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Causes of Adrenal Fatigue
The Last Straw

  • Everyone has a different Last Straw
  • It varies how suddenly chronic exhaustion occurs
  • Total stress load and intensity is a factor

The expression The straw that broke the camels back fits the way Adrenal Fatigue seems to start.

Some people can pin-point a specific event when they became exhausted. For others, their health slipped away gradually. Finally, some people (minority) had low energy as long as they can remember.

On Adrenal Fatigue forums, people often say something like.....
Ever since ______ happened, I seemed to fall apart.

People tend to think that this last straw is the cause of their illness. These ever since events can be any stressor.

However, this last stressor is simply the stressor that pushed them over the edge from Stage 2 to Stage 3 Adrenal Fatigue (General Adaptation Syndrome).

The last straw might be pregnancy, a cold, a flu, death of a loved one, toxic mold exposure, etc. Any stressor can tip the scales from Stage 2 to Stage 3 General Adaptation Syndrome.

Why do only about 8% of the people that contract mono develop Chronic Fatigue Syndrome5?

Likely because these were people with a high stress load, and it is the total stress load the matters. For these people, their mono was the last straw, the final stressor that pushed them over the edge.

Note: The article Chronic Fatigue vs Adrenal Fatigue makes the case that they are the exact same condition.

Below are a few sample quotes from the Adrenal Fatigue forum on :

  Prior to my pregnancy, I was happy and healthy and full of energy4
  I've been suffering for a year with chills, asthma and fatigue, ever since I ran my first marathon3
  Mine started 8 years ago with a bad break2

Many of these people think they were fine until this event happened.

They were not fine. They were on their way to Stage 3 Adrenal Fatigue and it was just a question of which stressor would be the Last Straw.

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Your Total Stress Load

    Your total stress load is the culprit

The total stress load has an impact on how quickly you progress to Stage 3.

If you are not yet familiar with the stages, please see the article:
Stages of Adrenal Fatigue.

In a nut shell, Stage 2 is when your adrenal glands are pumping out an above average amount of hormones. They have adapted to chronic stress. That is why Dr.Hans Selye called it the General Adaptation Syndrome. The adrenal glands actually become enlarged because they are being asked to do so much7.

Stage 3 is when your adrenals can not longer keep up. This is when you become exhausted and feel like you are falling apart. Dr. Selye actually called Stage 3 Exhaustion 6,7.

The following comment was left on this site. After spending years on various forums, I have seen many posts similar to the following:

  I've been suffering recurrent fatigue and general ill health since I caught a bad cold mid March. My brain feels foggy much of the time and my concentration is poor. I am normally a really energetic person who rarely gets ill, but I have been sick so often this year but some days I really struggle with energy. But I am also prone to over-commit and have been dealing with a heavy workload this year, on top of no real holiday over summer as I was dealing with the decline and death of my father.
Yvette, Hobart, Australia

It seemed to Yvette that she suddenly became chronically sick after her bad cold. To her, everything was fine until she caught that cold.

But there are several hints in the comment that Yvette was wired (sympathetic dominant).

  • I am normally a really energetic person
  • ...prone to over-commit
  • ....heavy workload this year
  • real holiday over summer....

She sounds like the classic high energy, hard working, type-A person, that is unable to relax. She sounds like she has been stuck in sympathetic dominant mode for years.

For Yvette, her bad cold was likely the final straw after years of chronic stress from sympathetic dominance.

Total Stress Load: Other Conditions

There are other conditions that also have evidence that total stress load is a factor in their development.

  • General Adaptation Syndrome: This is the name Dr. Hans Selye gave to the condition. He found that the more stressors he exposed rats to, the quicker they progressed to Stage 3.6
  • PTSD: A study related to the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing found that only two groups of people developed PTSD. Group #1: Those who had a history of sympathetic dominance (prone to stress). Group #2: Those that watched a lot of media coverage after the bombing. i.e. The single trauma did not cause PTSD. It was the total stress load.8
  • Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale: Although the didn't name the condition, in the 1960s, two psychiatrists found that cumulative stressful life events lead to illness. The great the number of stressful events, the great the odds of illness9.

Note: Adrenal Fatigue is simply another name for the General Adaptation Syndrome.

Sudden vs Gradual Adrenal Fatigue

For many people, their Adrenal Fatigue seems like it was a sudden illness. For others, they could feel their health slowly slipping away.

The article Sudden Adrenal Fatigue? has survey results and covers in more detail Sudden vs Slow progression from Stage 2 to Stage 3.

Sources of Stress

Any combination of stressors can result in Adrenal Fatigue. And of course they need to be minimized if you are going to recover.

Of course, it helps to have a good understanding of the sources of stress. The article:
Sources of Stress covers various categories of stress.


Although it may seem like one stressor caused your Adrenal Fatigue, that last stressor was just the straw that broke the camels back.

Best of luck with your recovery.

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1. Ever Since Pregnancy
2. Ever Since Pregnancy
3. Ever Since Pregnancy
4. Pregnancy
5. Verrillo, Erica (2012-09-14). Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Treatment Guide, 2nd Edition
6. Hans Selye. 1978. The Stress of Life
7. Hans Selye and the Field of Stress Research
8. Media exposure and sympathetic nervous system reactivity predict PTSD symptoms after the Boston marathon bombings
9. Life Stress and Illness (pdf)

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