Adrenal Fatigue, Chronic Fatigue and the Bodymind Aspects of Burnout Syndromes
by Richard Boyd, Body Mind Psychotherapist, Energetics Institute, Perth, West Australia
How often these days do you hear the complaint that a person feels rundown and tired much of the time? The high levels of day to day sensory stimulus as well as the increasing work life demands that 24 hour connective technology is placing on us all does have a grinding effect over time on the resilience of the average person.
The helter-skelter of every-day life can run down the health of any one of us but the resilience in some people to the harmful effects of stress is noticeable. There is a link between early life stress, trauma and what coping strategy a person adopts in the face of these circumstances, to how they later cope or not.
The link between emotional triggers activating physical health conditions is known as a psycho-somatic disorder. It too can activate from the stress dynamics of modern life.
In some cases illness is a strategy or defence itself that was learnt in early life as an attention seeking ploy. We indeed are complex and can act from a number of angles when it comes to manifesting illness in the body.
We may just “catch something” but beyond that our illness may be related to a deeper dynamic than just being the chance encounter of a virus, bacteria or pathogen that makes contact with ourself in a moment where our immune system does not kick in and deal with the threat.
Doctors to whom I speak to are more aware now of the mind-body connection and are noticing people who attend their clinics with physical symptoms driven from psychological issues rather than medical ones. They are recognising how phantom symptoms which are real for the sufferer are not showing up as organic diseases measured in blood tests, hormonal in-balances or the presence of a primary disease.
What we know is that brain through its thinking mechanisms, and our bodies via emotions and feelings, are able to produce other effects and symptoms of what may mimic a known disease or disorder. The problem is that when you investigate or use a conventional treatment on the assumed problem it does not resolve the issue.
We know the types of conditions include seizures, paralysis, blindness, deafness, headaches, severe pain and many other bodily symptoms such as sweating, stomach cramps, palpitations and bloating. It is a hard diagnosis to convey that “it is all in your head” or psychologically linked but yet true.
This does not diminish or negate the issue but simply switches the approach and emphasis of how to look at where the treatment approach should focus and work from. The issue is real and is treated as such by body centric psychotherapy and it is an area where success has been obtained by considering such a cause may exist where conventional medicine cannot achieve healing of whatever condition exists.
BURN OUT DISORDERS
There is another more common form of disorder in adults which is some form of burnout. There are a number of causes of generalised burnout conditions that affect people.
Common symptoms include poor concentration, lack of focus, memory loss, lack of energy, depression like effect, sleep that does not refresh, dark rings under eyes, inability to lose excess weight, low blood pressure, neck and head tension, salty food cravings, muscle twitching, phantom back or knee pains, mood swings, frustration, impatience and negativity.
Broadly the common causes may be categorised as:
- Suppressed immune system function
- Compromised Adrenal gland function
- Nutrient or hormonal in-balance (often that being depletion)
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Recreational drugs
- Lifestyle choices
- Personality Types and Traits
- Trauma activation or re-activation
Some of the points above may come in a cluster or be related or activated by the other. Let’s consider each in turn.
- SUPPRESSED IMMUNE SYSTEM FUNCTION
If a person has a suppressed immune system then they often notice it by tending to be a person who keeps catching small colds and viruses or who seems to be a target for “what’s going around”. Our immune system is part of how we deal with opportunistic bacteria and viruses and plays a major role in activating healing and wellness bodymind measures.
The immune system can become run down and compromised through a combination of the other listed factors and is a symptom of some of these other causes. Often the term resilience as used in psychology and medicine has a foundation in the need for this primary system to be a strong and functioning part of our day to day self.
- COMPROMISED ADRENAL GLAND FUNCTION
If a person lives in a hyper-vigilant state much of the time, or stressed or anxious much of the time, they are able to do so thanks to in part the Adrenal Gland. The Adrenals are walnut sized glands that sit on top of the kidneys and is a burst mode function gland and is designed to create adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine when and as we need it to face a “fight of flight” event, or to assist in strength or endurance performance.
