Which Stage of Stress are You in?

ADRENAL STRESS – From Survival to Thrival


Life as we know it right now gives us access to more information on more levels than anytime in history. On top of it we have forgotten what to eat and when to sleep!

Mainstream reality has become too fast for our physiology. Our “normal” lifestyles are filled with everything that takes energy and very little that replenishes it. We are designed to adapt to natural evolution, but we have stepped out of natural, into a modernized experiment.

The only way to thrive in this multlayered world is to start implementing the tools that refuel us. The elements of life that help us to regenerate instead of falling into the degenerative fast track.

We all age, but degeneration is not a part of natural aging, it is the result of stress.

THRIVAL or Parasympathetic Dominance

Calm. Receptive. Open to change. This is the constructive state of being. This is what happens when your parasympathetic nervous system is running the show. It’s easier to trust and feel a sense of support from life. In this state we are able to take in the world, see the beauty, enjoy the special moments with our loved ones and feel inspired.

In the parasympathetic state your body can:

  • Regenerate damaged cells
  • Digest food and absorb nutrients
  • Focus clearly
  • Use our memory
  • Eliminate toxins
  • Build strength and stamina
  • Have a balanced metabolism
  • Stabilize blood sugar
  • Stabilize blood pressure
  • Stabilize heart rate

SURVIVAL or Sympathetic Dominance

This is the state when our body thinks it is under threat, our mind is in alert and our emotions are turned off to deal with the emergency. Instead of emotions we feel reactive. Existing in this state long term, not only disconnects us from real life, it shifts our body from a state of regeneration to a state of degeneration.

When in adrenal stress, our reproductive hormones estradiol and testosterone, are converted to DHEA to make cortisol, and progesterone is converted directly to cortisol to sustain the stress function of the body. In other words, all reproductive hormones are now shunted to their emergency jobs leaving the reproductive system high and dry (so to speak). Long term this leads to severe PMS, low libido, infertility, reproductive disorders, horrible menopause symptoms are possible chronic reproductive dis-ease. This is not a path any of us want to walk down!

Many people spend up to 80% of their waking hours in the adrenal stress.

Sympathetic dominance is a nervous system function designed for emergencies. In this survival state fear and caution are the dominant emotions. The discerning mind is put aside as we begin to worry about where our food is coming from, money, responsibilities, the future, what people think and fear of how badly things could turn out. In sympathetic dominance our minds are constantly calling up past references that are then projected into the future, to show what could go wrong. In this state we cannot feel our more subtle sense of things, we cannot access our heart, we miss half of what is happening in life. In this state we are disconnected.

Calorie restriction, sleep restriction and over-exercise keep us in survival not thrival!


  1. Alarm Phase fight or flight

In the alarm phase we follow our programing of being wired to react to even the smallest situations with life-threatening intensity. Initially the adrenal glands pump adrenaline into the body so you can fight or run for your life. In this state the mental, physical and emotional functions are in emergency mode, ready for action. The alarm phase is only meant for genuine danger. The adrenal system takes priority and our other metabolic functions are put on hold until all is ‘safe’ enough to reactivate the parasympathetic system.

Your body is unable to absorb nutrients, detoxify or regenerate in a stressed state!

In the alarm phase your appetite is suppressed, your mind rushes and progesterone is shunted from its reproductive or neurological tasks to the adrenals to make stress hormones. On a mental, emotional level we can become edgy irrational and neurotic. We are convinced we don’t have enough time in the day. Everything seems more of a “big deal” than it really is. We are acutely aware of the threats and dangers in life but blind to the gifts and beauty.

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

Stage 2: Resistance Phase Just keep pushing

The resistance phase is our long-term stress state. After a few weeks of adrenaline running the show, the body surrenders to the fact it is in this stressful state for the long haul and begins to increase the cortisol production.

The resistance phase is designed for relocating the tribe. The high cortisol level is used to keep the blood sugar and blood pressure up to push more energy through the body and prevent unnecessary feelings of pain, enabling you to push through your normal limits. Either you struggle to sleep or your fall asleep instantly anytime. You are now nestling in to cortisol dominance.

After a few months your resources begin to wane. Normally we should have our big daily surge of cortisol when we wake up. In other words we should have our highest energy levels in the morning. As we run out of resources this surge doesn’t reach its peak. Often there is no appetite in the morning, especially if the liver is straining, but now there is a craving for energy. We usually turn to coffee and maybe a quick sugary snack.

Cortisol is supposed spike twice more, in a smaller dose, during the day and then it tapers off. As one moves further into adrenal fatigue the reverse begins to happen. You need to drag yourself out of bed in the morning and push through the beginning of the day. You are ready to crash at 4pm. But if you stay awake and push through 9pm when cortisol is supposed to be tapering off for the evening, you stimulate another big spike between 9pm and 10pm. Like a second wind you can now keep going till 2am. The problem is you are forcing your waning reserves to surge at a time when your body should be dropping into deep regenerative sleep. Even if you sleep for 11 hours after that you will still be exhausted throughout the day. Eventually you run out of reserve fuel and find yourself constantly hungry, even in the middle of the night.

Long-term cortisol dominance creates a sense of dulled emotional and physical experience. You have surrendered to the perpetual stress and life is just about functioning. After a sustained period the high cortisol levels begin to breakdown the connective tissue in your skin, muscles and bone; cell regeneration slows to a minimum, hormone and neurotransmitter production is compromised, digestion and mental function become impaired, metabolism slows down, and the immune system weakens. And life simply passes us by.

Today adrenal fatigue is affecting people as young as teenagers.

Stage 3: Adrenal ExhaustionIf the body is not given a chance to regenerate, the adrenal glands go into a state of fatigue. They are unable to produce the essential steroidal hormones, affecting the reproductive system, the thyroid and the neurotransmitters. This can lead to chronic fatigue syndrome or autoimmune diseases.

As the syndrome of adrenal fatigue is not part of normal tests performed by physicians, it often goes misdiagnosed and untreated.

Associated Symptoms And Consequences Of Impaired Adrenals

  • Lethargy and lack of energy in the afternoon.
  • Difficulty in performing daily tasks
  • Decreased ability to handle stress
  • Need coffee or stimulants to get going in the morning
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Craving for sweets
  • Crave for salty, fatty, and high protein food such as meat and cheese.
  • Feel better suddenly for a brief period after a meal.
  • Excessive hunger or no appetite
  • Indigestion
  • Alternating diarrhea and constipation
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Moments of confusion
  • Osteoporosis
  • Auto-immune diseases

  • Depression
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor memory
  • Insomnia
  • Lightheadedness / Low Body Temperature
  • Poor resistance to infections
  • Difficulty gaining weight or tendency to gain weight and unable to loose it, especially around the waist.
  • Tendency to tremble/shake when under pressure
  • Weakness / Difficulty building muscle
  • Unexplained hair loss
  • Tendency towards inflammation
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Palpitations [heart fluttering]
  • Dry and thin skin
  • Scanty perspiration