Is Low Self-Esteem Burning Out Your Adrenals?

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Adrenals Fatigue Mood Issues & Stress Self-love

One of the most common complaints I hear from women is that they have too much to do and not enough time to get it all done. If a woman’s excessive demands are temporary, her adrenal glands will provide a burst of cortisol and epinephrine, which give her the energy she needs to cope with her immediate crisis. But if her demands are excessive and ongoing, these same hormones wreak havoc on her body. I’m sure you know that this can lead to adrenal exhaustion. However, did you know that feelings of low self-esteem and lack of personal power can also contribute to adrenal exhaustion?

When you look at energy anatomy, the adrenal glands are part of the third chakra. And if you are experiencing adrenal exhaustion (or health problems in the abdomen, upper intestines, liver, gall bladder, lower esophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, adrenals, spleen, or middle spine), chances are that the emotional and psychological issues associated with the third chakra are affecting your adrenal health. As I wrote in “Your Chakras: A Roadmap to Vibrant Health,” these include self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect, and a sense of responsibility.

The Role of the Adrenal Glands

Before I explain further, let me remind you of the role the adrenal glands play. The adrenals sit on top of the kidneys and are the main source of cortisol and epinephrine—what are known as the stress hormones. Stress hormones are absolutely essential for living a vibrant and healthy life. If you suddenly have to run to get out of the way of an ongoing car, your adrenal glands send messages to your heart, blood vessels, and muscles to get you out of there fast. Think adrenaline—it can be pretty handy.

Unfortunately, with today’s busy lifestyle, this mechanism doesn’t just “flip on” occasionally. Relentless demands for additional bursts of energy required to keep pace with your hectic life cause the adrenals to produce slow but relentless amounts of stress hormones and resultant inflammatory chemicals. It also creates a constant state of fight or flight in your body.

Just as harmful as the physical demands, are the thoughts you have about your worth. These cause the release of cortisol and epinephrine to help you fight or flee ongoing emotional issues or other stressors. Here are some specific examples of common stressors that put relentless demands on your adrenals:

  • Worry
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Lack of pleasurable experiences
  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic illness
  • Feelings of lack
  • Feelings of shame

Imagine if your self-talk included hours of messages loaded with shame and insults, like: I’m too fat. I’m too old. I’m too dumb. Can you see how your adrenals would respond continually to these feelings of lack? Although there’s no physical emergency, can you understand how these messages can cause your body to stay on “high alert,” eventually exhausting both you and your adrenals?

Low Self-Esteem and Adrenal Exhaustion

Thoughts that make you feel bad or bad about yourself cause a physiological reaction that drains the adrenals and can compromise other aspects of your health. Because a lack of personal power and a lack of self-worth can lead to adrenal dysfunction over time, I encourage you to look objectively at whether you have these feelings—and then have the courage to do something about it.

Here are three easy things you can try today:

  1. Allow yourself to accept nurturing—it can be the first step towards loving yourself more. This means asking for and accepting help. And if help isn’t forthcoming, it means pampering yourself.
  2. Nourish your body with good food and enough rest. You may think your only way to recapture the time you need to accomplish everything is to go without enough sleep or take shortcuts when it comes to eating right. This will only leave you feeling depleted, exhausted, and more stressed emotionally.
  3. Work with affirmations. Louise Hay’s work is the perfect place to start. Remember, affirmations don’t make things happen. Affirmations make things possible. Affirmations also help you to look at life more optimistically.

If you’ve enjoyed this blog or if it has given you additional insights, please share it! As always, I love reading your comments.

Note: If you’re looking for more information on adrenal health, here are some great resources:

  1. Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom
  2. The Wisdom of Menopause
  3. Adrenal Exhaustion
  4. Do You Have Adrenal Exhaustion?
  5. Spiritual Support for Your Adrenals
  6. Your Chakras: A Roadmap to Vibrant Health
Last Updated: September 17, 2013

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.


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  1. Denise Deighan
    4 years ago

    I love your work. I first found your book ‘Women’s bodies women’s wisdom’ at a la leche league meeting 20 years ago and I have had it by my bedside ever since. I recently just discovered your website. I love the daily affirmation and I go online first thing to read this. I loved the video clip when you danced the tango. Where would we women be without someone like you to research all that you do, to stand up and speak in a culture where patriarchy is still very strong (I live in Ireland). I am so grateful and finally, your articles are so beautifully written, it is obvious they are written from the soul.


