Stress is a needed bodily response to perceived danger and a natural part of everyday life. When left unmanaged, typical stress can turn into chronic stress, leading to mental and physical health issues. Numerous information resources teach you how to eliminate stress, but stress is a part of being alive; it can not be eradicated.
Stress can be reduced and, more importantly, managed. Having tools to cope with stress, like Adaptogens, will help prevent stress from becoming overwhelming or chronic. Keep reading to learn about stress, its effects on the body, Adaptogens, and how they help the body relieve stress.
What is Stress?
Everyone alive and breathing has experienced stress at one time or another. While it's clear that it's a natural response of the body and certain processes are instinctively triggered, it's not always clear what is going on in our bodies when stress occurs.
Stress is both a physical and emotional response to perceived danger, and it responds by releasing hormones that produce the "fight-or-flight" response to ensure your survival. The amygdala, the area in your brain responsible for emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, the brain's command center. The hypothalamus then communicates to the rest of your body, including the adrenal glands, via the nervous system. Your adrenal glands release the hormone epinephrine or adrenaline so you can flee from danger or fight it.
As a result, your heart beats fast to pump blood to your vital organs, and your pulse rate and blood pressure rise. The airways in your lungs open wide to intake more oxygen, and the extra is sent to the brain to increase alertness. Your senses sharpen, and your body releases glucose and fats to give the body energy.
What Does Stress Do to the Body?
The stress response process is organized and instinctive, often triggering before the brain's visual centers can catch up and process what is taking place. This phenomenon accounts for actions that are done without thought, like jumping out of the way of oncoming traffic seconds before a vehicle passes.
Once these "fight-or-flight" moments pass, the body and mind return to a balanced state. However, if stress persists and becomes a constant, it can start to affect your health. Chronic stress can affect you both physically and psychologically. Symptoms of chronic stress include:
In the long run, chronic stress can be a root cause of major illnesses like heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, etc.
Some conditions linked to chronic stress can be fatal, so intervention is necessary to reduce the stress and develop healthy coping mechanisms to help you better manage stress. Fortunately, our bodies have a built-in reset button for stress called the relaxation response. The relaxation response decreases stress hormones and oxygen consumption levels, lowers blood pressure, and slows heart rate. This is where tools like adaptogens come into play.
What are Adaptogens?
When treating chronic stress, there may be multiple avenues for reducing and coping with stress. Typically, treatment includes many lifestyle changes like taking up mindfulness practices, exercising more frequently, changing your diet, etc. Adaptogens have now become a part of the solution.
Adaptogens are plant-derived substances, often herbs, that help the body manage stress and maintain homeostasis or a balanced state. They stabilize mood, improve focus and performance, and promote vitality by strengthening your body's internal systems.
In a more technical sense, adaptogens interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is pivotal to the body's stress responses, energy metabolism, and homeostasis. Adaptogens maintain balance, so if there is too little or too much of a hormone, it will assist in raising or reducing it. If your body releases too much of the stress hormone epinephrine, causing a near-constant state of "fight-or-flight," it will help reduce those levels.
The Benefits of Adaptogenic Herbs
Adaptogens aren't just responsible for helping to reduce stress and maintain balance; they also boost the immune system, fight fatigue, improve mood, and balance all hormones. One study has shown promising results in the use of adaptogens coupled with other treatments for certain post-surgery recovery.
Even though adaptogens are not meant to be a standalone solution for health issues like chronic stress, they can fill the gaps in Western medicine practices. They assist your body's internal systems to become more resilient for long-term wellness. For example, coffee or sugar might help temporarily boost your energy levels if you're feeling fatigued, but taking adaptogens will help improve your body's ability to fight fatigue over time.
Popular Adaptogenic Herbs
To be considered a true adaptogen, a plant or herb must be nontoxic in normal doses, help the body into a balanced state, and support the body's ability to cope with stress.
Some commonly used adaptogens include:
- Ashwagandha: This herb is used to help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
- Reishi: This mushroom is typically used to boost the immune system and has been studied for its effectiveness in treating cancerous tumors.
- Tulsi ("holy basil"): This herb is used to reduce feelings of anxiety, boost the immune system, and increase focus.
- Turmeric: This herb reduces glutathione to reduce stress, maintain blood glucose, cholesterol, memory, corticosterone, and body weight.
- Ginseng: This herb is primarily used to combat fatigue.
- Schisandra: This herb is used to improve endurance, concentration, and coordination.
- Rhodiola: This herb is used to reduce feelings of depression, pain, and fatigue.
Many of these adaptogenic herbs can be taken in supplement form, like turmeric gummies. Before taking any adaptogen supplement, check with your primary care physician if you're on any medications for a condition.
In addition to making lifestyle changes to help reduce stress, adaptogens can help reduce stress in the moment. More importantly, it helps build up your body's ability to cope with stress over time. It's a tool to help you fight stress and maintain balance for a better quality of life.