The effect of trauma can physically be seen in the brain. It changes how the body perceives and responds to stressors.
In this episode, I share a little bit of my own current journey of identifying and dealing with past traumatic experiences and how it has affected my health.
When taking the time and courage to do the hard work of dealing with past traumas, the benefits can be very rewarding.
Join me as I explain the physiological changes that happen in the body as an attempt to adjust and survive, and how this will affect the production and balance of your hormones.
I also share a few things you can start implementing today that will go a long way in supporting your body towards balance.
Wow, welcome back to episode 10. I can’t believe I’m into double digits now?!
I’ve really been enjoying documenting and sharing my journey with you the past 10 weeks and if you’ve enjoyed it too, have you shared it yet?
Maybe if the content has helped you in some way shape or form, why don’t you copy the link and send it to a friend via text or messenger or whatever works for you.
My goal is to reach as many women as I possibly can. I know for certain that getting to know and understand what a big impact my hormones have on my overall health has been an absolute game changer for me.
And as I research the topic more, there is so much more that I discover and I’m so grateful to have you on this journey with me.
So this past few weeks, I’ve been thinking alot about the effect of trauma on our overall health and wellness.
Michiel and i have been talking about how we can help our kids to be resilient. And we still don’t have the answers to this question, but I’m still searching.
This has however put me on a path of researching the effect of trauma as I said and also looking at what trauma really is.
The dictionary describes trauma as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience or physical injury.
And this has always been my thinking, that I haven’t been through a very traumatic experience, I’ve had a pretty good life.
But as I started thinking and researching this and how my kids went through some significant experiences at a very early age, I started to see that trauma is more than just the big things that happen such as a death, abuse, war, etc.
And all of us have experienced trauma at some point in time. For many of us, there would have been multiple traumatic experiences until now.
What I’ve also discovered, is that the human brain is really good at hiding and forgetting these experiences as a means of survival. So unless we start digging and doing the deeper work, we might never really recognize or discover some of these experiences that are shaping who we are.
Doing the deeper work may be painful, but I can tell you one thing. It is so well worth it when you start reaping the rewards.
So currently I’m on my own journey of doing deeper work to discover and work through significant traumatic experiences and in the near future, I may share some of these things with you.
I’ve always believed that trauma and mental health is intimately interwoven with our physical health. I believe that it is impossible to separate these things. Therefore, I don’t believe treating physical illness with medication alone is an effective approach or solution.
If we see the individual as a complex being with both physical and mental dimensions deeply connected, then one will always affect the other.
A book that I’m working through at the moment and that I can highly recommend if you want to understand a little bit more about trauma and the effect on the human body, is called ‘What happened to you’ by Oprah Winfrey and Dr Bruce Perry. Dr Perry is a neuroscientist with more than 30 years of experience and research in the field of trauma and the effect on the human brain. It has been so very insightful.
He explains how traumatic experiences alter our DNA and can make us more likely to develop different diseases.
But I want to specifically talk about the effect of trauma on our hormones.
You might remember my health journey.
In the space of 7 weeks, my health changed significantly.
From eczema completely resolving, to chronic inflammatory illness in my face clearing up for the first time in 7 years,, weight dropping off, 7kgs/15 pounds in 7 weeks, painful lumps in my breast disappearing, pms that completely became something of the past and chronic fatigue disappearing
I know all of these symptoms were related to hormone imbalance and there were physical things that I changed in my diet, exercise and environment that I believe contributed majorly to my healing.
But the interesting thing that I realised this past week, is that it all happened around the same time that I was dealing with a traumatic experience which I’ve had about 6 years ago with a very dear and close friend.
It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to go through.
I’ve slowly been working my way through the pain and confusion but at this time, roughly 5 years after it all went down, for the first time, I sensed complete forgiveness and healing.
For the first time, I could think of this person without a deep sense of pain.
For the first time, I didn’t walk around with an intense fear of bumping into them.
I believe it was my time of healing from this experience.
And interestingly enough, it was around the same time that my hormones came into balance and my physical healing happened over the space of 7 weeks.
Trauma has a physical effect on the body.
In other words, there is a physical change in the brain, specifically in how the body is regulated towards balance. And you will know my mantra, the beauty we all so desperately are trying to find, is in the balance.
When we are exposed to trauma such as painful relationship breakups as was the case with me, or abuse, witnessing abuse or something distressing, the death of a loved-one, a car accident, emotional abuse or even growing up feeling like you didn’t belong, our bodies trigger physiological responses as a way of adapting to the event or events.
These responses are not always up to us and are determined by our genes, coping responses or how our brains regulate. These responses are important for survival, but can sometimes work against us.
According the the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, lasting or latent trauma from events can trigger endocrine and immune problems and this includes chronic autoimmune illnesses, heart attack, diabetes, stroke and even cancer. And when the stress response is chronically turned on, the
production of sex hormones will be affected at a large scale.
You may be wondering if the trauma you endured was bad enough to cause health issues. This was certainly my thinking. But the short answer is an absolute yes!
A traumatic event itself isn’t necessarily the trigger, it’s how our bodies uniquely respond to that trauma that can cause health problems.
When we want to understand the effect of trauma on the production and balance of our sex hormones, we need to look at the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA axis, which is the body’s central stress response system.
