Today’s post starts a series of posts on adrenal fatigue. For those of you who are struggling with fatigue that interferes with your ability to be a wife, mom, or any of your other responsibilities, be sure to stop back each Friday for more!
Have you ever wondered how you got so tired?
You remember back to high school, when you felt so alive and energetic. You remember being filled with passion and drive. You had plans for the future, and you felt like you could conquer the world.
Later you married and started having children. While you love being a wife and mom, somewhere you started feeling so tired. You just couldn’t handle everything anymore. Even worse, some days you just didn’t care.
As a mom, you’re especially vulnerable to fatigue. Getting weary is very common in mothers, especially in moms who have several children.
Several years ago, I found out that I had a disease called Addison’s Disease. It is characterized by extreme exhaustion because my adrenal glands stopped producing some of the hormones that help me function in everyday life. While you probably won’t be diagnosed with such a serious disease, your body could simply be worn out.
You have two adrenal glands, located in the back of your body, just below your rib cage and directly above your kidneys, one on each side. Each adrenal gland is about the size of a lima bean. For being so small, they are designed to handle an awful lot!
Each adrenal gland is actually made of two separate glands, the medulla and the cortex. The medulla makes hormones that you probably recognize, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine. These hormones react very quickly in times of stress, helping your body systems (like your heart) work properly.
The adrenal cortex wraps all around the medulla. It produces hormones such as cortisol, aldosterone, and DHEA. These hormones react more slowly to stress but help normalize the body after something exciting has happened.
If your body has been exposed to repeated and frequent stress (or even just one very severe stress), your adrenal glands become overworked. At first, they pump out too many hormones, but soon they become so fatigued that they just don’t work properly and consistently any more.
Now that they are fatigued, you just can’t handle stress like you used to. You wear out quickly, need more naps, and feel foggy in your thinking. Over time, this feeling of fatigue and fogginess can get worse, until you can’t even remember what it feels like not to be tired.
Many types of stress can cause adrenal fatigue, but the following are the most common in moms:
- A lack of sleep – When you habitually get too little sleep, your circadian rhythms get messed up. Suddenly, you can’t sleep at night, and you can’t stay awake in the daytime. Maybe you started getting too little sleep in high school or college, with too many late nights with friends or homework. Maybe as a newlywed, you stayed up too late too often watching TV. As a new mom, your little baby kept you up at night for months on end. Even though your body was designed to sleep in the dark and be awake in the light, your normal rhythms have been messed up.
Circadian Rhythm – Your internal “clock” that regulates all the processes of your body over a 24-hour period. It affects your sleep-wake cycles, your body temperature, and all your hormone production.
- Too much exercise – Some women exercise very little, but others exercise too much. This often starts in the late teen years or early 20s, as women feel pressure to have supermodel figures like the ones they see on TV. They may have the impression that exercise is healthy, but they don’t realize that it can be overdone. Exercise releases adrenaline, which temporarily gives an energy boost. Adrenaline can become addictive, and the adrenal glands can get worn out.
- Poor nutrition – It is difficult to know what good nutrition really is, since so many sources contradict each other. Since the 1950s, with the increase of processed foods, our diet has included fewer nutrients than ever before. We have an abundance of food but a deficit of nutrition. Our glands and organs aren’t being fed properly, so they wear out sooner.
- Repeated pregnancies – Pregnancy is one of the most difficult things your body can do. Not only must you take care of yourself; you must also nourish a growing baby. Traditionally, couples prepared for parenthood by eating special diets before, during, and after a pregnancy, spacing their children out several years between. However, if you have had several pregnancies close together while running the modern “rat race,” your body is probably feeling quite fatigued.
- Anger and worry – Peaks of emotions can cause a large burst of hormones from the adrenal glands. If you struggle with outbursts of anger or feelings of panic and worry repeatedly, many times in each week, your body starts to feel the effects.
- Driven and Busy – Most women who have adrenal fatigue have Type A Personalities. We watch clocks, try to multi-task too many things at once, drive ourselves with deadlines, and expect to accomplish an extraordinary amount of things in one short lifetime. (Other women might comment that we look like “superwomen,” but we know deep down that we’re not.) Why do we do this? We are passionate people! We want to make a difference in this world, but in our attempt to accomplish great things, we wear ourselves out.
- Marriage and parenting – You’re a wife and mom, and you’re passionate about both roles; however, you’ve discovered that marriage and motherhood aren’t as easy as they look. Because you’re a perfectionist, you’re frequently upset because your husband and kids aren’t perfect. You don’t blame them. You blame yourself. Meanwhile, your poor little adrenal glands are taking a beating.
- Disorganization – Because you do so much (and have even more on your “to do” list), you don’t have time to keep up with your surroundings. Laundry, meals, and cleaning chores are done sporadically, because there’s always something more important on your list. When you finally realize that you’re out of clean underwear, everyday tasks have now become an emergency. Because you’re putting out little housekeeping fires everyday, you’re constantly running on adrenaline… and getting more and more tired.
- Money problems – Similar to the organizational problems above, moms with adrenal fatigue often have a lack of money. Sometimes we moms just don’t have much income because we’ve chosen to be stay-at-home moms rather than career women. Sometimes we have to work a second job or work from home in an attempt to make ends meet, adding to our fatigue. Often, we don’t know how to balance a checkbook, we lose receipts, and we forget to mail bills that are due, resulting in more stress and more fatigue.
Surgery, chronic infections, allergies, trauma (such as car accidents or severe burns), genetic disorders, and other extreme stresses can also cause adrenal fatigue. However, for most of us moms, adrenal fatigue develops slowly. We look just fine to others, and because we’re hard-working and creative, others won’t notice that anything is wrong.
Inside our hearts, though, we know something is terribly wrong. We feel a sense of panic. We wonder how to get off the merry-go-round of life. We feel trapped and scared. We feel like escaping. We wish we could cry.
By the time we reach our mid-30s, we moms are at high risk for developing adrenal fatigue. At the time in our lives when we should feel the best, we feel as if we were 80 years old. We lose our love of life. We lose our drive. We love our dreams. We wish we could just sleep life away.