We are not designed to have this gland activated permanently in such a state. However modern society and certain trauma states compromise the Adrenals in some and are asked to perform more or less continually.
When we are at rest we may still have our Adrenals activated and so we produce too much adrenaline, cortisol or norepinephrine than we need. An over-active Adrenal gland is known as Cushing’s disease whilst an underactive Adrenal is known as Addison’s disease.
Adrenals may start out becoming over-active and then when the issue is not dealt with they stress and over time they may become under-active and then we start instead to feel the burnout effect or what we call Adrenal Fatigue. Mainstream medicine does not recognise the term Adrenal Fatigue as a valid condition and a blood test may not show the higher cortisol levels that often are a marker for Adrenal dysregulation occurring.
It appears that saliva tests may be more accurate in this type of problem. Naturopaths take the condition seriously and point to related conditions as being symptomatic of the issue existing. For instance Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and bloating is a known associated condition that may have Adrenal dysregulation as a driver.
Another condition occurs when the sex and stress hormone precursor known as Pregnenolone starts to stop creating sex hormones and instead diverts its conversion to only creating stress hormones. We feel that as a loss of libido and interest in sex, adult acne, and in women a possible vaginal dryness.
This is a form of bodymind redirection of focus away from play and sexuality and instead back to basic survival orientation where surviving trumps pleasure. What can also happen is that the body starts to burn calories when stressed from carbohydrate and muscle stores rather than from fat stores so the person loses muscle tone and strength but retains fat and can even gain weight if they comfort eat or drink when stressed.
- NUTRIENT OR HORMONAL IN-BALANCE
The modern lifestyle can be affected by the foods and beverages we consume. Addictive beverages such as alcohol, sports drinks and sugary drinks can have high sugar levels but they may also have high caffeine levels.
Coffee too is a common drink of the tired and run down person. However caffeine blocks absorption of certain nutrients and as well caffeine in high dosages also affects our nervous system and masks over tiredness with an artificial boost of energy.
Modern processed foods are known to lack key nutrients and often possess high levels of starch and corn sugars for enhanced taste and colouring/preservative effects. A bad diet of fast foods, no foods, wrong foods or processed foods can cause nutrient depletion to occur over time whilst adding excessive calories that transform into fat carried by the body.
In this situation a person may suffer adrenal fatigue, or have a lesion or even tumour develop on the gland. Simply it collapses and stops working which brings on tiredness, lethargy, lack of energy and affects our health and other functions in the body.
Pharmacy quality nutrient supplementation such as Usana is becoming more common and required by many in society who are simply not getting the right energy and nutritional sources from modern foods.
As we move through life we may be exposed to pesticides, plastics, solvents, heavy metals, chemical and synthetic hormone like compounds that we ingest and then store within our bodies. The body has a form of toxicity regulation via depositing that which it cannot sweat or excrete into the nails, skin and hair as these tend to grow, die and fallout so shedding the unwanted substance as it does so.
Modern industrial life may be exposing many of us to an overload of such substances such that we start to accumulate and retain dangerous or symptom inducing substances within ourself. Naturopaths notice that many Adrenal Fatigue sufferers have an underlying heavy metal or toxicity issue that a proper professional detox via chelation or some other technique may resolve the Adrenal fatigue like symptoms.
Heavy metal sufferers often have compromised immune systems and so are often sick and fighting off illnesses. Chronic inflammation caused by disease or exposure to dangerous chemicals has long been linked to cancer.
Research has uncovered that the inflammation process used by the immune system to fight off threats can itself induce a DNA cellular mutation in surrounding healthy tissue and so trigger the formation of tumours or cancers.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to fighting potentially harmful virus or bacterial intruders. The immune response creates a number of reactive molecules designed to neutralise the identified threat.
Unfortunately, these mutations can also cause damage to the healthy tissues around the infection site, affecting even the healthy cells. This means that sick people may face a higher long term risk of secondary illness triggered by how the immune system response creates potentially dangerous cellular damage in the body.