You can think of this as the intersection of our central nervous system and the endocrine system.
Your endocrine system is a complex network of glands and organs that uses hormones to control different, very important functions of the body, such as metabolism, energy levels, reproduction, growth, development, response to injury, response to stress and mood.
Because trauma affects this HPA axis, it will affect your hormones.
Trauma makes us more reactive to stressors and more likely to have increased production of the stress hormone cortisol.
In certain situations, cortisol is very important. But when you’re not actively in danger, trauma will keep this system turned on, so your cortisol levels will remain high. This is very damaging to the body at so many levels, but what you need to understand, is that cortisol and progesterone share the same building blocks. So if cortisol remains high, there will be no building blocks for the production of progesterone.
This leads to various health issues such as depression, anxiety, infertility, weight issues, sleep disturbances and so much more
You’ll remember that I mentioned earlier that trauma physically changes the brain.
You would think that, once the stressor is removed, the body should respond accordingly and turn off the chronic high production of cortisol.
But because the brain is physically changed by trauma, the body will continue to produce these stress hormones in high levels.
As a nutritionist and womens health expert, I usually work with the external factors that will support and improve your hormone health. Things like nutrition, exercise, stress management and the physical things in your environment that can affect the production and balance of your hormones.
But it is impossible to support hormone balance, even if we implement all these physical factors perfectly, if we don’t look to identify our past traumatic experiences and look to find help and tools to heal from them.
Although traumatic experiences will change us forever, the human brain is amazing and can always learn and change.
One of my favourite things about the body is that it is programmed for healing.
Your body will always try to heal itself.
But healing from trauma is a very intentional thing.
It will not happen by chance
If we leave the healing from trauma up to fate, we will struggle to change our way of thinking, behaviours and outcomes and we’ll feel frustrated with ourselves and how we don’t understand ourselves or feel out of control of our body.
Again, like I’ve said before, it is up to us to take up the pen and write the story of our lives.
Things are going to happen TO us, things that we won’t have any control over, but what we DO have control over, is how we come back from that.
As I think of and work through my past traumatic experiences, one thing I do know for certain.
It has changed me.
But HOW I change is up to me.
The traumatic relationship breakup with a very dear and loved friend that I’ve mentioned at the beginning of this episode is something that was very very painful and it took me about 5 years to work through, but when I ask myself if I would change that, the answer is a resounding NO!
Who I am today is a much more compassionate, understanding and self-aware person than what I was back then.
I want to encourage you, my friend.
Have you ever acknowledged your past traumatic experiences?
For about 35 years I’ve compared my own past traumatic experiences to those of others who have survived brutal abuse and horrifying circumstances and down-played my own experiences.
The result was that I’ve denied the effect it was having on me as a person and how it was ultimately not only affecting my relationships, but also my physical health.
I want to encourage you to NOT do the same.
Even if those traumatic experiences involve people that you love dearly today, don’t deny the effect it has had on you. As people we will make mistakes and hurt those that we love the most.
Make a commitment to yourself to find the tools and professionals that you need and start journeying on this wonderful road of self-discovery and healing.
It is worth every bit of pain and every tear.
Only when we face our demons will we be truly free.
And only when you become truly free, will your body be able to heal and will you start experiencing the joy of hormones that are in balance.
Some practical advice I can give you today though, that you can start implementing immediately, is to focus on a healthy lifestyle and taking care of yourself. This will send a message to your body that it is safe and nourished. This will go a very long way in the healing process.
LIke with anything in life, repetition and consistency is so very important. So find the healthy habits and self care practices that you can consistently do.
Eat nourishing foods every day, move your body regularly, preferably every day and sleep 8-10 hours every night. Walking played a massive role in my healing process. For months, I walked 5-7 times a week, about 5kms.
This sounds simple and easy in theory, but implementing lifestyle changes can be hard, especially when you’re feeling down.
Making these actions a priority daily, especially when you don’t feel like it, can help your body to recalibrate.
I also recommend that you regularly do activities that can help you relax so you can release your happy hormones and lower the release of your stress hormones. This can include things like hugging people, engaging in compassionate behaviour, laughing or having a warm, relaxing bubble bath.
You can also decrease the release of cortisol by practising mindfulness and breathing exercises. Having a regular morning routine, including practising gratitude, is also something that has been incredibly beneficial for me.
Another very important practice is to advocate for yourself. I found, having 1 or 2 people around me that I know will always be honest, but have my best interest at heart, helps me so much.
It is important to understand that your own selfcare is just as important as caring for your family, as you simply can’t give what you don’t have.
So set a standard with your family that YOU are important. They are not the most important, but everybody’s needs are equally important.
And lastly, seek professional help before you reach rock bottom. Working with a professional can be uncomfortable at first but can significantly improve your psychological, hormone and immune health, which will make your life more fulfilling down the road.
SOmething that I also do regularly is having deep meaningful conversations with my husband and a close friend. Merely discussing my feelings and discoveries about myself, and them validating it, has a therapeutic effect for me. IT helps me to feel secure in the fact that I’m not mad. What has happened to me WAS hard and HAS changed me as a person, but I still have a choice in HOW this will change me.
Ok my friend, thank you for sharing my journey with me.
And again, if you think today’s episode might support somebody you love, I would be so very grateful if you would share it with them.
I’ll see you next time