Adrenal Fatigue & Anxiety - What You Need to Know
Feeling tired and anxious at the same time seems like a paradox.
However, science is full of neat little contradictions. Experts say that there is a perfect, one-to-one relationship between chronic anxiety and fatigue.
Anyone who has ever experienced anxiety attacks knows how common it is to feel drained and overwhelmed right after an episode of heightened anxiety. They know what it feels like to experience a sudden, rapid heartbeat, a sense of panic, and tight, tense muscles.
On the inside, their blood pressure and heart rate are rising, and the sympathetic nervous system is going into overdrive, releasing toxins in the system, leading to inflammation.
And this relationship extends to adrenal fatigue and anxiety as well. In this article, we’ll explore how your anxiety causes adrenal fatigue and keeps you trapped in a cycle of stress, as well as how to address both issues using natural methods.
What’s Adrenal Fatigue?
Hit the “on” button on a light switch, your phone, and then never shut it off. Watch it flicker, drain of battery power, and eventually shut down.
That’s what it’s like to experience adrenal fatigue.
And that’s how adrenal fatigue starts in the over 80% of Americans who are currently searching for a clear diagnosis for exhaustion, brain fog, low energy, and insomnia they feel every day.
If it’s such a rising issue, why aren’t we talking more about it?
Part of the issue is that adrenal fatigue symptoms can relate to many other mental and physical conditions. If you have adrenal fatigue, you’re likely to experience:
- Difficulty waking up in the morning
- A mid-to late-afternoon energy crash or “slump”
- A second wind where you’re “wide awake” between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.
- Feeling “burnt out” or physically and mentally run down.
- Constant craving for sugary or salty snacks
- Weight gain (or loss)
- Decreased immunity — you develop illnesses more frequently and/or find it harder to “bounce back” or recover.
- Lower libido
- Insufficient or interrupted sleep (or insomnia)
- Brain fog, memory issues, and difficulty concentrating
Now, the only conclusive way to measure adrenal gland productivity and the hormone levels it’s responsible for regulating is, first, through a blood test.
A more conclusive second step for adrenal fatigue is saliva testing. Saliva hormone testing can reveal biochemical imbalances, which can help healthcare providers identify underlying issues like chronic stress, adrenal fatigue, depression, and more.
The other part of the issue is that quite a few primary care physicians debate the adrenal fatigue diagnosis. While adrenal disorders and insufficiency are a very well-accepted issue in the adrenal health niche, adrenal fatigue tends to raise eyebrows.
However, reading about the doctor who pioneered this diagnosis, Dr. James L. Wilson, can clear things up. It's obvious from his patients' experiences that adrenal fatigue is not just “real,” it’s a treatable condition.
Adrenal health is crucial to our overall well-being. These two, triangular-shaped glands, which sit atop the kidneys, control critical hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, aldosterone, and norepinephrine.
Together, these hormones:
- Metabolize sugars
- Increase (or decrease) blood flow to the muscles and brain
- Increase heart rate and the force of heart contractions
- Control the waking/sleeping cycle
- Regulate blood pressure
- Keep blood pH levels steady by controlling essential electrolytes potassium and sodium in the bloodstream and urine
The issue behind adrenal fatigue is that if you’re always “on,” or stressed out, the adrenal glands don’t have a chance to return to a state of rest. Instead, like that light switch or your phone, they’re forced to be “on” along with you.
Eventually, like you, your adrenal glands become tired and overworked. They’re not able to keep up with hormonal control and production demands. This leads to further hormonal imbalances, triggering issues like hair loss, skin conditions, depression, and anxiety.
Adrenal Fatigue & Anxiety - What You Need to Know
If adrenal fatigue is the “exhausted” epidemic, then anxiety is the “panic” epidemic. As a result of our fast-paced culture and the general stream of negative events worldwide, it can be hard to feel safe, grounded, or in control.
Before adrenal fatigue sets in, you’re living in a state of hyperarousal, which then leads your adrenal glands to become overworked. When you experience anxiety, you’re in that same state of panic and hyperarousal.
So what’s really going on here? Does adrenal fatigue cause anxiety, or is it the other way around?