More research is needed in this area of medicine so a proactive response may for may involve a naturopathic guided response. This response might include hair analysis followed by detox and supplementation for missing nutrients.
The results after a few months often can produce a vast change in state of the client ranging from increased energy levels, clarity in thinking, reduced depression and anxiety, and a general wellness and positivity in oneself.
There is widespread research and evidence concerning the toxic effects of the various classes of recreational drugs on mental, emotional and physical health. The toxicity of some of these fits the previous category of a potential buildup within the body of toxicity and its effect on the Adrenals as one gland that may suffer from drug use.
Some drugs such as ice create a rageful adrenaline like surge and can too from their nature affect various aspects of the body such as the Adrenals. Recreational drugs are often created with toxic precursor chemicals and may be cut with additives such as laundry powder, other drugs, or toxic based substances that affect the body.
Adrenal Fatigue is often associated with the stressed office worker or executive. There is evidence that lifestyles can bring on sustained stress which will take its toll on the Bodymind as it tries to cope with supporting us in our stressed journey through life until it collapses.
Likewise a late night lifestyle of partying or watching videos online or being online for long periods of time can also affect our sleep inducing circadian rhythm. Drama fuelled, unsafe relationships or work or social lifestyles that create ongoing alertness or hyper-vigilance as a way of being will also tend to create the same effect.
A person who is always on the go, cannot sit still, cannot sleep or is a workaholic can also have Adrenal issues as a result. They may not get enough sleep and relaxation to enjoy life.
- PERSONALITY STYLES AND TRAITS
There are certain personality types who are over-represented in the occurrence of Adrenal Fatigue type illnesses and symptoms. For instance the rigid-perfectionist personality is likely to suffer this type of issue as they move into their late 30’s and 40’s.
The perfectionist is never happy, always driven, often anxious as they unconsciously fear criticism, judgement or failure. They are a walking cocktail of stress and anxiety in many instances and over time this way of being and doing leads them to a collapse that becomes their Adrenal Fatigue or Chronic Fatigue diagnosis.
As well the harder alpha male and female personality is a likely candidate too. They are often rigid in their thinking, have black and white rules and opinions, have anger and rage bottled up in tight musculature of their bodies, are full of “should” and “shouldn’ts”, and are critical of everyone around them, and driven from a headstrong will.
Emotional stress is often at the heart of these Chronic fatigue illnesses with emotional dysregulation being the actual culprit and so it is more a psychological issue with a manifesting issue of illness in the body. The perfectionist tends to disown “bad” emotions like anger and so becomes anxious instead, whilst the rigid personality is run by these same emotions and becomes the anger in a more or less constant state of being.
The anxious personality type is often that of the needy one or the victim personality. They too disown their anger and do not set boundaries or say “no” when that is the appropriate response. As they have no real boundaries they are often co-dependent, running around to exhaustion trying to please everyone, until they collapse.
Some of these personality types are covered in our pay-to-view videos and in other articles on our website.
- TRAUMA ACTIVATION OR RE-ACTIVATION
There is a large body of evidence about the effects of trauma events on survivors in the years after whatever event or ongoing circumstance traumatised them. Both adult trauma events and early developmental childhood traumas can affect the functioning of the brain and nervous systems of the body.
At the personality level a person may develop hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal based defences and strategies to ward off future threats. The post-trauma person may have an over-active fight or flight defence network running day to day which as explained will lead that person down the path of developing one of the burnout conditions.
Traumatised persons tend to have numerous triggers in the outside world that activate them into a fight or flight state again and again which too call upon the adrenal and thyroid networks to produce secretions to maintain a reactive stance to that triggering object, person or event.
Likewise some people have internal triggers such as memories or flashbacks which send them on the same trauma activation path. These affected persons are likely to develop some form of burnout over time unless their trauma is dealt with.
