6 Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms (and How to Recognize Them)

a woman with adrenal fatigue symptoms

Particularly this time of year, it’s easy to feel rundown (especially since most of us are getting less than optimal sunlight). But would you able to recognize adrenal fatigue symptoms or are you even familiar with the condition? We wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t heard of it, since it was a new concept for us, too. The term “adrenal fatigue”—aka hypoadrenia—was actually coined in 1998 by James L. Wilson, a naturopath, and chiropractor who used it to refer to a condition in which chronic stress causes your adrenal glands to become overstimulated. (FYI: Our adrenal glands sit above our kidneys and produce hormones crucial to our bodily processes). Wilson believed that this increased stress resulted in too high or too low levels of the hormone cortisol, as well as a general lack of hormones.

To be honest, the condition’s “realness” has been debated among the medical community—studies have even been published saying that it doesn’t exist, particularly because the boundaries of hypoadrenia that Wilson set were too loose. But Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, says he believes in adrenal fatigue and its sometimes-dangerous effects. “All I can say is that adrenal fatigue is something I’ve seen personally. It is my opinion, through years of healthcare practice and supporting scientific evidence, that hypoadrenia is very real and associated with a number of complications.” So you don’t fall prey to these complications, we’ve rounded up the top six adrenal fatigue symptoms to look out for. It’s time to learn how to spot the signs early.

Feeling Overwhelmed

One sign of adrenal fatigue is that you often feel like you can’t handle your day-to-day activities (especially those you could once manage). More specifically, Marcelle Pick, MSN, ob-gyn, NP, and author of Is It Me or My Adrenals? says this can include finding it difficult to make it through the day, feeling like you may snap at times, and having panic attacks. Moving forward requires taking a major step back and prioritizing yourself (among other treatment, which you should discuss with your doctor or holistic health practitioner).

Energy Levels that Ebb and Flow

Wilson characterized a day in the life of someone with adrenal fatigue as such: Needing caffeine in the morning, feeling a bit energized earlier in the day, having a slump around 2 p.m., an increase in energy around 6 p.m., a slump around 9 p.m., and then feeling a surge around 11 p.m. Obviously, everyone’s schedule and rhythm can be a bit different. But why do these ebbs and flows in energy occur? “The adrenal glands should emit pulses of cortisol all day,” says Alisa Vitti, the founder of hormone-regulating practice Flo Living and author of WomanCode. “We might not get energy until the afternoon or even 10 p.m.,” she says.

Unusual Food Cravings

So there may be a reason you’re craving something super salty (or sugary, for that matter). “Changes in cravings and/or your weight can signal a problem,” says Pick. “This particularly includes abnormal weight gain in the abdomen and thighs and cravings for salty or sugary foods that sometimes feel uncontrollable.” One common natural treatment for adrenal fatigue is going on an adrenal fatigue diet that removes caffeine, sugar, and unprocessed foods and focuses on specific superfoods that help beat the condition. “In every case of adrenal recovery, diet is a huge factor,” says Axe. “The idea is to remove anything that taxes your adrenals.”

Sleep Troubles

an unmade bed

This includes having trouble going to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night, and getting up in the morning feeling exhausted, according to Pick. One trick to getting back on a good (read: healthy) sleep schedule? “Try going to sleep before 10 p.m.,” says acupuncturist Neka Pasquale (also the founder of Urban Remedy). “Even if you can’t fall asleep, lying in bed in a dark room will start your melatonin production, which can help you get into a healthy sleep rhythm.”

Dark Undereye Circles

Since adrenal fatigue is brought on by chronic stress—and sometimes something as serious as a divorce or death in the family—it’s no surprise the anxiety would show on your face, too. Sandra Chiu, an acupuncturist, skin expert, and the founder of Treatment by Lanshin, says that these dark spots occur when stress messes with your blood circulation.

Brain Fog

If you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue, it’s possible that your thoughts all feel a little jumbled at times. What should you look out for? “Intellectual signs to watch out for include being mentally foggy, having fuzzy thinking, an inability to stay focused on one task, and chronic racing thoughts,” warns Pick.

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