GAPS & Stress Part 1: Role in Adrenal Fatigue, Exhaustion, Trauma, & Hormones
Well, just to address the elephant in the room, between the stress of covid, systems of white supremacy + oppression, and an impending revolution, everything is different now. And the uncertainty of it all may make you feel like the walls are closing in. Trapped. Or feeling powerless *slash* hopeless, which is essentially what stress is.
Stress as a Root Cause
‘Stress’ is virtually connected to every single disease. It is literally the one thing they all have in common (& gut health, but for the sake of simplicity we’ll just focus on mainstream accepted facts today 😉 ). But stress is such a vague term. And it could really mean anything. Being told by your doctor that your symptoms are due to stress, though valid, is a deeply unsatisfying answer. So what does that even really mean? That’s why I feel called to illustrate the physical process that stress plays out in our bodies. This way, you know what EXACTLY is going on + how to address it vs. just ‘trying to be less stressed.’ Yeah. Like that has ever worked..
Cortisol= The Stress Hormone
So. We’ve all heard about cortisol, right? If you’re not familiar, cortisol has a nasty reputation of being the stress hormone that makes you fat, causes adrenal fatigue, etc. But in reality, cortisol is a life saver. It’s just overused & abused in our modern lifestyles today. More on this to come.
Let me explain. When you are under stress, whether physically or emotionally, your body is going to have the exact same reaction. This means if you feel like you are going to get attacked vs. you eat a food you are sensitive/ allergic to, your physical stress response will be identical.
The Physical Response to Stress
And what does this stress response look like? Cortisol is the major player of all this. It gets produced in your adrenal glands, which sit on top of your kidneys like tiny little hats. In moments of emergency, your adrenal glands pump out cortisol to literally save your life. How? Cortisol literally sends the signal for your muscles to break down into sugar. This mechanism gives you the energy to FIGHT or flight. Because as we all know, being stressed costs a lot of energy!
Going back to our roots, this cortisol response was incredibly useful. Just to use the quintessential example here, if you needed to get away from a saber-toothed tiger, your stress response would kick in and you’d have the energy to RUN. But nowadays in the modern world, we will have the exact same physical reaction when we don’t know how we are going to pay next month’s phone bill.
Fight or Flight
And I’m not even finished with cortisol yet! In addition to breaking your muscles down into sugar, it shuts down your digestive process and turns off your immune system. Which is actually genius because none of that stuff matters when you are fighting (or flighting) for your life! Also, when you are stressed, every single raw physical resource gets redirected into making cortisol.
So instead of making sex hormones that regulate your reproductive cycle, natural steroids that regulate your immune system, or growth hormones that facilitate your healing process [these + cortisol are all made with saturated fat], your body is making cortisol X 1 million. More & more & more. And this excess of cortisol offsets your entire hormone balance, which shows up as lady problems, sleep problems, & overall difficulty with healing yourself effectively.
Stress in the Old World vs. the Modern World
But instead of this whole process happening on the off chance that you run into a tiger, today it happens all the freaking time. And this paradigm depletes your cortisol stores until they run out. It’s important to note that without this supposedly ‘bad’ hormone, your immune system can’t turn off, which leads to autoimmunity.You also get so exhausted that you literally cannot get out of bed (aka stage 4 adrenal fatigue). Then you’ll have miserable + painful periods because hormones exist within a balance of one another and when one is off kilter, the entire system gets f*****.
Plus, your interpersonal relationships might go to sh** because your ability to handle stress turns into a big fat zero. And this catabolic process of breaking down your muscles into sugar opens the door wide open for diabetes, pre-diabetes, hypoglycemia, or any other blood sugar handling issues. But I will go more into the specifics of how our blood sugar levels make or break our health in a couple weeks in the 2nd part of this GAPS & Stress series. If you care to stay tuned. 😉
Tangible Foods + Strategies to Help Inevitable Stress
Alright. So now that I’ve divulged what’s physically going on in our bodies, even if we are ‘only’ emotionally stressed, it’s time to talk about what to do about it. When I’m stressed, my 1st priority is to feed myself the raw, physical resources I need to make the hormones and neurotransmitters I’m going to need to show up for whatever stressful situation. So in addition to already being on GAPS, here are the foods I emphasize:
- pastured animal fat (1-4 Tbsp/ meal)
- pastured egg yolks
- sauerkraut juice (for vitamin C)
- meat stock (at least 5 cups per day)
Secondly, I find that I need to address the root cause of whatever my stressor is and nip it in the bud the best I can. Really identifying: what is making me feel powerless? I’ve found Lacy Phillip’s unblocked shadow class to be a great tool in reprogramming + understanding my triggers. But you can use whatever works for you to self reflect + be honest with yourself. Knowing where the real stress is coming from, I then ask myself, do I need to take action, stand up for myself, or establish a new boundary? Yes, this is hard, but also are the chronic physical effects of stress. I consciously strive to not live my life in a stressful state, both for health & spiritual reasons. Addressing it feels like a matter of life and death for me. And I choose life.
For bigger, state of the world stuff that I can’t do anything about? That’s where daily self-care routines come in. Anything that helps ground me. And knowing the physical effects of stress, I’m aware it’s not a luxury, but a necessity! Doing yoga, meditating, sunbathing, journaling, taking a detox bath, making art. This is what redirects my nervous system into balancing itself, making growth hormones that facilitate my healing process, helping me sleep, and quelling my lady problems.
Stress Response & How it Relates to Trauma + PTSD
Lastly, I want to put all this info into the context of trauma and PTSD. Being a trauma survivor, every single time I get triggered, this physical stress response is happening in my body. There was a time this happened every single time I saw a white man, which happened all the f***ing time. So I was CONSTANTLY in this fight or flight state, making it impossible to fully heal myself, and it wrecked my health further. Taking the Star of Bethlehem flower essence really helped soothe my physical response. This + the GAPS diet put me into a state where I could face my trauma head on with a therapist I trusted, as well as doing trauma work.
I knew that if I wanted to fully heal myself, I had to dive into the emotional + psychological stuff to manage my stress response. Becky Plotner once told me that when people do not address their trauma, they tend to get stuck in the process of healing themselves. So engaging with + facing my trauma upleveled my healing & auric vibration. This was just as important as being on GAPS and making my meat stock every week.
You Have the Power
So there you have it. The very physical response that comes from your particular thoughts and actions. It’s not pretty, but there it is. My intention in revealing all of this to you is to communicate how you can physically support yourself in the midst of stress by what you eat & the self care you choose to partake in. Committing to these tangible acts will be a stepping stone in taking your power back, whatever that means for you in your healing process. Or at least, that’s what it did for me.
As I mentioned above, you’re invited to stay tuned for part 2 of this GAPS & Stress series. Coming out in a couple of weeks, it contains the best kept secret known to humans. Explaining how & why you make all your ‘bad’ decisions about food, in behavior, etc (its not what you think it is). Aka how this cortisol response destabilizes & affects our blood sugar, one of the human body’s top priorities for staying alive. Hope to see you then! <3