Today, adrenal stress and fatigue is gaining recognition in both natural and modern medicine. In the women’s herbal community, we recognize the need to look at the underlying root causes that contribute to these adrenal issues in the first place. Because it is women who are most often affected, in myriad ways – from anxiety and sleep disturbances to exhaustion and thyroid complications.
The fact that adrenal issues have become epidemic for women is no coincidence, nor is it just an individual problem. It is a reflection of the impact on women’s health of societal dynamics of patriarchy, including traumatic experiences, which continue to be all too common for women and girls.
Like many mothers, I am deeply concerned about the environment for girls growing up today, starting with their relationships with food and their own bodies. Media images and messaging suggest there is something wrong with girls’ bodies, or that they have to be a certain way to be accepted. The pressure to fit in or please others teaches girls that it is not safe to be too much, too loud, or too smart.
Misogyny normalizes the objectification and over-sexualization of girls through both overt and subtle messaging. Objectification contributes to both abuse and trauma. Statistically, one in three girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. Others face forms of abuse and neglect as well. For women of color, racism can add additional layers to the trauma. Four in seven women worldwide have been victim to sexual and/or physical violence.
As is reflected by these statistics, most women are recovering from trauma – if not still actively experiencing (or re-experiencing) it. Long after the trauma occurs, it can cause neurological confusion for girls and women when there are males in positions of power reflecting the old patterns of abuse. Our threat response is alert.
It is in these times that we are invited to look at the roots of our trauma and lean into the emotional work of recognizing patterns that have been set up into our adult years. It is also a time to begin unhooking from those old patterns; we can meet our needs for a shared sense of reality by connecting with other women with similar experiences. Take heart, sisters! We find that we can draw nourishment for our healing from many sources, including the Earth and nature, whole foods and medicinal herbs, caring self-reflection, and emotional release.
How does trauma contribute to adrenal health issues?
Patterns learned during girlhood often continue into our lives as adult women. In both my personal life and professional work around physical health and healing, I have become more and more aware of the impact of systemic sexism and emotional trauma on women’s bodies. I have also come to understand that when trauma happens over a long period of time in an environment where we see no way out – as is often the case for daughters subject to abuse and neglect – it can have lasting impacts on our identity, personality, brain, and neurological development. This leads to false belief systems that undermine emotional and physical health.
False belief systems can impact our choices throughout our lives, especially choices in relationships, as we undervalue ourselves. We may end up staying in environments in which our needs are not met, thereby adding to chronic stress, known to directly impact the adrenals and contribute to many other health issues.
Nourishing ourselves to reclaim our health
As we nourish ourselves and reclaim our health, we regain our birthright and full potential as women. Powerful women. Healthy, strong women. Women full of life, energy, and vitality. Renewing our passion and creating the worlds we want to live in… So let’s start here:
1. Sleep – Rather than ignoring our body’s signals and pushing through the point of exhaustion (with caffeine, sugar, perfectionism, etc.), we must allow ourselves to rest. Approach sleep as medicine, as it is in our sleep that we allow our bodies to heal – through physical repair, the dreamtime, and the emotional and spirit worlds. As Susun Weed says, “Do nothing.” Sleep. Nap. This winter, allow the season to pull you inward, below the ground to your roots, just as plants rest and regenerate over the winter, following the natural cycles of the Earth.
2. Healthy boundaries – Emotional safety starts by establishing healthy boundaries. This includes focusing on practices that nourish us, and moving away from addictive or difficult relationships or other activities that sap our energy. There are many practical ways to establish boundaries, from practicing saying no (if it’s not a clear yes, it’s a no!), to taking time alone (unplugged). As we do so, we not only allow our inner truth to come through, but also open up the space for relationships that meet our needs for safety, respect, valuing, love, and clarity.
3. Nourishing foods and herbs – In the Wise Woman Tradition, rather than seeing the body as dirty or in need of cleansing, we support the optimum functioning of the body through nourishment. This means bringing in a wide range of whole foods and herbs, from both plant and animal sources, raw and cooked. In particular, eating healthy fats (which have been so demonized by mainstream and alternative nutrition) is actually essential for women for rebuilding the nervous system, calming both body and mind, and supporting the smooth functioning of the hormonal system. So don’t be afraid to eat your organic butter and coconut oil – daily!
4. Grieving – Yes, grieving – it is natural and important for us to mourn. We support our physical and emotional health when we grieve losses, pain, hurts and unmet needs – both from our own girlhood, and from our experiences as adult women. As our elder, Sobonfu Some, stressed to us, doing our grief work clears the way for clarity, joy and authenticity. So let the tears flow, as a natural and essential part of the spiral of life.
5. Peer support – There is nothing like women connecting with other women in authenticity and safety. It is through the consciousness raising initiated by my mother’s generation that we recognize that our experiences are not isolated or due to our personal shortcomings, but actually have systemic roots based in racism/sexism/classism, the “heteropatriarchy.” When we experience feeling heard and accepted, we are able to move through pain and shame towards healing and embodying our full beautiful, powerful selves. So our trusted sister bonds, friendships, and circles are literally medicine for our minds and souls.
For more information, one of Corinna’s favorite resources is “Adrenal-Thyroid Revolution” by Dr. Aviva Romm. At the Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference this October, Corinna Wood will be joined by Dr. Romm who teaches women how to address the complex she coined as “S.O.S.—Survival Overdrive Syndrome.” Details at www.sewisewomen.com
Corinna Wood is founder and director of Southeast Wise Women, as well as co-founder of Red Moon Herbs. With extensive training and experience in both herbal medicine and spiritual psychology for women, Corinna has been practicing, teaching, and carrying on the Wise Woman Tradition, based in honoring of women and the Earth, for over 25 years.