I feel it is time to share more information on Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS)- something that is becoming increasingly prevalent (or recognized). I see so many clients who come for therapy as they are simply exhausted, yet at the same time wired. They drag themselves around but can’t sleep and feel constantly anxious and often depressed. These people often think that they need to see a psychologist and to some respect a psychologist can assist but the process has to start with getting the hormone balance and physical state back on track. Then the psychological stuff starts
I know all about this…I have been there!
I have posted a bit about my own experience of adrenal depletion and this has been difficult. As a healer it is difficult to admit when you feel ‘broken’. However, that was all part of the experience and learning through my Adrenal Fatigue – I learned to allow myself to be less than perfect and to use my experiences to become the wounded healer. So I have decided to share this experience through a series of posts on Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.
Please note I am NOT trained in the medical field, although my BodyTalk training has exposed me to a great deal of learning about the physical aspect of the self. I am writing this based on my own experience, a great deal of reading, lots of client cases and, finally with a psychological focus on management of AFS.
This post focusses on what AFS actually is.
The felt experience of AFS is waking up in the morning feeling as if you are half stuck in the sleep world and cannot drag yourself into the day. Your legs feel like you are wading through thick mud and this causes you to feel anxious and overwhelmed about how you will possibly get through the day. You may feel dizzy every time you stand up and often for no obvious reason at all. That also causes some anxiety.
Suddenly you may find that your heart is racing and you feel panicky and wired and do not know how to stop it. The plus side of the wiredness is that when it is milder you get into your usual doing mode with a sense of of motivation and drive, pushing yourself relentlessly even though there is still a part of you that feels exhausted. And if you had to be honest, the really foggy brain and difficulty thinking make it quite hard to function as well as you would like to with this sense of urgency and drive that you have. Sometimes you are just too exhausted to even have a wired and ‘productive’ phase of any day. Often the fatigue lifts towards the end of the day and the wiredness sets in more. Sometimes the fatigue just never lifts.
Regardless of which it is you get into bed and lie awake for hours with your mind running loops and your body feeling way too ‘zingy’ (that’s the best way I can think of to describe this!) to sleep. When you do sleep you fall into a very light and often interrupted sleep and God forbid you should wake up as you then may have to do the whole lie there/eyes wide shut process all over again to get some much-needed sleep. You may well also experience IBS symptoms, food intolerances, and often fall ill. Often this all becomes very overwhelming and can get you very down.
Physically here is what is going on (in a simple, nutshell version):
The best way to explain this is to start with the amygdala which, among other things is responsible for our survival through initiating drives like eating, reproduction and fight and flight. This served a vital role in sudden extreme situations such as dealing with a wild animal. The problem is that the constant stress of living (or our perception of the stress of living) causes the amygdala to malfunction. When the amydala complex is disturbed then those survival instincts are disturbed and one can experience stress-related eating disorders or sexual dysfunction for instance.
This is where the adrenals come into play. These are tiny glands on top of our kidneys that are programmed to react to the brain impulses and hormone changes (from hypothalamus and amygdala via the HPA axis). The adrenal glands respond by releasing hormones (primarily adrenalin and cortisol as well as others) necessary for those primary survival functions listed above i.e hormones related to sexual activity, sugar metabolism, heart rate and blood flow.
When the amygdala is chronically activated and malfunctioning it causes the adrenals to malfunction and to soon become depleted so that a hormone imbalance occurs. When the adrenals have used up their store of cortisol the diurnal rhythm of cortisol production is thrown out and cortisol only peaks much later in the day than it should. Also, DHEA is then used to create more cortisol but DHEA is not only a precursor for Cortisol it is also necessary for the production of other hormones and so other key hormones and neurotransmitters like aldosterone, testosterone, epinephrine and more go out of balance.
In addition, the constant activation of the amygdala and adrenals causes the immune system to become weaker. The whole body and endocrine system are all just that – a system and so when the adrenals are impacted a great deal of functioning in the body is thrown out with the imbalance that is caused. The resulting picture is one of chronic fatigue.
Unfortunately many conventional doctors do not recognise AFS and they accept a far greater ‘normal’ range for measuring Cortisol and other hormones. More alternative healthcare practitioners like naturopaths and Functional Medical doctors recognises four different levels of adrenal depletion, each becoming progressively worse.
Fortunately for me, after being told by a doctor that I was experiencing burnout and needed to rest (he was not completely wrong!) and was told by a psychiatrist that I was experiencing Post Natal Depression (I don’t think she was completely wrong either) my sister, a doctor who has studied functional and integrative medicine, recognised it for what it was and sent for me the appropriate tests, diagnosing Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.Since then I got to a much better place, crashed again after my second child and am once more in a good space. Watch this blog for more information about the psychological/emotional relationship to AFS as well as management of AFS.
For more comprehensive and medically factual information about AFS take a look at this website: https://www.drlam.com/articles/adrenal_fatigue.asp