by Krystle Orlando October 09, 2020 7 min read

Fatigue is something everyone experiences at some point or another. Usually, after catching up on some rest over a weekend or taking a much-needed vacation, you can recharge your battery. But when it becomes a consistent condition in your life, it can feel like nothing is going right.

Having the energy you need to get your work done and spend quality time with your loved ones is essential to a healthy life. When fatigue has worn you down, it can be a struggle to get even the bare minimum done. And of course, the more you are struggling to get things done, the more your to-do list is piling up. Your stress level increases, but all you really feel like doing is taking a nap.

No matter how much coffee you drink, no matter how many supplements you take, and no matter how much effort you put into getting a good night's sleep--you seem to always be battling your body, struggling to regain a feeling of alertness, clarity, and the energy you need to move forward in your life.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Just Tired?

If you've been searching for answers about your fatigue, you've probably come across information regarding chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and other chronic conditions that can cause serious fatigue problems. With so much information out there, it can be hard to know exactly what you are dealing with.

By understanding exactly what may be causing your fatigue and lack of energy, you can then begin to rebalance your body and take your life back. We will walk you through the issues that you may be dealing with so that you can understand how to move forward.

Asking the Right Questions

So how do you determine what your fatigue is being caused by? One of the first questions to ask yourself is whether or not getting extra rest on the weekends or when you have free time helps with your energy levels. Or, would taking a week's vacation helps you feel more relaxed?

If catching up on rest does help with your fatigue, and you feel more refreshed after a good night's sleep, there's a good chance that you are not dealing with chronic energy depletion. That's good news--but it doesn't mean you are out of the woods yet. After all, you are still feeling chronically tired and in need of rest. That means you have lifestyle habits that could potentially use a shift before your situation gets worse.

Lifestyle Tips To Improve Fatigue

  • Eat a healthy diet: Focus on whole foods and limit eating too closely to bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly: Aim for at least 150 minutes per week and if you have a sedentary job make sure to move throughout the day.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption: Try implementing a cut off time for stimulants and eliminate any other substance use such as nicotine.
  • Reduce stress: Combat stress by setting aside time for relaxing activities such as reading, yoga or meditation.
  • Get quality sleep: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Also, make sure that your sleeping environment is comfortable by reducing temperature and light.

Understanding the Fatigue Cycle

To get on a path of wellness, it's important to develop a deep understanding of how the fatigue cycle works. There are three stages of developing chronic energy depletion, particularly when it is exacerbated by imbalances within your endocrine system.

When you understand the stages of fatigue, you can have a sense of where you might be on the cycle and what you need to do now in order to move forward.

The First Stage: "Can't Stop Now"

At this stage, even though you are operating on much less sleep and much higher levels of stress than normal, you may still be feeling relatively well.

Everyone has times in their lives where circumstances make it more difficult to sleep and our stress levels increase dramatically. Parents of a newborn, those who've recently received a promotion that includes many more responsibilities, or individuals who have to care for a loved one who is ill may all experience increased levels of fatigue for legitimate reasons.

When our stress levels rise, our body receives a signal that our system needs a boost in order to function properly. The endocrine system kicks in, increasing the production of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone makes us feel more energized and alert, increasing our ability to handle stress.

But, having elevated cortisol levels for a prolonged period of time takes a toll on the body. Our digestive system suffers, and we aren't able to metabolize our food as easily. We are also not able to rest and restore the body's organs as well as we did previously.

Even though you may not realize that you are in the begining stages of adrenal fatigue, this is the point at which it is easiest to turn things around.

The Second Stage: "Can't Take This"

When you reach the second stage of fatigue in the body, you are often beginning to feel stress and tension simply because you can no longer sleep the way they used to--and you don't have the energy needed to get through the day.

At this stage, the body is still receiving the signal that there needs to be an increase in cortisol levels in order to move forward. But the endocrine system is not able to keep up with the demand. This means that our diurnal rhythms or the natural ebb and flow of cortisol and thyroid get out of sync.

