Megan is a 42-year-old working mother who always feels tired, stressed out and she never has enough time in the day.
Despite her healthy nutrition and exercise habits, she’s recently been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and doesn’t know how reclaim control of her once-balanced life.
Next, say hello to Corey.
Corey is a 20-year old college student who is also chronically fatigued, has trouble sleeping, and suffers from painful and embarrassing digestive issues.
Despite his high-hopes for college and future career, Corey’s health is interfering with his life to the point he may have to drop out of school.
Megan and Corey are completely different people living completely different lives, but they both suffer from a similar condition: feeling chronically stressed rooted in the seemingly endless demands of the modern world.
I see versions of Megans and Coreys all day long in my practice. These are the “wired-and-tired”—seemingly healthy, accomplished and intelligent people on the verge of burnout.
They can’t sleep, even though they’re desperately tired.
They can’t relax, even though it’s what they want to do most.
And they’re on-edge much the time, unable to cope with day-to-day stressors.
If you can relate to these fictitious, although very familiar, characters you’re not alone.
Chronic stress, chronic disease, toxicity, negativity, and the always-on nature of modern life take its toll on even the most healthy and centered people.
In fact, it’s often health-conscious people who come to me for support with this.
They lament that they “should be” doing more to take care of themselves, yet life has gotten away from them and caused their health to get off-track.
In situations like these, I always recommend a two-phase approach:
- First: they need some fast relief, so they can get some sleep and reset their stress response.
- Second: they need help learning, or re-learning, how to approach stress in a healthier way.
Today’s article is all about the first phase: fast relief.
And one of the safest and most effective naturals solutions for rebuilding resilience and getting relief from the effects of chronic stress are adaptogenic herbs.
What are Adaptogenic Herbs (aka: Adaptogens)?
Adaptogens are a category of herbs which help your body adapt to a variety of biological, chemical, and physical stressors.
I really connect with this category of herbs because adaptogens are the modern word for the ancient concept of “tonics”; used for centuries in my beloved Traditional Chinese Medicine. In fact, it is my favorite category of herbal medicine.
For example, in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine, different adaptogenic herbs are typically blended with other supportive herbs to create a tonic to restore strength, stamina, immunity, hormonal balance, and inner calm.
As they are increasing in popularity, you may also see them sold individually as tinctures, capsules or teas, and are often found in multi-vitamins, adrenal and anti-stress formulas.
How Adaptogens Work to Restore Balance
Like all herbs, every adaptogenic herb has a different function—individually and when blended with other herbs.
But generally speaking, adaptogens work by helping mediate your stress response on many different levels.
Depending upon the herb, it could work to balance your hormones, heal your adrenals, attack a virus which may be irritating your nervous system, reset your circadian rhythm and/or balance your blood sugar—which helps greatly with stabilizing your mood.
Adaptogens also help other herbs work more effectively.
Which is why they’ve been traditionally used to help restore strength and vitality in patients recovering from illness, surgery or shock.
To help paint a clear picture of how powerful these herbs can be for chronic stress, let’s look at 5 of my favorite adaptogenic herbs:
Cordyceps—aka: “The Zombie Mushroom”
Naturally I’d lead with an attention-grabber!
Cordyceps are a type of wild, medicinal fungi with powerful healing properties.
It gets it’s name “zombie mushroom” because it is a combination of caterpillar (or other insect) and fungus— the fungi infects the caterpillar (or insect) to survive.
While their half-caterpillar-half-fungi existence may seem odd, this precious medicinal has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries to help build stamina, improve sexual function, reduce fatigue, and slow the signs of aging.
Like many powerful adaptogens, Cordyceps are only found at high-altitudes of 3800 meters in the Himalayan Mountains.
Ancient healers believed it is this ability to adapt to hostile climates that gives adaoptgens their healing power.
Also known as “Indian Ginseng” is an Ayurvedic herb that has become wildly popular in the Western world for increasing energy, reducing stress and helping with sleep.
I’ve found most patients respond quickly to Ashwaghanda’s benefits, and especially appreciate its positive effects on sleep and anxiety.
It’s also worth noting that Ashwaghanda has been shown, in a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study, to be effective in helping people with underactive thyroid function by increasing TSH, T3, and T4 levels7.
This Chinese Herb is excellent for increasing energy and promoting inner calm. It helps with mental focus and can decrease brain fatigue.
It’s also used to help improve digestion, support the adrenals and as for liver health. Schizandra also supports hormonal health and is anti-inflammatory. It is a key ingredient in many of my favorite Chinese Medicine tonics, and is considered among the most versatile of Chinese herbs.
Holy Basil (aka: Tulsi)
I love this Ayurvedic herb so much I wrote a whole article on it last year: 5 Reasons Holy Basil (Tulsi) is an Ideal Herb for Travel: Support for Immunity, Stress, Digestion, and More.
I’ve also had patients report that it does wonders for seasonal allergies.
The most common Western preparation of Holy Basil is as a tea, which can be found in any natural foods store.
Rhodiola Rosea—Tonic of the Vikings
While we don’t often talk about herbs from Scandanavian and Russian medicinal folklore, Rhodiola Rosea is native to these arctic regions, and is gaining popularity in the West.
Like Cordyceps, it only grows at very high altitudes—where it has adapted to freezing temperatures. It was even believed to have been used by the Vikings to help increase stamina and boost energy .
Rhodiola Rosea has a delightful rose scent and flavor, and has been traditionally used to enhance fertility, improve sexual function, boost stamina (those mountains are COLD), build strength and ease depression and anxiety.
Modern research is quickly confirming many of these age-old uses, including Rhodiola’s effectiveness in helping people recover from stress-related burnout11 and heal from physical and mental fatigue12,13.
Bottom Line: if you’ve gotten off-track with your stress levels, adaptogens are a perfect spring board for change
Ultimately, the only way out of the chronic-stress-sink-hole is to learn how to better approach your relationship with stress—and modern life in general.
However, if you’re going through a rough-patch and need some quick, natural support, adaptogens can be your best friend. Your Chinese medicine practitioner, acupuncturist, or herbalist can help you find the right adaptogenic formula for your individual constitution. I find that these tonics formulas also really help my patients maintain the benefits they receive from acupuncture between treatments.
Not only will they take the edge off quickly, but their calming, centering effects will replenish you so you may be inspired to make those adjustments that will support long-term health and inner peace.
Blessings on the journey,