Burnout, M.E, and Adrenal fatigue are terms used to describe a set of conditions that affect your adrenal gland function, your nervous system, your brain function, your gut, your muscles and your immune system. It is a relatively new condition in medical terms. But what is M.E? Explaining M.E & adrenal fatigue or burnout is not
completely straightforward(as you will see). In this post I will cover all the causes and that make up these conditions. Where they are the same, as well as their differences.
What is M.E and Burnout?
Burnout, M.E, and Adrenal fatigue have much in common in terms of causes and symptoms. They are all conditions that are triggered by stress, hormones, and modern lifestyle habits.
One of the reasons burnout is becoming so common is the fast-paced and ‘hustle’ mentality we have adopted in modern culture. We are taught to believe that being constantly busy and having full lives equals success. In reality living this way leads to high levels of stress, elevated cortisol levels (your stress hormone) and inflammation. Body-wide inflammation leads to all kinds of health issues, viral illnesses and immune system problems. As well as psychological symptoms.
The onset of these conditions can be caused by a number of things. Either one thing or many combined which is why it is not always easy to diagnose or when explaining M.E & Adrenal Fatigue to anyone who doesn’t have it. For example a traumatic emotional or physical experience, or big illness can cause burnout. Prolonged high levels of stress. Or if you’re burning the candle at both ends (and in the middle).
Basically pushing your body’s limits way too far both physically and mentally, and pushing beyond your limits. Running yourself into the ground.
Your body is not made to deal with a ‘fight or flight’ response for long. Historically we are given a fight or flight response to keep us alive, to shut down most of your bodies functions to give you the energy to run away from a sabre-tooth tiger. A few minutes of adrenaline at most, and then your ancestors would hide away in a cave to rest.
But now? Now we are stressed every day on a continuous loop with no time for your body to recover or your adrenaline and cortisol to drop. The knock-on effect of this is inflammation throughout your body, out of balance hormones, gut health issues, a weakened immune system & a body that is seriously struggling.
What Causes Burnout
A chronic illness like M.E or adrenal burnout is a sign that your body is out of balance. But you can turn your rock bottom into your greatest learning and healing. Healing a chronic illness and recovering from burnout is not a simple thing, and it’s not a one avenue approach. Burnout affects many areas of your body simultaneously, therefore you need to look at a number of different areas to start healing.
While you are dealing with stress and trauma outside, here’s whats going on in your body:
Stress. Prolonged stress, and high levels of cortisol play havoc with your hormones.
Stress and environmental toxins also cause widespread inflammation in your body. Inflammation is the cause of all illness.
A huge illness that shocks your body’s entire system, such as Glandular Fever or a big infection.
Huge physical and/or emotional trauma can cause stress, a heightened immune response that pushes your body out of balance or severe exhaustion and anxiety.
The similarities between all these illnesses? it is that they all affect your immune system, your nervous system, your digestion (IBS is a condition that most people who are diagnosed with M.E tend to also suffer with). Your hormones and your endocrine system.
Everything is affected and knocked out of balance.
Working to heal all of these things takes time, I’m not going to lie to you and pretend it’s easy. It takes time and patience. But it is possible! (and the good news is I have already done most of the guesswork and experimentation for you in my Burnout. Heal. Grow program (more on that coming soon).
Symptoms of Burnout
Adrenal burnout and Adrenal fatigue aren’t always easy and straightforward to spot and diagnose. Symptoms of burnout and adrenal fatigue can, on their own, be mistaken for other illnesses and there are no specific tests a Dr. can use to diagnose you. Symptoms can start slowly and build over time. Another reason explaining M.E & Adrenal Fatigue can be complicated. The more you push yourself the more symptoms you will collect until, eventually, your body has its first ‘flare-up’ and brings you to a grinding halt ( we will discuss flare ups a little later).
Symptoms of M.E and Adrenal burnout include:
Exhaustion & Fatigue –
Overwhelming tiredness, exhaustion, and not just for a day or two. But prolonged and never-ending exhaustion and lethargy no matter how much you sleep, is one of the key symptoms of burnout. If you are finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning or the thought of having to shower and wash your hair is too much like hard work that can be burnout. No matter how much you sleep you still struggle to get up or get through the day.
This happens for two reasons. Firstly that your adrenals are working overtime to deal with the levels of stress you are putting your body through. Second, your immune system is compromised and getting repeat illnesses, being sick all the time, is taking all your energy too.
Hard to Sleep –
Despite being exhausted, and wanting to sleep all the time, another symptom of burnout is that you find it hard to get to sleep and/or stay asleep. Because your cortisol levels are so high, and you have adrenaline running through your body, your body’s natural circadian rhythm is disrupted. Your selenium and melatonin that trigger your body to sleep aren’t effective.
Constantly getting sick –
As I mentioned your immune system is compromised. Getting sick and getting illnesses one after the other, without feeling like you have time to recover, is a sure sign of a weakened depleted immune system. If you have started to get colds or flu repeatedly and each illness is taking a long time to go away that is a sign of burnout.
