Stress and Adaptogens
After the holidays, I expected life to slow down a little, but it really hasn’t. It’s the New Year, full of new resolutions and plans to be made. Recently, I’ve noticed that one of my front teeth is aching. This tends to happen when I’m stressed, and I suspect that I am grinding my teeth at night. Sure enough, with a little awareness, I have noticed that I’m clenching my jaw before I’ve even fallen asleep.
Stress is a normal part of human life. Remember “fight or flight” from biology class? Our body responds to threatening stimuli by activating the central nervous system, increasing muscle tension, heightening blood pressure, and ramping up hormone production. Stressful situations increase our mental and physical response system so that we are able to respond appropriately when we find ourselves in a dangerous situation. The issues arise when we find ourselves in a state of chronic stress. Being in such a state may lead to teeth grinding, headaches, migraines, increased blood pressure, inflammation and a reduction in our immune system response (“Stress Effects on the Body”).
Okay, our lives are stressful. Everyone is always busy, and the days are never long enough to get everything done, so what do we do? Adaptogenic herbs might be a helpful tool in managing stress and increasing energy. Adaptogens are herbs that increase the body’s resistance to stress and support the immune system. They are generally nontoxic* and can be used on a regular basis to support wellness (Mars 357). A quick caveat here, herbalism isn’t meant to be a quick fix. We can’t just pop a pill or take a tincture and expect miracles. In addition to using herbs, it’s important to remember the benefits of getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and regular exercise (this can be HUGE in managing stress).
Here are a few examples of adaptogenic herbs:
Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha literally translates to “smells like horse” which actually alludes to the stamina of a horse and not its actual smell, so don’t let that deter you from using it. Ashwagandha strengthens the immune system, decreases mental fatigue, and is a helpful treatment for depression, panic attacks, and many other conditions. It has been used in medicine for thousands of years (Mars 36-38).
Maca: Cultivated by the Incas, legend has it that this root was consumed prior to battle as a strengthening tonic. Maca has been used to treat adrenal exhaustion** and chronic fatigue. It also promotes increased libido (Mars 192-193).
Reishi: Reishi is a fungus native to China. It is thought to support the immune system, lower blood presure, and increase energy (Mars 251-252).
Other adaptogenic herbs include: Astralagus, holy basil, bilberry, elderberry, schisandra, rhodiola, gingseng, cordyceps, eleuthero, and licorice root.
And here are some easy ways to incorporate these herbs into daily life:
1) Reishi, maca, and ashwagandha are all available in powder form, so you could toss a little in your morning smoothie.
2) Add maca to a soup.
3) Or even better, put reishi in a delicious raw dessert.
4) Make a tea. Here is a recipe I really like from Delicious Obsessions:
2 parts schisandra berries
2 parts holy basil
2 parts elderberry
1 part rosehips
1 part nettles
1 part ceylon cinnamon
Sweetener of choice
Pro-tip: Mix a big batch at once, so you always have some blended and ready to go.
For extra goodness, add some reishi tincture.
Every person has a different constitution, so play around with what herbs help you most by noticing the effects of different recipes. I find that just working with herbs makes me feel more relaxed. Happy experimenting!
*If pregnant or nursing, always consult with a doctor before taking any herbs.
**The adrenal gland sits atop the kidneys and is responsible for producing cortisol, one of the hormones associated with stress.
Mars, Brigitte. The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine: the Ultimate Multidisciplinary Reference
to the Amazing Realm of Healing Plants, in a Quick-Study, One-Stop Guide. Basic
Health Publications, Inc., 2007.
“Stress Effects on the Body.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological