Four Stages of Adrenal Fatigue


You are probably living your life in “fast-forward,” which has put your body into a repeated state of “disaster preparedness training.”

Biologically, your body is starting to respond to each stress as if it were a life-or-death situation, which floods the body with the hormone cortisol and its sister hormone adrenaline.

Normally, the high level would be brief, just enough to get you through the emergency, then it would naturally subside. But with constant stress, that relief valve begins to malfunction and you start to feel wired and tired as cortisol levels rise, and are starting to lose the ability to naturally calm down.

Though the adrenals are supposed to “fire” more in the morning as part of a healthy system, when they are overused, they will start to fire at night, leading to occasional insomnia, even when you already feel very tired.

You start relying on sugary food and caffeinated beverages to provide false energy, which is a huge stress for the body as well.


Your body’s cortisol output is starting to get erratic: it’s starting to crash at times, leading to energy slumps. You have to force yourself to exercise, but it is becoming more challenging, and that post-exercise energy boost no longer happens.

Cravings for quick-energy foods such as refined carbs and coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate are becoming a daily struggle to stave off. Weight gains of 11 or more pounds a year is typical because during sustained stress, the body burns 100 fewer calories per day.
Sleep is the biggest victim here: you get a second wind around 7 PM, and
Then, you wake up at 2-3 AM and can’t get back to sleep, sometimes for hours.
Estrogen builds up as testosterone levels decrease, then, poof! your sex drive disappears.


Cortisol levels are severely disrupted, or even completely flat.

You are physically and emotionally exhausted all the time no matter how much you sleep, and have completely burned out. You use the term overwhelmed a LOT and even normal household activities are too much.

Exercise makes you feel awful and it takes days to recover. Cravings for salt and sugar are intense as your body is searching for energy. Brain fog is severe and you probably feel like you are losing your memory.

Fibromyalgia, pain in the body due to inflammation, mineral imbalance, and poor immune function are all hallmarks.

It is common to have accidents, as you are too tired to pay attention to where you and your body are.

Stage 3 is associated with higher risk of thyroid problems, all autoimmune diseases, as well as gut problems. (Click here to go the Adrenal Assessment and see where you can use help.)

Cortisol is extremely low to almost zero. Addison’s is usually an autoimmune illness, meaning the body mistakes the adrenal glands for an invader, and causes progressive damage. Occasionally an illness or infection can trigger it as well.

This is a serious- to-life-threatening condition requiring medical supervision from an endocrinologist experienced in its management.

Ironically, it can take several, even many, years to get a correct diagnosis, and severe fatigue is often what gets people to the doctor.

Mood changes including depression, anxiety, and irritability are common and are often a cause for misdiagnosis.

Very low blood pressure is constant and can cause dizziness and fainting on standing up, as one of cortisol’s jobs is to keep blood pressure regulated.

Weight loss without trying can be dramatic as muscles are lost to provide sugar to the brain.

Intestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain are often reasons to seek out medical help.

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