Running Out of Breath: My Battle with Adrenal Fatigue

By Lauryn Lax – February 1, 2015

5:30 a.m.: My alarm goes off.

6:00 a.m.: Slam down some coffee and get out the door for an early morning workout. 

7:05 a.m.: Get ready for work. 

8:15 a.m.: Drop the dry-cleaning off at the cleaner’s. 

8:40 a.m.: Eat a granola bar in the car on the way to a 9 a.m. meeting. 

10:30 a.m.: Meeting wraps up. Make a quick run by the bank. 

11 a.m.: Take a phone call in transition to another appointment. 

Noon: Grab some lunch on the go at Snap Kitchen. 

1 p.m.: Sit down at desk to answer some emails or work on a project. Another meeting at 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and phone call at 4 p.m. 

4:15 p.m.: Pick up kids from school and have coffee date with friend. 

5:25 p.m.: Hit Lady Bird Lake trail for a 3-mile loop run. Quick shower before social or happy hour. Eat a snack on the way to the bar. 

9:15 p.m.: Home. Heat up some leftovers for dinner. Check more emails and read up on the news (and newsfeeds) from the day. 

11 a.m. or 12 a.m.: In bed. Sleep for about 5-6 hours. Wake up, do it all over again.

Phew.

Sound exhausting? Sound familiar?

There is no question that, if you are like most Americans, you live and breathe in the daily grind, or rat race, of our society. 

Endless to-do lists and obligations tug at your shirttails on a daily basis—in every area of your work, social and fitness life. You want to do it all, and be it all, and gosh darn it, you want to get things done.

While all of these facets of life can find a way to fit into your daily schedule, it can also be downright draining—particularly without much built-in time for the basic self-care practices of good sleep, quality fuel, adequate training, and a proper work-life balance.

Preaching to the choir? Yes, I get it. It’s easier said than done. However, if you are not careful, this rat race or stressful lifestyle can—and will—catch up with you, and possibly in the form of adrenal fatigue. 

Nearly 80 percent of all Americans will suffer from adrenal fatigue at least once in their lifetime—particularly if you are a dedicated athlete, parent, or have a stressful job.

Adrenal fatigue is defined as chronic stress, and has actually become known as “21st Century Syndrome.” It occurs when the amount of stress you’re experiencing overextends the capacity of the body to compensate and recover. There are a number of reasons why this symptom can occur: 

– Fear and guilt
– Depression/mood instability
– Chronic illness
– Mal-absorption/mal-digestion
– Sleep deprivation
– Inadequate nutrition intake
– Excessive sugar and/or caffeine intake
– Working late hours
– Excessive exercise
– Surgery
– Low blood sugar
​- Anxiety

When a person is stressed, the body reacts by mounting a stress response through the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. This is also called the “fight or flight” response as the body arms itself to face what it perceives as a danger. When this happens, epinephrine is secreted, causing the adrenal cortex to increase production of the anti-stress hormone cortisol.

In simpler terms? As cortisol rises due to various stressors, your body begins to do funky things to get by, survive, and try to find homeostasis to function the best it can. In turn, an array of signs and symptoms may present themselves, all of which may vary from person to person. 

While stress is a natural part of life, the difference between adrenal fatigue and just being “stressed out” is when the body becomes maxed out and begins to cope in a sub-par state to try to overcome feeling rundown. 

The crazy thing is that adrenal fatigue is not a diagnosed condition recognized in Western medicine until it has progressed from Stage I (alarm reaction) to Stage IV, also known as adrenal failure—the most severe case of the condition. 

Two years ago, my body decided to shut down my respiratory function. After three long, grinding years spent in grad-school, stressing over tests, sleeping 4–5 hours per night, working out excessively to relieve that stress, my body finally had enough. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a 5:30 a.m. workout consisting of a short, quick, and intense set of thruster and pull-up reps. 

When I was finished, I couldn’t breathe. I literally lost my breath. Unlike a workout loss of breath, this shortness of breath lingered—for the next 28 days. Initially, walking out of the gym, I shrugged it off. “Man, that was a good workout I guess. I’m beat,” I said to myself. As the shortness of breath continued into the next day, I started to worry. 

Three days later, I was more than worried and made an emergency stop by the ER, telling them my symptoms. “I can’t breathe. Am I having a heart attack? A stroke? I don’t know what’s up,” I said. The ER nurses strapped me up to a heart monitor, ran an EKG, took my vitals—and found nothing. “Everything looks fine on paper. It must be anxiety,” the doctor said.

The shortness of breath persisted, and I didn’t feel like my normal self. Running a simple errand to the grocery store soon became a chore; my workouts became breathing battles; and doctors appointments now took the place of my usual to-dos in my daily planner. 

The consensus? One doctor told me I had asthma and prescribed me an inhaler. Another said it was inflammation in my chest and to take Motrin. Another diagnosed it as a blow to my chest—had I hit it? And another: maybe I had a blood clot somewhere in my body? Nothing lined up. Nearly four weeks into this lingering chronic shortness of breath, I Googled “integrative medicine doctor, Austin” and made an appointment with the first doctor that the search revealed. The consensus was cut and dry: adrenal fatigue.

I had never heard the term before, but as I began to look into it, the signs and symptoms all matched up perfectly. The doctor prescribed me a few lifestyle changes I could start to make, a few natural supplements I could take and, within weeks, I began to make a 360–degree turnaround. In total, it took me about 8–12 weeks to make a comeback and not experience anymore shortness of breath. 

Through my experience, I learned that adrenal fatigue, and the stressful life that leads to it, can affect anyone—including me. 

 

The author, Lauryn Lax, is now a doctor of occupational therapy and a nutritionist. She specializes in working with individuals dealing with adrenal fatigue symptoms, and remains dedicated to helping them recover.

 

 
 

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