Combined with the inflammation caused by prolonged stress, environmental toxins, and bad diet your immune system is now working on overdrive simultaneously exhausting your body and desperately telling you to slow down.
Sore glands (that aren’t swollen), specifically in your neck, and a sore throat are also a symptom of burnout.
Getting swollen glands is usually the first sign that your body’s immune system is fighting a foreign germ or infection. However with M.E and adrenal burnout your body and immune system are overwhelmed and overreacting to every little germ you come into contact with.
Brain Fog –
The effects of burnout aren’t just physical. They can affect your brain function too. Brain fog can have you forgetting words, mixing up your words and sentences. Forgetting thoughts and tasks or what you were about to say.
It makes you feel fuzzy headed and reduces your brain function. meaning it takes you longer to do tasks than it did before, you feel like you need to write everything down so you don’t forget. Or it just takes you longer than it used to to understand and/or do things. Al these symptoms are signs of brain fog.
Brain fog or lack of brain function is caused by hormone and chemical imbalances going on in your body. As well as your lack of sleep and high levels of exhaustion.
Having high levels of stress and cortisol in your system can lead to feelings of anxiety, dropping the ball, and feeling either not yourself or that you can’t handle things. If you used to be the person that could handle any situation, but find yourself starting to feel anxious and overwhelmed by work and everything going on in your life. That is a sign of burnout.
The people more likely to begin with signs of burnout are those with a type A personality. The high achievers. Being driven is a good thing, but not at the detriment to your health. If you are finding things that you are usually able to handle too much. That your emotions are getting on top of you, and everything feels overwhelming, and a ‘big deal’. If you feel that you just don’t want to deal with anything – that is burnout. It can even show up as panic attacks!
Another way you may experience overwhelm is lights and sounds. Suddenly loud noises or a lot of noises at once can be completely overwhelming for your senses. Light and noise sensitivity is another symptom of burnout, although less common than the ones mentioned above.
Dizziness & Loss of balance –
Another way M.E shows up is by affecting your balance and spatial awareness. This is another less common symptom. You can find you are feeling unsteady on your feet on days you feel particularly exhausted. That you are walking into things, tripping over your feet. Or banging yourself on objects you should have no problem navigating usually.
Aching Muscles & Joints –
This complaint is more common for M.E sufferers than burnout. But is not unheard of for any of these conditions. It is also a symptom that can start at a later date to your initial symptoms. Aching muscles and joints can cause stiffness and difficulty moving around, as well as adding to your feelings of exhaustion and fatigue.
Flare ups can look different for everyone
For me, I passed out and collapsed in the middle of the road after feeling a little dizzy all day, and after months/years of repeated illness, emotional traumas, stress, over exercising, not eating properly, drinking way too much alcohol, and pushing my body past its limits.
For others it can simply be waking up one morning and not being able to get out of bed, or a final illness so bad that your body breaks down and leaves you on bed rest for many months.
Whatever the cause; Your body is shutting down. A flare up is your body screaming for you to pay attention. The way you have been living, the things you are doing are no longer working.
Once you have had that initial break down flare up they can reoccur. Frequently to start with, but as you move through your healing and start repairing the damage you have done, and looking after your body, they begin to occur less and less.
The key to controlling your flare up is managing your energy levels, learning your body, and recognising the early warning signs. These are all things we cover in the sections of my healing from burnout program.
Explaining M.E & Adrenal Fatigue Differences
I have found from my experience that M.E/CFS (or chronic fatigue syndrome the American name for ME), Adrenal fatigue, Fibromyalgia, and Burnout are often lumped into one over-reaching diagnosis of ‘chronic fatigue’ by Dr’s. Mostly because they are still quite hard to diagnose.
To do justice to explaining M.E & Adrenal Fatigue fully I must also discuss their differences.
While both ME and adrenal fatigue have symptoms of extreme fatigue and exhaustion, trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep, waking up feeling unrested, brain fog, impaired brain function & problems thinking remembering or concentrating. Digestive issues (such as IBS), changes in your sweating and temperature control & tolerance. There are some differences.
Additional M.E symptoms muscle and joint pain, persistent headaches, sore throat and sore glands, feeling dizzy or sick, heart palpitations or fast/irregular heartbeat.
Additional symptoms of Adrenal fatigue are craving salt and sugar, unexplained rapid weight loss and hair loss.
I hope that has gone some way to explaining M.E & Adrenal Fatigue for you. Whether you have just been diagnose or it is happening to a friend or loved one. An invisible illness can be hard to understand. But once you understand some of the causes it becomes easier for you to begin healing and correcting.
If you would like to read more about my own story and experience with M.E & burnout you can read About Me – My Journey Healing M.E
The program and book I have mentioned in passing through this post is something I have been working on for the last year. Compiling everything I have learnt & used to heal myself into an easy to follow step-by-step program and eBook. If this is something you might be interested in you can find out more on my Healing eBook Page