Excessive stress inhibits the normal functioning of our bodily systems, making it the root cause of many physical and mental illnesses.
What exactly is stress?
When we say we feel stressed, what do we mean?
Are we feeling overloaded and unable to cope? Are we tense… moody… agitated?
Do we find ourselves being unable to switch off our minds when we lay down to sleep at night?
Perhaps we’re flipping between exhaustion and being hyper-alert, while experiencing headaches, digestive problems and susceptibility to illness?
Stress can come from external factors - such as work deadlines, difficult relationships, and even traffic, as well as internal factors - such as personal goals and expectations, perceptions and our desires.
Regardless of the cause though, stress activates the nervous system to release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which bring about changes in the body to help us survive - this is known as ‘fight or flight.’
Prolonged physical stress on the body - from excessive exercise, lack of sleep, exposure to toxins and poor nutrition, also puts extra pressure on the nervous system and our adrenal glands, leaving us poorly equipped to cope with mental and emotional stress.
A little bit of stress every now and then is normal, and it can help us to challenge ourselves and achieve new milestones in all aspects of our lives.
However, when stress gets out of control, so do our stress hormones, and instead of giving us more energy and boosting our immunity, high cortisol levels leave us fatigued and run down.
Excessive stress impairs our hormonal balance and inhibits the normal functioning of all the systems in the body, making it the root cause of many physical and mental illnesses.
Fortunately, nature has provided us with the ability to adapt.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are plants, such as herbs and medicinal mushrooms, which function similarly to cortisol, and have the ability to normalise bodily functions and strengthen the systems which have been impaired by excessive stress.
Consuming these wonderful plants lowers our cortisol back down to a normal level, giving our adrenal glands a break and preventing adrenal fatigue.
The adrenals are then able to properly produce other vital hormones, such as progesterone, oestrogen, testosterone and human growth hormone.
So essentially, adaptogens enable us to adapt to stressful situations, without causing any strain on the body.
Here are 10 adaptogens you can try for natural and healthy stress management.
Not only does it combat fatigue and restore energy, Rhodiola is also a great adaptogen to take before a stressful event, as it improves concentration whilst decreasing the cortisol response - so it’s ideal for acute stress.
So, next time you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming performance, presentation or job interview - try Rhodiola to help you relax and focus.
One of the coolest things about adaptogens is that their powers can change, depending on what your body needs. Ashwagandha can increase your energy when taken in the morning, but it can also help you fall asleep when taken at night.
This adaptogen also supports immune function, improves thyroid function, and can help with adrenal fatigue, anxiety and depression.
3. Reishi Mushroom
This powerful adaptogen is known as the ‘Mushroom of Immortality,’ and it’s little wonder, given its anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Reishi mushroom also improves circulation, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, whilst supporting the immune system and the respiratory system - so it’s of importance for those suffering from a chronic illness, such as asthma, which can often be triggered by stress. It has quite a strong flavour, so try hiding it in a delicious smoothie!
There are a number of varieties of this adaptogen, but Chinese Ginseng is reported to be the most potent. Ginseng is calming, and has the power to delay the onset of the immediate stress response - so it is possible to avoid, or at least reduce, those uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety.
5. Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Not only can this rejuvenating herb provide you with stress relief, but it also supports your immune system and increases your stamina and endurance - making it a great adaptogen for people with an active lifestyle and high physical demands.
Holy Basil, also known as Tulsi, looks pretty similar to regular basil, so make sure you’re nibbling on the real deal to get the stress relief you’re looking for.
Cordyceps is another medicinal mushroom, which is widely regarded as one of the most powerful immune system enhancers. In addition to promoting longevity and youthfulness by slowing the ageing process. Cordyceps are ideal for people who are recovering from illness or extended periods of stress and fatigue.
This mushroom is also extremely nutrient dense, so taking Cordyceps can even help to prevent stress through poor nutrition.
Astragalus is a popular herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and like many adaptogens, it supports the immune system whilst acting as a buffer against stress.
However, Astragalus also increases the amount of anti-stress compounds we produce, which repairs damage caused by stress in the past. At the same time, this adaptogen also reduces the ability of cortisol to bind to stress receptors. Pretty impressive, right?
8. Liquorice root
In addition to the usual immune-boosting and energising properties, Liquorice root has another, more unique superpower. Taking this adaptogen can actually help to protect the thymus gland from being damaged by cortisol.
Maca is a native Peruvian herbal tonic, which has long been prized for its many powerful properties. It's been traditionally used to help balance the hormones in both men and women, which leads to many health benefits.
Add Troepaka Maca to your smoothies as it de-stresses and supports vitality and wellbeing while also helping to create stamina and endurance.
This potent berry not only fights against free radicals but also actively seeks out cortisol and adrenaline in the blood and neutralises them, protecting us from adrenal fatigue and supporting a healthy level of inflammation in the body.
Another great adaptogen for the athletically inclined, Schisandra also supports our energy levels and endurance, enhancing our overall physical performance.
These 10 adaptogens are all really powerful but don’t expect to see instant results. Sometimes, it’ll take a week or two before your body even begins to regain its delicate balance after prolonged or severe episodes of stress.
Nonetheless, adaptogens are very effective tools to have in your stress management arsenal, and regular use can have a really positive impact on your overall health and quality of life.
Please note: Before taking any adaptogens we recommend talking to a healthcare professional who has a good understanding of this area, as to what adaptogens will be best for your needs and current situation.