The Five Stages of Adrenal Exhaustion

Fatigue, nervousness, sleep problems, mood swings, muscle twitches, digestive disorders, lack of concentration and proneness to illness does not just happen over night.

Often, the above symptoms are the result of adrenal exhaustion. Many of us have been there and have not realized it until it was too late. Just like many other mental, physical and even financial ailments, there is usually a process leading up to the problem.

Let’s look at the body’s nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system gives us adrenaline and cortisol and the parasympathetic nervous system calms us down with sedating hormones such as calcitonin. Both nervous systems work to keep our bodies in balance and harmony.

When we get into a stressful situation, like a threatening stranger on a dark street or what looks like a bear stumbling through the bush. The sympathetic nervous kicks into high gear and dumps adrenaline, cortisol and sugar into your blood stream. Your blood pressure gets cranked up and you become very alert, aware and ready to fight, flee or freeze like a statue.

In 1956, researcher Hans Selye, wrote The Stress of Life and identified three stages of stress. In 1990, Dr. David Watts, author of Trace Elements and Other Essential Elements added two more stages. These five stages of stress are:

  1. Alarm

  2. Resistance

  3. Recovery

  4. Adaptation

  5. Exhaustion

During the alarm stage, you are totally focused on fighting or getting away. Your heart rate and blood pressure and sugar levels are “through the roof.” Your body’s resources are all focused on your immediate, short-term survival.

As you run or fight, you enter the resistance stage. Your adrenaline is still high, but you are more aware of your surroundings and starting to think more clearly. As a kick-boxer, I usually got to this high-adrenaline “thinking stage” by round two.

At the recovery stage, the danger has passed, you have found a safe place and are calming down.

The adaptation stage is where people do not reach the recovery stage. They spend too much time in the resistance stage and are constantly looking over their shoulder for more danger. When I was on a peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia (the Balkans), I was constantly wired for an emergency. I had trouble sleeping and was constantly urinating. Later, back in Canada, I lived in a low-end neighbourhood where I was overly cautious of being robbed or assaulted. I confess, at the time, I kind of thrived on the adrenaline high. It was like being overseas again.

This where you either learn to take the stress or start taking precautions so that the stress does not ruin your health.

The exhaustion stage comes after your body is drained of essential nutrients and breaks down from fatigue. This exhaustion can also lead to disorders such as: arthritis, eating disorders, back pain, teeth grinding, insomnia, irritability, increased use of stimulants (alcohol and drugs) and proneness to accidents.

Modern living makes it difficult to resist this exhaustion stage. Modern living cuts us with a two-edged sword. On one edge, the high stress of work, home and education can make huge stress demands. On the other edge of the exhaustion sword, people seldom allow themselves to recover. They eat poorly and run on coffee, cigarettes and processed foods to keep themselves going through the day.

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In Health,

Coach Doug

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