The connection between adrenal fatigue and anxiety lies in our hormones and stress response.
Let’s take a look:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a common issue in adults. Recently, studies have shown that this disorder is directly linked to over-activity in the “Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis.
- The HPA axis is also responsible for regulating and controlling the “stress hormone,” cortisol.
- When we feel fear, alarm, or panic at certain stimuli, whether mental/“imagined” or physical/real, the HPA axis triggers cortisol release by the adrenal glands. This is a part of what we call the “fight or flight” mechanism.
- When anxiety comes into the mix, cortisol levels remain elevated, which then extends anxiety, adds additional stress, and keeps our blood pressure and heart rate elevated.
- Our adrenal glands continue to operate in this state of “panic” or “production,” and cortisol continues to flow and accumulate in the body, which ultimately leads to other serious health issues.
In other words, anxiety and adrenal fatigue go hand-in-hand because of cortisol and our stress response. Every time you feel anxious, your body is kicking the adrenal glands into high gear and releasing cortisol.
That’s precisely why a diagnosis of high cortisol levels and adrenal fatigue have many of the same symptoms:
- Frequent illness
- Skin issues
- Body aches
- Thinning hair
- Anxiety and depression
- Sleep problems
- High blood sugar
- Difficulty concentrating
Cortisol plays a vital role in both anxiety and adrenal fatigue. That’s why you need to rely on natural and proven methods of keeping cortisol low if you want to heal.
A badly-functioning HPA axis increases the risk of experiencing anxiety and adrenal fatigue. But, left unchecked, it can go beyond these two conditions.
Our overloaded, hijacked stress response, backed by high levels of prolonged cortisol release, has also been linked to other mood disorders like depression and digestive “gut” issues like irritable bowel syndrome.
How to Recover From Adrenal Fatigue
Based on what we know about adrenal fatigue and anxiety, you need to focus on reducing stress, balancing the body, and getting cortisol back to its optimal levels.
Here are five strategies for adrenal fatigue recovery.
#1. Support Your Body With Supplements
When you’re recovering from adrenal fatigue and anxiety, the first thing you need to focus on is feeling calm and relaxed yet energized enough to face the day.
Adaptogenic herbs can help with this by addressing your body’s stress response, anxiety, and cortisol levels.
Some adaptogenic herb supplements that help with adrenal fatigue include:
#2. Focus On Your Diet
Ditch junk food & focus on healthy foods that also support your body’s cortisol production.
- Leafy greens like spinach, which are rich in magnesium. Studies show that bodies high in magnesium also happen to be low in cortisol.
- Beans and barley, which have phosphatidylserine. This is a phospholipid in cell membranes that counteracts cortisol's adverse effects even if it doesn’t reduce it.
- Seeds and legumes like walnuts and flaxseeds, and fish such as mackerel, haddock, and sardines are sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
#3. Incorporate Exercise
When you’re on the road to recovering from adrenal fatigue, exercises should allow you to “relax.”
Yes, you can absolutely exercise to relieve stress and promote relaxation in the body as long as you know what kinds of exercises to perform.
Some exercises you could try include:
- Short (15-30 minutes) of light aerobic exercise
- Walking, light jogging, or even using the elliptical machine
- Yoga and pilates
#4. Manage Stress With Breathwork
Not all breath is created equal.
Practitioners of yoga will be familiar with different styles of breathwork, such as “fire breathing.” This is a technique where you can breathe rapidly, in and out, right into the diaphragm to feel energetic and alert.
Other types of breathing can calm and soothe the nervous system, getting you into a state of relaxation and calm. It usually involves focused, deep breaths, held and released for a certain period, and directed into particular parts of the body.
These techniques prove to be extremely effective ways to promote total-body wellness.
There’s one more thing that mood disorders like anxiety and adrenal gland issues like adrenal fatigue have in common. They can often feel like “invisible” ailments. Mental health has always been “hard to spot,” unlike a visible physical injury.
Make no mistake: these are both genuine conditions that can disrupt our lives unless we take measures to protect and heal from them. Now that you know the crucial link between adrenal fatigue and anxiety, you can start your recovery journey the right way.