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  • Wellness Workdays

Adrenal Fatigue: Is it Real?

Young woman with head down at desk fatigued, sleeping at work after multiple coffees, fatigued at work

While we are all trying to keep up with our day-to-day tasks, have you noticed some days just feel like a drag? Especially the days when you need to perform but just feel too exhausted after a long week of non-stop work. It is no wonder why “TGIF” (Thank God It’s Friday) is a popular expression in the workplace. Since working hard is praised by society, we usually avoid taking time off or incorporating more rest and feel like we just need to power through. This feeling of low energy is sometimes referred to as “adrenal fatigue.”

What is adrenal fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue is a term that is thrown around to explain why a person is feeling chronically tired from prolonged stress. The theory is that the adrenal glands can over produce cortisol, a hormone released during stress, and eventually deplete it leaving you feeling tired and restless. The idea that a change in hormones levels can cause different symptoms is not that far-fetched since it is common for older adults to produce less hormones like females in menopause.

However, adrenal fatigue is not recognized as a medical condition by the Society of Endocrinology. A systematic review by BMC Endocrine Disorders measured cortisol levels in their subjects and found no evidence of cortisol levels changing under long-term stress and essentially stated that adrenal fatigue is considered a myth.

There is a medical condition called adrenal insufficiency, which is when the adrenal glands are not producing enough hormones, usually due to physical damage to the adrenal glands or the pituitary gland in the brain not being able to signal the glands to produce hormones. There is also no evidence, however, that chronic stress can cause adrenal insufficiency.

So, if it’s not adrenal fatigue, what is it?

The proposed symptoms of adrenal fatigue are common and could be related to a number of conditions. These symptoms include:

  • Low energy

  • Depressive mood

  • Salt and sugar cravings

  • Feeling lightheaded

  • Trouble falling asleep and/or waking up

  • Frequently drinking caffeine for energy

These symptoms are experienced in a myriad of cases in which they are too vague to narrow down as “adrenal fatigue.” Usually these symptoms could go away after a good night’s sleep or some down time. If the symptoms persist, a health practitioner should test for any underlying conditions. Some conditions with similar signs and symptoms include anemia, pre-diabetes, sleep apnea, mental disorders, insomnia, etc. As for adrenal insufficiency, it is diagnosed through blood work and some signs are low blood pressure, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.

Try this if you’re feeling tired or need a boost of energy:

  • Create a sleep schedule. Set yourself a bedtime and wake time and stick to it. The body can eventually adapt to the schedule so that you might start to feel sleepy at the same time every night.

  • Have a bedtime ritual. This should be relaxing and signal to your body that it is time to sleep. Examples: light stretching, drinking chamomile tea, taking a warm shower, or reading a book before bed.

  • Unwind. Make time for a relaxing hobby or try meditation for those much-needed mental breaks. Sometimes it also helps to talk to someone like a therapist or a loved one.

  • Get moving! Make sure to set some time aside for exercise whether it is walking, biking, or gardening during the day. This can make you feel refreshed in the day and help make for a better sleep at night.

  • Drink more water to stay hydrated. A common reason for headaches or brain fog is dehydration. Make sure you are drinking enough water throughout the day.

  • Wean off caffeine. Did you know caffeinated products are the culprits to brain fog and headaches in those that are long time users. If you have ever treated a headache with coffee it is a sign that you may be dependent on it. Try slowly reducing your intake of caffeine and then drinking decaf or non-caffeinated drinks like herbal tea or decaf coffee.

  • Eat healthy meals and snacks. A balanced diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats provide your body the nutrients it needs and fuel that will help keep you going all day.

Bottomline: It is important to listen to what your body is telling you and make small, healthy adjustments to your lifestyle as needed. If you have made changes and still feel that something is wrong, speak with your doctor to address any underlying issues. Otherwise, take a deep breath and remember that tomorrow is a new day to tackle your tasks and work on becoming a healthier you!

Learn more about Wellness Workdays and our wellness program offerings by downloading our brochure.

Written by: Dannia Henao, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern




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