Why Adrenal Fatigue is Not a Thing

In this episode we’re talking about the increasingly popular term, “adrenal fatigue.” My history with this goes all the way back to when I was just 13 years old. The symptoms are very real – exhaustion, brain fog, nervousness, trouble sleeping, poor digestion, etc. But are your adrenals actually fatigued? You’ll be surprised to learn how well your body is actually working. Have a listen to this latest episode of the She’s Got Power podcast, or read the article below.

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Yeah, it’s personal

When I was about 13 years old my mother left her job on disability. It was weird to have her home during the day because, up until that point, she had been a go-go-go, single, full time working mom. I had spent days, evenings, and entire summers with babysitters while she took care of business.

But now she was home all the time. Usually taking a nap.

Or resting on her bed in a dark room.

Or maybe puttering around the house, making dinner.

As a teenager I didn’t exactly stay up to date on her doctor visits but from what I vaguely understood from half paying attention (What? Doesn’t every teenager only half pay attention when their parents are talking?) I knew that she’d maybe been diagnosed with something called Adrenal Fatigue.

My mom slept. And she slept. And when I left for college it was like, here you are in your dorm, goodbye we have to go home this is too much.

Other moms were hanging curtains and taking their kids out to dinner.

My mom’s lack of energy forced me to become more independent. Aside from the dorm room drop off, it was things like back to school shopping. While other moms took their daughters to the mall and had what I assumed was a big ol’ blast shopping for back to school clothes every year, going out to lunch together, laughing and bonding….my mom got a credit card to my favorite stores. She never had to enter the mall, she just dropped me off and told me how much I could spend.

That independence may have led to my own “adrenal fatigue” later on. Put a pin in that.

Your health is bigger than you

I’m not sharing this for sympathy but to make a point that your health, your energy levels, your wellbeing isn’t just about YOU. It’s about everyone around you. 

And further…it’s about women as a whole. When we are collectively run down, we aren’t out there making change. We aren’t beating back the patriarchy. 

We’re playing right into it. Aw, the weak woman. She’s tired.

Prior to all this, my mother had been such a strong, get-it-done kind of lady. She got her masters’ degree at night while working full time. She was my Girl Scout troop leader. And she cooked dinner most nights for us — simple meals, but real food, from scratch. And she did it all by herself, a single mom. Now…here she was with an invisible illness that took all of that drive away from her. It’s like her battery had suddenly been drained.

Your adrenals are not actually fatigued

I recently met a woman over social media who tagged herself with #adrenalfatigue. There are thousands and thousands of women identifying as having “adrenal fatigue” these days, compared to when my mom got sick. 

But doctors do not recognize “adrenal fatigue.” It is not an actual medical diagnosis. Therefore, they don’t see it as a real thing.

Don’t get me wrong. Your symptoms are completely real. If you’re exhausted, walking around in a fog, feeling extra nervous, sensitive to loud noises and seem to catch every bug that goes around…that’s real. You’re tired every day around 3pm, probably craving sugar. Some women might find themselves carrying extra weight, especially around the middle. Having trouble sleeping is common, especially if you always wake up around 3 or 4am. So is poor digestion. 

Yes, it’s all real. Left unchecked, these annoying symptoms can lead to bigger problems down the road – high blood pressure, chronic fatigue, diabetes, infertility, thyroid disease, etc.

But this collection of symptoms is not a sign that your adrenal glands are fatigued. In other words, you aren’t broken.

“Adrenal Fatigue” is a term made up by the alternative health community. It’s been helpful because it puts a name to this collection of symptoms. 

But it’s inaccurate. Unless you have a true adrenal disease (like Addison’s disease, where your adrenal glands stop producing cortisol), you do not have an adrenal problem per se.

Your body is not failing you. You are not insufficient. 

As a matter of fact, your body is doing its job. It’s trying to protect you.

Your body is doing a good job. Say thank you.

The HPA Axis is your body’s stress response team, comprised of the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. It’s how your brain communicates with your body and manages stressful events.

For example, let’s say your big client deadline suddenly got moved up by a week. In response, your body produces adrenaline. You get that famous “fight or flight” response with increased blood pressure and mobilized blood sugar. You’re ready to run or fight (or bang out that Powerpoint presentation overnight) like your life depends on it.

And it’s very common to LIKE our stress response. We love it, actually. Many women say they work better under stress. Without it, heck, we drink another coffee to induce an adrenaline rush and keep ourselves going.

Too much of a good thing?

You bet.

A chronically elevated stress response causes us to crave sugar, salt, fat and gain weight around the middle. Our blood sugar and hormones become dysregulated. Our brains feel foggy and more likely to think negative, stressful thoughts. Our sex drive and thyroid function plummets. We experience bloated, gassy, uncomfortable digestion.

These are not good things…and your body knows it.

And so, to PROTECT YOU, your body sends signals to your adrenals to slow the heck down. You’re doing too much. You’re moving too fast. Too much stress, not enough rest? Your body says: NO MORE. 

Very purposefully, it tells your system to slow down the adrenaline. Slow down the cortisol. Again…this is on purpose, to protect you.

There is very likely nothing wrong with your adrenals

They are not fatigued. They are perfectly fine and acting appropriately. Know who is fatigued though?

YOU.

And that’s the truth.

I work with so many women who are on medications like Metformin, statins, Synthroid, benzos, Zoloft…

These medications are masking individual symptoms, providing some level of immediate relief. But they can be harmful with obvious side effects but also because the root cause of the problem still exists. And if we can medicate away the symptoms, we continue to live at the same pace and continue living a chronically stressed life. We don’t actually change anything so our situation worsens and worsens…showing up in new and different and more severe symptoms.

3 things to know about healing

  1. You may need to slow down before you can speed up. Ultimately, it IS possible to live a full life, go after your dreams, run that marathon, take that promotion and live BIG. Healing does not mean you have to quit your job and become a Buddhist monk. Ok? But to get to that point where you can live at maximum capacity, you need to address the root cause of your symptoms. Not just the symptoms themselves.

  2. When we think of stress, we think of our jobs, our families, our money issues. These are obvious everyday stressors. But your body’s stress response is triggered by lots of other things. Such as childhood trauma, environmental toxins, food intolerances, lack of sleep, overexposure to antibiotics, processed food and nutrient deficiencies.

    That’s why healing from “adrenal fatigue” can’t happen simply by taking supplements. We need to take a holistic approach because ALL areas of our life contribute to our stress response, and all areas of our life have likely taken a hit.

  3. And finally, this is really, really important. You have to embrace the idea that you are NOT sick. I know it can feel that way. I know symptoms can feel horrible. I’ve been there. But if you think of yourself as sick or broken…it’s very hard to climb out from under it.

    You aren’t the problem. Our over-stressed, toxic world is the problem. Our culture’s expectation of women having to “do it all, with a smile” is the problem. Lack of support and community is the problem. The pay gap and cost of childcare is the problem. 

Once again, your adrenals are not fatigued. 

You are. With good reason. 

And yes, you can get back to normal. Start by taking my free stress assessment quiz.


If you enjoyed the audio version, be sure to subscribe to the She’s Got Power podcast on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts. Love what you hear? Please share with your friends and leave a review on iTunes so more women can finally overcome the health issues associated with chronic stress and burnout.