is sugar). 
  2. Exercise – Our body was made to move.  First, choose exercise that you enjoy.  When you are feeling the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, long steady forms of cardio can cause a release of cortisol, so it’s best to keep your exercise shorter when recovering.  Strength training helps the cortisol response, so that’s always a favorite of mine.  Also, incorporating short forms of HIIT workouts are great for most people.  Always, listen to your body when it comes to exercise to make sure you’re moving enough but not overtraining.  I always tell my patients to ask themselves before they exercise, “is this workout going to make me feel good and energized or is it going to completely wipe me out for the day?”  Choose a form of exercise that makes you feel good.  For the more severe stages of adrenal fatigue, your workouts might be less intense and less time than you’re used to.  That’s okay!
  3. Lifestyle – This is a huge component of healing from these symptoms and getting your mojo back!  Sometimes, we have to change our expectations for certain situations.  A lot of women are perfectionists and push themselves to total burnout trying to “do it all.”  Sometimes we have to let things go and sometimes things aren’t going to be perfect – that’s also ok!  I always tell my patients to incorporate some form of deep breathing or meditation in to their lives as well.  I personally use the Headspace App and I absolutely love it.  They are short, to the point meditations that can be done during any activity.  There are tons of other websites, programs and apps out there to incorporate this easily into your life.  When we remember to breathe deep, we are literally telling our nervous systems to calm down, stop producing adrenaline and cortisol and that we are safe.  Who doesn’t need more of that!? 
  4. Herbs and Supplements – There are several supplements that are amazing at healing the symptoms of adrenal fatigue and increasing resistance to cortisol.  I always recommend working with a qualified holistic healthcare professional to get the most individualized plan, but a few that I use frequently are magnesium, vitamin C, probiotics, and methylated b vitamins.  I also use quite a few herbs in my practice.  There is a class of herbs called adaptogens that increase resilience in our body, reduce the effects of cortisol and balance hormones that are affected by the increase in cortisol such as DHEA, testosterone, insulin and progesterone.  Some examples of adaptogenic herbs include: ashwagandha, rhodiola, holy basil, eleuthero, ginseng and medicinal mushrooms. 

I hope you found this helpful.  I have had several times in my life when I was dealing with cortisol dysregulation and adrenal fatigue and I’m happy to report that by implementing these things, your health can change and you’ll get back to feeling like yourself!

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