‘Stress’ is a buzzword of the 21st century and many of us are seeking solutions to deal with it better. At the end of 2015, Google revealed that ‘how to get rid of stress’ was the most highly-searched term. This suggests that reducing stress was a common goal for many people as we transitioned into the New Year.
On a larger scale, it would certainly seem that we’re more stressed out and burned out than ever before. Yet the world isn’t about to slow down any time soon, so how can we cope with the pressures of modern life?
Read on to discover how an elite group of herbal extracts, known as adaptogens, can naturally help you to handle stress and thrive in our rush-around society!
Why Does It Matter If I’m Stressed?
When we feel stressed, our bloodstream gets a massive hit of adrenaline, cortisol and other stimulatory chemicals. The heart rate increases and blood sugar metabolism changes to prepare our body with the energy required for ‘fight or flight’.
Alternatively, many of the physiological processes involved in digestion and immunity are actually temporarily suppressed. This is because functions such as eating and fighting colds are not deemed top priorities when our body is dealing with stress.
This response worked perfectly back when our ancestors were swinging clubs and kicking around in loincloths. In this past environment, our body needed a fast ‘switch’ to prime our body to fight or flee.
While we can never know for sure, we can presume that daily life in between these periods of danger was otherwise a lot less stressful. Therefore, stress was a short, intermittent experience for our ancestors.
In comparison to these ancient times, the world today is changing at a speed that has outpaced our ability to evolve with it. Once upon a time, the human genome had literally thousands of years to deal with a slowly changing natural environment. Today, our entire lifestyles are shifting in the blink of a generation!
Consider, for example, that today we are exposed to more information in one mere newspaper than our great-grandparents ever learned in their lifetimes! Indeed, for the first time in human history, we are living with a constant background level of stress and stimulation.
The result? Constant stress and stimulation means that our body is getting a prolonged dose of all those stress chemicals that were initially designed to help our bodies deal with a short-term physical threat.
This may cause your adrenal glands to stop working effectively and can also lead to a whole host of health problems. These range from inflammation, chronic disease and heart issues, to weight gain, insomnia, and much more. You may also feel ‘wired but tired’ - in other words, stressed and exhausted but unable to find restorative rest.
What Can We Do About Stress?
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic therapies have historically used a special group of herbs that are now classed as ‘adaptogens’. These herbs are believed to help our bodies adapt to stress and regulate our energy levels.
Adaptogens primarily work by regulating our adrenal system, which oversees much of our hormonal stress responses. Part of their magic involves an ‘adaptive’ ability, which can be used to upregulate or downregulate our stress hormones as needed.
This works much like a dial; when our body needs a bit more energy, adaptogens can boost up the chemicals needed for focus and stamina. When our body is stressed, adaptogens will also dial down the stimulatory chemicals. Hence their namesake and ability to ‘adapt’ to what our body needs!.
Essentially, adaptogens can help us to feel calm yet energized... the perfect mix to breeze through our busy lives!
What Adaptogens Should I Use?
There are many adaptogenic herbs that have been used with great success throughout the history of herbal-based medicine. We highly recommend seeking a professional opinion from a trusted health care provider to find the best ones to suit you, but there are a few options to introduce you to their wonderful benefits:
There are many types of ginseng available but the Asian variety is the superhero you’re looking for here! It is thought to help the body deal with stress, improve cellular metabolism, enhance immunity, reduce free radical damage and promote healthy aging.
Before Use: This herb is not recommended for anyone with diabetes, a history of breast cancer, autoimmune conditions or pregnant/breastfeeding women. It may occasionally cause heart palpitations, insomnia or increased blood pressure. It also interacts with many medications, so be sure to check suitability for this first. It is also advisable to take periodic, cyclical breaks from taking this herbal supplement.
This herb has been used for millennia by ancient Ayurvedic practitioners to enhance hormone function, particularly in the adrenal glands. Ashwagandha is also thought to enhance stamina, immunity, energy, vitality and endurance. It may be further helpful for treating insomnia, anxiety and chronic fatigue… making it a great herb to consider if you’re feeling exhausted in both mind and body!
Before Use: This adaptogen isn’t recommended if you’re taking sedative medications, pregnant, sensitive to nightshade vegetables or suffering from severe gastric irritation.
Technically a berry rather than a herb, schisandra offers a wide range of potential health benefits and is believed to reduce fatigue. This berry essentially counteracts stress by lowering our levels of stress hormones.
Before Use: Schisandra is not recommended during pregnancy or for anybody with epilepsy, reflux, gastric ulcers or high intracranial pressure.
Traditionally used in Chinese Medicine, Eleuthero is particularly helpful for relieving the physical symptoms of stress. It can soothe muscle spasms and painful joints; those typical aches and pains of a stressed body! Eleuthero has also been prescribed for chronic fatigue, and may further support memory and mood.
Before Use: While Eleuthero is generally considered safe, it can sometimes cause heart palpitations and insomnia. It’s also best to monitor your blood pressure if you have hypertension and are taking Eleuthero. This herb is not recommended for use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
This adaptogenic herb is believed to be particularly good at ‘adapting’ your levels of cortisol to healthier levels. It may also support energy production, healthy brain function, good mood and cardiovascular health. Although evidence is not conclusive, rhodiola may also offer some neuroprotective action against toxins, and increase our levels of serotonin (the ‘feel-good hormone’).
Before Use: Rhodiola Rosea is not recommended for anybody with manic depression, bipolar disease or pregnancy/breastfeeding. It may also cause insomnia if taken at high doses.