Adrenal Exhaustion and stress

“A calm and undisturbed mind and heart are health and life to the body, but envy, Jealousy and wrath (anger) are rottenness in the bones.”

Eastern proverb


I hit the wall emotionally back in 1987.

I felt like I was in a vice,  crushed between several ” self-induced” pressures.

It was a watershed time in my life.

Of late, I’ve read a couple of blog posts  that took me back to that time in my life…I wished I could sit down with each of those writers over a cup of coffee and visit…Since that’s not probably  going to happen, I thought I would do the next best a portion of a chapter on stress  that one of my daughters is currently reading’s from the book  The Anxiety Cure by Archibald Hart

Chapter 10  Dealing with Overstress

Stress!  Some hate it; others love it.  If you love it, it is more than certain that you will die from it.  Stress is both exciting and painful.  It exhilarates us and gives us energy to achieve, but at the same time, it causes an accelerated wear and tear on our bodies….

Our culture does not train us to manage stress.  If anything, it capitalizes on our stress.  Do you want a promotion in your job?  Then you have to work harder and longer than your nearest rival.  Competition is the name of the game and, if you don’t play the game, you lose….

So what is stress?  Let me suggest a few examples:

Stress is being stretched beyond your limits.  Whenever you are confronted with challenges that you don’t seem to be able to cope with or demands that you don’t have the skills to deal with, your system goes into emergency mode…..

Stress is overextending yourself without adequate time for recovery.  If you have a series of crises in your life where one thing upon another is thrust upon you, your stress level will increase very dramatically.

Stress is believing you can do more than your human frame can take.  Remember my earlier engineering analogy using the term “duty cycle”?  It applies here.  Electric motors have a duty cycle, if you recall, that indicates what percentage of time the motor is designed to run.  If you use it for longer than its duty cycle, it will burn out.  That’s a fact of engineering.  No engine or motor is designed to run all the time without a break – without some sort of rest.  Remember that the human body is no different.  In fact the human body has a much lower duty cycle than most machines.

Adrenal Exhaustion

…it does not happen overnight but progresses through a series of stages.  In the first stage of fighting stress, the adrenal glands tend to overproduce.  They produce high amounts of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol.  As the stress keeps going, the glands begin to expand their production and can begin to feel overtaxed.

The second stage now beings as the glands  begin to temporarily under-function.  You will find that the adrenal glands “crash” because they are depleted.  This leaves you feeling fatigued a lot of the time, especially when you let down at weekends or in the evenings.

If you are healthy, the third stage now sets in.  Your glands compensate for coming up short and begin to rebuild themselves, adapting to the higher demand by actually enlarging so as to compensate for the higher demand for their service.

If the high level of stress continues, a fourth stage sets in.  The glands again eventually exhaust themselves and remain in a chronic state of under-functioning.  At this stage, they can oscillate between over producing  adrenaline, causing panic or mood swings like depression, then crashing and under-producing adrenaline the rest of the time.  With insufficient stress fighting hormones, you will tend to have  difficulty handling any stressful situation.  You will feel as if you are falling apart.  At this point, your stress tolerance is exhausted…..

How can you know if adrenal exhaustion has set in?  Here are some telltale signs:

A sense of chronic low stress tolerance

Frequent feelings of fatigue

Repeated bouts of depression, especially when you stop work or try to relax

Worsening allergies or asthma

Cravings for substances that provide stimulation

Addiction to caffeine.

How do you recover from a chronic state of adrenal exhaustion?  By consistently working at lowering adrenal arousal to allow your system to “reset” itself.  Your body needs time to heal and to adapt to a lower level of functioning.  Here are the general guidelines:

Simplify your lifestyle and reduce stress to the absolute minimum./  Take up a hobby.  Get lots of fresh air and sunshine.

Increase your sleep to a minimum of between 8 and 1/2 to 9 hours a night.  (I’ll have more to say about this in chapter 14)

Eliminate all stimulants, especially, caffeine, as well as nicotine, alcohol, and recreational drugs.  These play havoc with your body’s chemistry.

Eliminate all  foods that may disturb your digestion or cause allergies

Supplement your diet with vitamins such as B-Complex C and E

Take yourself less seriously and treat life more respectfully…


End of quote.