Instead of getting an energy boost in the morning, you awake still exhausted. As you struggle through the day, you can't wait to get back into your bed. But then, once you return from work, instead of feeling tired--you're wired. At this point, you may think you've become a night owl, and have to simply adjust your schedule. But for many, that's just not possible.

If you're experiencing symptoms like this, it's a good idea to become focused on your health as soon as possible. The longer this stage goes on, the more likely it is that you'll eventually experience a full adrenal shut-down.

The Third Stage: "Can't Go On"

The final stage of adrenal shut down is when your body can no longer produce even the bare minimum amount of cortisol needed for you to feel alert and present in your life. This is known as full adrenal burnout. For some, it can become so extreme that their cortisol levels are down to zero.

That's a very serious condition that can make it nearly impossible for you to get out of bed, feed yourself, or accomplish even the most basic tasks. Individuals who reach this level of fatigue and burnout have many other conditions that can arise, including low muscle tone, digestive issues, brain fog, and mental health issues like depression.

Even patients who have reached the burnout level do have options, however. Although the road to recovery will be long, there are many approaches you can take to understanding what the root cause of your fatigue is and how you can empower yourself to move forward with grace and power.

7 Early Warning Signs of Oncoming Adrenal Fatigue

Hidden Symptoms of Fatigue

To determine where you may fall between these different levels of fatigue and/or adrenal fatigue, there are some other symptoms that are useful to recognize. A huge factor is your stress level. The amount of stress or tension that you experience in your daily life is one of the biggest factors that can affect your energy levels.

Other symptoms that could indicate that you're on the way to serious fatigue issues include anxiety or low mood, constant feelings of overwhelm, racing mind or heart rate, and having trouble relaxing or calming down.

If you are under a high level of stress, it's vital to consider how you are handling that stress and whether your coping strategies, while useful in the short term, could have long-term consequences. We have seen many patients who struggle with fatigue that also have very strenuous exercise regimens, highly restrictive diets, regular fasting, or extremely busy schedules. The reality is, all of these habits may have developed during the first stage of burnout--and may actually be making your symptoms worse as your fatigue progresses.

Understanding Your Chronic Fatigue

No matter how long you have been struggling with fatigue or how many different treatments or approaches you have worked with, there is no better way to start turning the tides on your fatigue than gathering as much information as you can about the functioning of your body.

When you struggle with consistent fatigue that does not respond to traditional treatments, one of the first tests we recommend is one that looks at your thyroid and adrena hormones. There is a deep link between the balance of your hormones and how energetic you feel on a day to day basis.

This type of test provides you with in-depth information about how your body is currently producing hormones and what you can do to restore balance to your body.

Case Study - The Night Owl

Nancy was a 38-year-old mother of two who worked from home. Over time, she had become more likely to procrastinate her assignments and would stay up later and later to complete them. Eventually, she found it nearly impossible to wake up in the morning, and equally impossible to go to bed before 2 or 3 am. She was tired of missing her kids getting ready for school and was losing her ability to focus on her work because of fatigue.

When Nancy recognized the role hormonal imbalances can play in fatigue, she understood that being a night owl was not actually healthy for her body. That's when she decided to order an at-home Functional Medicine lab test. Receiving detailed information about her cortisol levels helped Nancy understand her sleep challenges and motivated her to take action.

She committed to making small but powerful changes to her bedtime habits. She adopted positive rituals, like removing screens from the bedroom and eliminating sugars after 7pm. Slowly, she began to settle into a supportive sleep cycle. Today, she happily reports that she's able to sleep at least 7 hours each night. Best of all, she routinely falls asleep before midnight--a task that felt nearly impossible just months ago.

Getting Your Life Back

When you don't have the energy to participate in your life, it can start to feel like everything is slipping away from you. It's easy to feel overwhelmed and frantic. But there is a path forward. By gathering as much information as you can about your particular condition and taking small steps towards your health every day, you can regain your life.

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