Causes Adrenal Fatigue: Understanding the Key Causes of Stress that Lead to Adrenal Fatigue

Causes of Adrenal Fatigue is due to prolonged, chronic stress that depletes the adrenal glands, which in turn zaps your energy. The adrenal glands are the primary regulator of managing your body’s stress response and with adequate rest, recovery and nutrition they usually do a great job.

The problem is that our modern, hectic lifestyles’ put us under constant stress and our adrenal glands are not designed to cope with long, unrelenting periods of stress, so gradually they start to wear down. This can eventually lead to “burn out” and chronic exhaustion, especially when stress is severe.

Causes of Stress leading to Adrenal Fatigue

Causes of stress on the body that may lead to adrenal fatigue arise from ANY type of stress; physical, emotional, psychological, social or environmental stressors.

Key examples of stressors include:

  • Overworking, multitasking, juggling too many commitments
  • Nutritional deficiencies, poor diet, excess sugar
  • Trouble sleeping, lack of sleep (not getting enough)
  • Inactivity or overexercising
  • Acute or chronic allergies, infection or illness, infertility
  • Poor physical, mental (anxiety, depression, worrying, obsessive or addictive behaviours) or emotional health (poor coping skills, low self esteem negative self talk, pessimism
  • Environmental toxins, pollutants and heavy metal exposure
  • Excess alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and recreational drugs
  • Trauma; physical, accidents, injuries; emotional trauma or grief
  • Work or financial troubles, relationship issues, adversity
  • Isolation, lack of community, family or support
  • Genetics

Sometimes people have many of these factors working together worsening their stress load, and accelerating the progression from tiredness to burn out.

Mental Health and Physical Illness Stresses the Body

Mental health issues have a negative impact as issues like depression, anxiety and panic disorders create stress putting extra pressure on the adrenals. However, stress itself can worsen these mental health issues leading to a vicious cycle.

In addition, recurrent infections, serious health issues, injuries and pain (chronic or acute) can all overburden the body, creating inflammation and stress. The main stress hormone ‘cortisol’ is actually one of the body’s key anti-inflammatory agents that also helps immune regulation. These health issues require more cortisol to be made to help recover, forcing the adrenal glands to work harder to produce more cortisol, which increases underlying stress.

With severe adrenal dysfunction there’s not enough cortisol to control inflammation causing more aches, pains, infections and a worsening of any other health conditions, all adding more stress on the body.

Our Ability to Cope with Stress plays an Important Role

Also I must stress (excuse the pun!), it’s important to realise we all have different capacities when it comes to managing stress. What stresses you out may seem insignificant to someone else.

Also stress can be real or imagined. Studies show that even if the stress is imagined (say from watching a horror movie or anxious thinking) it can have similar physiological effects on the body.

Using neuroscience to change coping skills and build resilience to stress

I am a little obsessed with neuroscience. Why? Because recent research confirms that our brains are actually “plastic” and not, as previously thought, “hardwired”. This means that we can create new neural pathways (brain connections) to change our patterns of thinking, perceptions, movement, behaviours and habits.

Knowing how to create new pathways is key to creating lasting, positive change and new habits!

So how does this relate to stress and our adrenal function?

Well, we learn certain coping strategies and ways of perceiving what is scary, dangerous and stressful to us when we are young, which usually becomes the status quo for how we deal with stress, issues, pressure and the way we live our lives, now as adults.

Poor coping strategies can make us more overwhelmed and unable to cope with everyday stresses like others can. Using destructive ways to cope such as overeating, using drugs or alcohol or overusing TV or Internet etc., add to our stress load, placing more pressure on the adrenal glands.

Why is the way we cope with stress important?

The way we handle stress is important because when prescribing treatment, part of your recovery would include building better emotional and physical resilience and coping strategies to stressors.

Also dealing with ‘imagined’ dangers, fears or our perceptions of what we think is stressful may require examining and changing our perceptions, thought processes and managing things like worry and anxiety.

This is where an understanding of how to create new neural pathways is valuable as it shows us how to change and plus learn new coping skills to improve our resistance to stress. This helps to free up more energy for the things we really love to do, instead of spending all our energy just trying to manage our stress.

It can be helpful to reflect on whether your coping mechanisms and ability to tolerate stress are effective. We can’t always change the stressful circumstances around us – our abusive boss or impending divorce but we can change our attitude towards them and look after ourselves so we don’t crash and burn.

A Holistic, Mind-Body Approach to Recovery

A good diet and adequate nutrition, rest and relaxation, exercising to your ability and energy level, having time out to laugh and be social, breathing properly, staying hydrated, practising yoga, meditation/mindfulness, deep breathing etc. are the basic ingredients for recovery from early stages of adrenal fatigue and prevent progression to burn out.

In addition, personalised treatment strategies are prescribed when necessary and particularly for more advanced stages of fatigue.

If you worry too much, get overly anxious, easily overwhelmed, feel pessimistic, hopeless or alone then it’s vital for you to get help and start the change process, as soon as possible.

So you can see that recovering from adrenal fatigue to improve your energy and life quality requires a truly holistic, mind-body approach.