How to Identify Burnout - The HPA Axis, Part 1
Nov 09, 2022
By Makayla Hawes
I am sure we have all heard the term “adrenal fatigue” at some point, and you may have experienced it yourself. The term adrenal fatigue is used to describe symptoms such as constant fatigue, trouble falling asleep, irritability, brain fog, and more. We’re seeing these symptoms more and more in today’s society as a result of many of us constantly being in “flight-or-fight” mode.
Our adrenals are just scratching the surface regarding the silent defenders that monitor our bodies for threats. The HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) works alongside the autonomic nervous system (ANS) to act as a defense system against perceived threats; when a threat or stressor is detected, our bodies enter flight-or-fight mode. You can think of this system like a motor: it revs up when a stressor is identified and cools down when the stress is resolved. However, if these stressors continue and we don’t allow the HPA axis to have this cooling down period, the “motor” can get too hot, which can send us into HPA axis dysfunction.
HPA axis dysfunction occurs in three main stages: the alarm stage, the resistance stage, and lastly, the exhaustion stage. The name of the alarm stage is very fitting because there are, more or less, “alarms” going off in your body that signal a constant state of “attack.” During this stage, our bodies begin producing a high amount of cortisol and your body has a hard time identifying that this cortisol production needs to level out. Most people report feeling wired and tired during this stage.
In the second stage, the resistance stage, we move into feeling tired—with some spikes in energy. In a way, we are resisting our body's attempts to get us to rest. In this stage, our sleep may be off and blood sugar levels may fluctuate.
The third stage is often referred to as the exhaustion stage. In this stage, our bodies have been running on high alert for quite some time so our body has a hard time regulating any new stressors that may appear. During this stage, people might feel mood changes, sleep issues, and low energy levels.
We don’t have to let stress take control of our lives. There are ways to manage it through diet, exercise, meditation, and some of our favorite herb friends aka the adaptogens. Want to know how? Read Part Two, here.
Makayla is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and has studied with Commonwealth Herbs. Currently, she is a Wellth Advisor at Apothékary with hopes to expand into her own practice someday. Makayla is passionate about helping women learn about their bodies by aligning their diet, lifestyles, and exercise to be in balance with their body’s needs. Currently, she resides in Las Vegas, NV, and enjoys hiking various trails and visiting the National Parks in the area.