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by Krystle Orlando October 09, 2020 6 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 fatigue becomes a constant 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, as you struggle to get things done, your to-do list keeps growing. Your stress level increases and all you really feel like doing is taking a nap.

No matter how much coffee you drink, how many supplements you take, and how much effort you put into getting a good night's sleep, you feel like you're always fighting to regain some level of alertness, clarity and energy.

Are You Just Tired ... or Is It Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

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 what you are dealing with.

By understanding what may be causing your lack of energy, you can begin to rebalance your body and take your life back.

Understanding the Fatigue Cycle

To get on a path of wellness, it's important to have an 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 in 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 when circumstances make it more difficult to sleep while 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 stress levels rise, your body receives a signal that your system needs a boost. The endocrine system kicks in and adrenal glands produce more of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol 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. The digestive system can suffer and affect metabolism. In addition, lack of sleep means your organs can't rest and restore, either.

You may not realize that you are in the beginning stages of adrenal fatigue, but 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, stress and tension begin to take their toll because you can no longer sleep the way you used to. This can leave you without enough energy to get through the day.

At this stage, your body is still receiving the signal to increase cortisol levels. But the endocrine system is not able to keep up with this demand. This means that 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, you feel wired instead of tired.

If you're experiencing symptoms like this, chances are you haven't simply just become a night owl. It's time to focus on your health, since 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 is adrenal shut down — when your body can no longer produce even the bare minimum amount of cortisol needed for you to feel alert. This is known as full adrenal burnout. For some, it can become so extreme that their cortisol levels are down to zero.

This serious condition can make it nearly impossible for you to get out of bed or accomplish even the most basic tasks. Individuals who reach this level of fatigue and burnout may experience additional problems, like, 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 ways to discover what the root cause of your fatigue is and move toward better health and well-being.

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. Stress or tension are often the biggest factors that affect energy levels.

Questions to Ask Yourself About Fatigue

So how do you determine what your fatigue is being caused by? More importantly, how can you regain your health and energy? To put yourself on the right track to finding out the root cause, answer the following questions about how you've been managing your fatigue so far.

When Do You Feel Refreshed?

One of the first questions to ask yourself is whether or not getting extra rest helps with your energy levels. Would taking a week's vacation helps you feel more relaxed?

If catching up on rest makes you feel refreshed, 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 overtired and in need of rest. That may mean you have to make some lifestyle changes.

Are You Coping Healthily?

If you are under a high level of stress, it's vital to consider how you are managing that stress and whether your current coping strategies are healthy over the long term. Many people who struggle with fatigue have very strenuous exercise regimens, highly restrictive diets, regular fasting or extremely busy schedules. Some people turn to these habits during the first stage of burnout as a way to cope with stress, but they may ultimately make symptoms worse.

Does Your Lifestyle Need a Tune-Up?

Changing some old habits may help fight fatigue. Try some of these tips to give your well-being a boost.

  • Eat a healthy diet: Focus on whole foods and limit eating too close to bedtime
  • Exercise regularly: Aim for at least 150 minutes per week; if you have a sedentary job make sure to move throughout the day
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption: Try to enforce 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

Learn as Much as You Can

No matter how long you have been struggling with fatigue or how many different treatments you have tried, the best way to approach restoring your health is to gather as much information as you can about how well your body is functioning.

If you suffer from consistent fatigue that does not respond to traditional treatments or lifestyle changes, you may want to consider a test that looks at your thyroid and adrenal hormones. This type of test provides you with in-depth information about your current hormone levels and what you can do to restore balance.

Case Study — The Night Owl

Nancy is a 38-year-old mother of two who works from home. Over time, she found she was procrastinating more and more on her assignments, staying 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 a.m. She was tired of missing her kids getting ready for school and was losing her ability to focus on her work because of fatigue.

Once Nancy understood the role hormonal imbalances can play in fatigue, she recognized 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 difficulty sleeping 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 sugar after 7 p.m. 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 feat that felt nearly impossible to her just months before.

Getting Your Life Back

When you don't feel you have the energy to participate in your own life, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and frantic. But there is a path forward. By gathering as much information as you can about your condition and taking small steps towards health every day, you can regain your life and well-being.

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