This is  Part 5 of  an 8-part series about Adrenal Fatigue  (HPA-Axis Dysregulation), how it relates to your health, how to know if it’s impacting you, and what you can do to fix it! Click here to read part one, part two, part three, and part four.

“Girl, I’ve had the craziest week!”  How many phone calls with my best girlfriends start off something like that?

A lot.

Life happens; kids, husbands/wives, job related stuff, disagreements with other friends, and the stuff that pops up out of left field, like the water heater breaking down.  These are the things we call “stressful” in conversation–but there are several other types of stress that our body will respond to in the same way hormonally, even though we don’t feel stressed out at the time.

When The Bear Isn’t Really A Bear:

Cortisol increases neurological excitability and heightens sensory perception.  This is great for a survival situation, but the same mechanism can cause anxiety, panic –and stress. Good if running from a hungry bear, not so much if you are sitting in a job interview.

Types Of Stress:

Stress is classified in three broad categories:

Emotional or Circumstantial – a few common examples are:

  • Grief
  • stressful relationships
  • a rocky divorce or breakup
  • caring for ailing family members
  • toxic work environments
  • Starting a new job or moving to a new place
  • post-college graduations expectations
  • starting a new business, while buying a house and having a kid, all in the span of a few years
  • lack of regular movement, or excessive exercise & overtraining, (especially too much endurance cardio)
  • Inadequate sleep depth or not enough hours
  • overwork
  • keeping late hours
  • having a constant feeling of having too much on the “To Do” list and never quite keeping up

Obviously not all of these “stressors” are unpleasant or traumatic. Just being in “Go-mode” all the time is enough to dysregulate stress hormones!


  • Skipping meals
  • overeating sugar and processed carbs
  • too much carb intake for your body in one sitting
  • alcoholism/drug abuse
  • restricting calories
  • eating poor quality food with lack of nutrient density (like snack food, fast food, or frozen dinners)

Eating pastries at the coffee shop, or even bowl of oatmeal with raisins elevates your blood sugar. As a result, insulin rises to help the glucose get into cells to be used for fuel. But the residual insulin from the surge can easily drop your blood sugar levels too low, so you crash a few hours later.

Your adrenals then pump out cortisol to try to level out the glucose levels.

Funny Snacks

Going excessively long without eating also causes the body to secrete cortisol, due to stress, just as if the bear jumped out of the forest. Except we don’t register starvation as “stressful” mentally because the stress takes a different form. High sugar, high carb, and high grain diets, especially those low in fats and protein, act on our bodies in the same manner.  Ever found yourself in an argument (about nothing important) with your spouse or friend, and had it occur to you that you were “hangry”? Blame it on cortisol!

Chronic Pain & Inflammation

Pain is obvious: migraine headaches, knee problems, bad backs, old unresolved injuries from sports or accidents, severe menstrual cramps every month are just a few common examples.

But people are rarely aware that they are inflamed.

Inflammation is anything that ends in “it is” – arthritis, colitis, gingivitis, etc.

Inflammation can also come on after an acute infection that is severe, such as influenza or pneumonia, appendicitis, etc.  But the majority of inflammation is caused by one of 4 things:

  • Chronic low grade Infections (such as parasites, yeast overgrowth, SIBO, mold/biotoxin illness, or chronic viral infections)
  • Exposure to foods or chemicals that we are “sensitive” or “intolerant” to.
  • The toxicity of heavy metals trapped in the body’s tissues after exposure
  • Too much sugar or too much Omega 6 (from industrial oils) in the diet.

Emotional stress, dietary stress, pain/inflammatory stress. Think about this for a minute: We’ve all gotten in a fight, or had some really bad news, or lost a pet or someone we love, and felt the immediate impact of the stress and high emotions.

But our body responds in the same way to chronic pain (like migraines and unresolved injuries), or chronic low-grade inflammation from undiagnosed gut infections, food reactions, or chronic viral infections. We have the same hormonal/chemical response. We don’t feel it on a conscious emotional level, yet it impacts our body just as profoundly.

Read part Six to find out if cortisol imbalance is to blame for your blood sugar issues or weight gain.