    1. Christiane L NOrthrup
      3 years ago

      Ah Denise– I thank you so VERY much. Indeed Patriarchy is alive and well. But it’s becoming more and more balanced every day. I so look forward to coming to Ireland sometime soon. I’m enchanted by the Irish and by Ireland. Love to you. Christiane

  2. Paula Vale
    5 years ago

    Hello, I’m Paula. It’s been a while since I started a path on soul search and living better. Although the way hasn’t been nothing easy. I come from a very “sick” family. My parents died of cancer when i was on my 16 ( mother) 18 (father). I am now 40 and I still haven’t found the balance ( already tasted some moments and I’m sure I will get it). We are 5, I’m the youngest, I have a sister the eldest ( she lives in a state of complety unconscious, always victimising, always speaking about the past, always trying to show of in any way, smoking, drinking, lying, no steady job, no good relatinship with the family, I relate to her with effort not to avoid arguewing) we are hardly together. Only one of my brothers has a kind of stable life. With wife and 2 kids. All the others incuding myself have completly complicated lifes. Anyway to make my story short ( I would be glad to explain more in detail if its necessary) I always believed inside that that should be another way, an healthy way of living and I always questioned myself and looked by books, movies, someone’s interview pn tv and I always jump from situation to situation, at least trying to get away of the situation that I felt where hurting myself. I went from houhe to house, brother’s, aunt, boyfriend’s, (this is emotionally exausting to me) and now I am at a niece’s house, running away from another situation I wasn’t standing with my boyfriend ( who was finantially supporting me) because I was currently teaching yoga but it wasn’t enough to be on my own. The relationship wasn’t balanced and I had to run away. I am in pain, I am not at ease with my niece although she likes me she still doesn’t understand what my process of life is. Although i know she admires me for the ” stability” i was able to have under the circumstances. The thing is my kidneys are giving me the sign I haven’ t been courage to express. I am in pain, no I cannot handle everything. Yes i am angry for coming from an unhealthy family and not being able to make it in this awfull relatioship that i came from, yes i resent the fact that all of this didn’t help me to maintain a job, i resent the fact and regret, not being able to take care of my grandmother until her last day, because i loved her and i wasn’t in conditions to have her with me. I resent the fact that the boyfriend i had at the time didn’t helped me on doig this, because he would take me to visit her, saw my tears but never said: “if you want bring her, i will help you” i was living again at his expence sort of. So now here i am, no job, no house, and experiencing this horrible pains in my left kidney. But there is one thing i am sure, the way has been rough, but I’m gonna make it. I don’t want to have the sickness excuse so that people pitty me. I’m am sure that this pain is my help to stop and see clearly what still isn’t clear to me.
    Thank you for reading me, I accept any suggestion you can give to me in this moment,

    Wishing to feel nothing but love,

    1. Agota Horvath
      3 years ago

      Dear Paula,

      I would seriously recommend chakra cleansing . You can get attuned to reiki and do it yourself daily . There are also amazing resources online about the chakras. Belinda Davidson is a medical intuitive and she offers some incredible free resources as well as free weekly remote healing sessions with white light. Your energetic blueprint is the blueprint for your life , change that and your life changes in almost miraculous ways. I am an acupuncturist , however , nothing has done more to clear away old childhood traumas than daily self reiki and Belinda’s sessions . I would highly recommend you check her out and download her free chakra book.

      Much love to you ,


  3. Elianna
    6 years ago

    Thank you for the affirmation. For me this will take a lot of practice because I find it very difficult to let go. I think it is because I don’t trust myself to handle my problems in the first place. To give them over to another source feels like I will loose control.

  4. Christiane Northrup
    6 years ago

    HI everyone– I have another tip. Just finished up doing Flourish with Tosha Silver I suggest that we ALL do the following change me prayer: Divine Beloved, please change me into someone who can let it ALL go– into someone who can offer ALL of this to YOU- the Divine. Whew. What a relief. Takes practice. And it works!!

  5. Ann
    6 years ago

    Thank you for this article and also including some steps to start doing today ! I kept telling my husband that the only way I could explain myself was ” my spirit / my soul feels empty : that its being used up and not refilled “.
    Yes third chakra ; adrenal depletion ; low self esteem and giving away my power – Thank you for putting into words and perspective the wisdom behind what my mind/body was trying to tell me.

  6. cheryl
    6 years ago

    Tammy in Memphis try finding a functional pratitioner – many are MDs or DOs – try at this website: then find a practitioner.
    I found my practioner there and she even tested my TPO and thyroid antibodies. I do have Hashimoto’s to my surprise! Good luck Tammy!
    Thanks Dr. Northrup never thought of low self esteem and giving away my power as contributing to adrenal insufficiency – Makes Total sense. Love you and love your show. Thanks for your work!!!!

  7. Fantastic4992
    6 years ago

    Great article!! I appreciate you distinguishing between self-esteem and self-confidence! So many women think they are one and the same and suffer from low self-esteem (while having sky high self-confidence).