RECOVERY FROM CHRONIC FATIGUE OR BURNOUT SYNDROMES
The recovery from any of the burnout conditions is a process and not an event. As can be seen from the 8 categories of what may create or contribute to these conditions, a response that involves both body and mind aspects is likely to be needed.
Given the background that stress and anxiety can play in sufferers of these burnout disorders, and the fact that many may be leading a fast paced lifestyle, then often an adjustment to diet will play a part in their recovery. This is because both fast food convenience eating, and/or stress based comfort eating and drinking may exist in the lifestyle of that person, and will need to be addressed.
Excessive blood sugar levels from sugary foods, alcohol or fast food will cause the Adrenal glands to work harder. Caffeine causes the same problem to occur so it often needs cutting back.
Eating more unprocessed food also helps. Taking pharmaceutical grade supplements like Usana is also supportive in recovery with Vitamin C, Selenium, Zinc and Magnesium all being considered good Adrenal support minerals.
The time management of the person must be considered. How and when do they get proper rest, and does that rest come with relief from ongoing concerns and worries? Sometimes unaddressed concerns, worries and issues must be faced and dealt with for recovery to be possible.
The mental life of the person often needs attention. By this we often find the person “lives in their head” and cannot switch off. They often need to be taught body centric grounding techniques, taught mindfulness to bring attention into the present moment, and CBT to examine and resolve the distortions in their thinking patterns or threads of thought.
The emotional life of the person is often key. We find that the lack of emotional expression or emotional regulation is often connected to burnout. Emotions are designed to be felt and appropriately expressed.
When a person suppresses their emotions and internalises them then they are in trouble. Likewise when a person explodes into an emotional spew or hysterical outbursts then again they will have troubles in their life.
Extremes in emotional life and its expression are a key marker in many burnout victims as emotions are tied to our fight or flight mechanisms which are in turn linked to the Adrenal, Thyroid and other glands. The middle ground appropriate expression of emotions is a key wellness trait and underpins the whole concept of emotional intelligence and leadership capability in adults.
Our emotions, particularly our anger also feed our boundary setting abilities. A strong “NO” is often that which prevents us inheriting problems, issues and taking on too much or the burdens not of our making.
A person without a “NO” is often a pleaser and eventually a resentful victim burdened by their own pleasing nature. These too are personalities headed down the path of burnout and so a strong “NO” is often restorative to their health.
A regular exercise and bed schedule also works wonders once a sufferer has started to stop and get some rest in recovery. The circadian rhythm in burnout sufferers is often out of whack and may be counter-cycle, meaning they feel awake when its dark, and feel like sleeping when its light.
A sufferer may have to train their bodymind back into correct sleep habits. Doing regular exercise will encourage Endorphin, Serotonin and Dopamine release such that the body wants sleep and rest and will support efforts to get it.
Exercise is both recommended but also to be done so in moderation. Heavy exercise can over-burden an already challenged Central and Autonomic nervous systems. Walking and yoga or Tai-Chi are good low intensity recovery exercise modalities to start with whilst heavy gym sessions, Combat aerobics and Triathalon type boot camps will NOT support anyone in recovery.
The sufferer must start slowly and build up their exercise load and the key thing to notice is if they become tired and achy an hour after they finish exercise. If so this is a sign you are running on empty and overdoing it so cut back and then build up over time.
The final thing to recognise is that burnout is a lifestyle disease or condition. You cannot get well and hit the resume button on your previous lifestyle. You must confront why you just hit the wall and crashed and introduce key changes that survive recovery and become part of the new you.
So take stock and learn from what your body is telling you. You will be thankful once you have recovered and found your new sustainable balance in whatever shape or form or lifestyle that is for you.
Contact the Energetics Institute for more information about Depression, Anxiety, and other body-mind states of being that affect yourself or someone you love and interact with.
Richard Boyd is an experienced Body Mind Psychotherapist and the Director of the Energetics Institute in Perth, Western Australia
Copyright 2015 Richard Boyd