Back in 1987  I  (DM) made radical lifestyle choices to bring my life back under control.  I hope I never find myself under that much self induced pressure and stress.  As a former people please-er, I ruthlessly guard my free time….my evenings and weekends.

There is more I could tell you,  but since you didn’t ask, I’ll stop here.

ps  there is a great self evaluation stress  test in the chapter I may post if anyone is interested…

pss.  More than once, I’ve heard some zealous fool brag about burning the candle on both ends as if somehow God was pleased with their fervor.

He doesn’t need our “burning out”   Why do you think he created us with the built-in  need to sleep a 1/3 of our lives away?  I think it’s so we’ll have less time to screw things up. :-)

So to all you driven workaholics.  (I can say this because I was one)


Build some margin into your life.

Margin: To live with margin  means …”to live in a rhythm that includes periods of productivity and periods of restoration and refreshment.  Not to live with margin means you’re denying your God-given design to get regular rest.”

You’ll last  longer.

As always, thanks for reading along. DM


Side note…I robbed this post from another blog of mine, so if you’re a regular, you may have seen this one before 😉



Update 3/29/2013 Here’s that stress test for you Michelle

Telltale signs of too much stress

 How can you tell if you have too much stress in your life?  Here is a baker’s dozen of important symptoms.  Look at these telltale signs and give yourself the following scores:

( 0)  if you never experience this symptom

(1) if you experience it say once a month

(2) if you experience it between once a month and once a week

(3) if you experience it often (more than once a week)

1.  Do you experience headaches of any sort?

2.  Does your heart pound, feel irregular, or skip beats?

3. Do you feel a lot of muscle tension or stiffness in your joints?

4. D you ever feel dizzy or lightheaded?

5. Do you get sick often (colds, flue, or throat problems)?

6. Does indigestion, nausea, or other stomach discomfort bother you, or do you suffer from stomach ulcers?

7. Do you have difficulty sleeping, falling asleep, or waking up too early?

8. Do you typically have to wake up to an alarm still feeling tired?

9. Does your mind become very active and race a lot?

10. Do you grind your teeth or does your jaw ache?

11. Do you become very excited when you engage in challenging activities?

12. Do you get angry quickly or feel a deep sense of injustice whenever things go wrong?

13. Do you suffer from high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol?


     If you scored between 0 and 8 you probably have little or no stress.  Seek help only if one or two points of discomfort bother you and especially if you answered yes to question 13

A score of 9 to 15 indicates a fair amount of stress.  If any of the symptoms has been around for a long time you may need help in getting rid of it.

A score of 16 to 30 indicates a high level of stress.  You could benefit from professional help

If your score is more than 30, your stress level is extremely high.  You should seek professional help right away.

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6 Responses to Adrenal Exhaustion and stress

  1. Jane Fritz says:

    Excellent, excellent post about a VERY important topic. I will be referring to this post sometime within the next few weeks in a post I am planning on trade-offs. Thanks, DM.
    Oh cool. thank you Jane. Love to hear it. DM

  2. TrishaDM says:

    Thanks for this! I feel like I needed to read it!
    Awesome! Thanks Trisha 😉 DM

  3. Meredith says:

    A timely post for me. Thank you. It’s hard to find a balance sometimes!
    Appreciate you saying that Meredith. I hesitate to post these deeper posts on my farm blog….normally save that sort of stuff for my other personal it’s encouraging to hear 3 of you say it spoke to you. 😉 DM

  4. J Knott says:

    Thanks Doug. I always find something helpful in your blog posts. I have recently come to the realization that I am spending much too much time worrying about things that can not be changed. Just have to accept them and move on.
    Good to hear from you Jayne! Easier said than done sometimes, but it is possible. I remember getting to a place with one of our kids a few years ago, where I just had to let go. It was SO HARD, but did it, and it IS possible. Remember feeling like I was being disloyal, by choosing not to worry about them. Oh, well, if that’s what it mean,s then that’s what I needed to do. If I could crawl inside their head and make the decisions for them, that’s one thing, but if I can’t (and nagging is totally then wrong way to motivate someone, then the other alternative was to let it go) DM

  5. micey says:

    I would like to see that quiz. I might fail it. Ha!

  6. Pingback: Life lesson from systems theory: stress and trade-off curves | Robby Robin's Journey

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