  8. Liz
    6 years ago

    please allow your articles to be shared via emails. Thank you

  9. Mary
    6 years ago

    I would love to hear a good affirmation pertaining to adrenal fatigue.

  10. Karen Trujillo
    6 years ago

    I agree w/ everything you wrote, not only because I’ve lived it (early adulthood, marriages, career, children); but, also because I picked up knowledge about the chakras along the way. When I look at it, in retrospect, and think about things more recently, involving mind, spirit, and body, it all makes sense. Thank you so much…I’ve always felt “in tune” w/ whatever you’ve had to say beginning w/ lectures on PBS channels in the ’90’s.

  11. Joie
    6 years ago

    You’ve described my life at one time when everything was overwhelming. It all fits and is comforting to explain how life fell apart for a season or two.

  12. Jennifer Hanes
    6 years ago

    As always, your wisdom is exactly what I need at exactly the right moment. Thank you for sending your healing energy into the world.

  13. Dawn Irving
    6 years ago

    Thank you for a lovely, well informed article. I undercut myself when it comes to this subject since I have no more demands of a young family. I am a single working woman with a dog and a house/payments. I also have the love of a wonderful man. I now understand that stress is stress, even when it comes across as something good.
    Question: Do you believe in supporting the adrenal system with supplements, as well as behavioral changes?

  14. liioness G Banett
    6 years ago

    T’Ankh You so very much, You never fail to address my stuff in such a timely fashion. You are AMAZING and THOROUGH !!!

  15. Nancy Lamb
    6 years ago

    I may be the person you thought of when you wrote this. Chronic pain and illness can create a cyclical pattern of self flagellation.

    Today was my day. Meditation. Long yoga practice. Light strengthening work. And suddenly, my mind was quiet, I felt relaxed, and everything felt better. Love that you say “when help isn’t forthcoming, pamper yourself” because help is so not forthcoming. Thank you.

  16. karima
    6 years ago

    I am curious about info that will appeal to adolescent girls so they can start early. It took me until I was 4o to learn about and listen to my body! Do you have any suggestions for reading materials developmentally suitable for adolescents? Or would you consider writing a book like Dan Siegal is doing for adolescents to be able to read with their parents? Thank you for all your work.

  17. Marijke Brouwers
    6 years ago

    I agree complete with Christianne! I work in the Netherlands as a psychodynamic therapist, specialized in woman in transition with a lot of women and I see that getting the original inner selves better and better, it helps a lot to become more healthy.
    It is a combination of mental, emotional, spiritual, sexual and somatic health! When you change old patterns and surviving strategies, you face old fear, anger etc.. etc…, you become the original great person you are.

  18. kathy
    6 years ago

    Thank you once again for providing knowledge that will improve a woman’s mind, body & spirit. You have also giving me something to share with my training clients to keep them involved in physical fitness. A woman that strength trains is a woman that is healing from the inside out. I enjoy watching my clients reach their aesthetic goals, but I love it when I see their “Spirit” beam from within!

    Thank you!!!

  19. Donna L Horvath
    6 years ago

    This is just what I needed….my whole life I was told I was not smart or too fat….I’ve finally made peace with who I really am…..Blessed and beautiful, creative,a great friend,an excellent writer and better than being smart I enhance the lives of everyone around me….What could be better than that?….Thanx…love ur books and tapes…..DLH

  20. Tammy Kasmai
    6 years ago

    What is Women to Women ? Also, how do I go about finding a DR in Memphis TN that will test for low thyroid , other than using the traditional TSH as well as adrenal and insulin resistance??
    Thanks for any help anyone can give!!

  21. Linda
    6 years ago

    Gave my heart and soul to a company for 34 yrs and was laid off from upper mgmt position. I’m struggling to recover from adrenal fatigue. It’s tough! Plus being 59 yrs old and trying to find a job seems to be impossible. My body went thru A LOT of stress but eventually it said ENOUGH!!! I was barely able to crawl out of my bed to go to get diagnosed and to get help. I started going to a water aerobics class last month which is helping me mentally and physically. Still unemployed .

  22. Stephanie
    6 years ago

    Thank you for this letter. My 6th daughter
    turns 18 today . It’s been a great life but also
    I am in recovery …the adrenals are down .
    Yoga is helping so much, female friends ,
    along with The Wisdom of Menopause.
    I FINALLY have ‘let go ‘ and decided to be well

  23. Julie
    6 years ago

    Somehow you always know exactly what challenges I am dealing with currently and give me a new way to look at them and SOLVE them. I love the way you lift us up as women by being pro human..not just pro female. We need to operate and flourish in a world of both. We are often raising male children and all that negatively towards their gender has to impact their view and self esteem when that’s what they see reflected back to them through the eyes of their mom.You are a gift. I am grateful.

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