Have you been living on an emotional rollercoaster since the pandemic started?
Emotional imbalances create cellular disturbances, especially fear, anger, worry, hopelessness, loneliness, and depression. Can you guess which emotion has the greatest impact on the body’s well-being? Did you say stress? You nailed it! Stress levels have been off the charts this year and it’s impacting our physical, emotional, and mental health.
How Stress Impacts Your Body
The higher the levels of stress the greater the risk of developing an illness. For example, you’re more likely to catch a cold or the flu when you are coping with high levels of stress.
Stress impacts all the systems of the body but especially the nervous system. When we experience stress, it’s natural for our adrenal glands to produce more of the glucocorticoid stress hormone, cortisol: to increase sugar (glucose) for the brain, balance metabolism, and increase immune function. The adrenal glands also release adrenaline to increase heart rate (blood pressure) and boost energy. This is called the sympathetic nervous system response or “fight or flight” response.
Back in caveman times, when we were being chased by a lion or bear, we needed the sympathetic nervous system to fully engage so we could get safely back to our cave as quickly as possible to rest and snuggle up next to the warm fire. When we “rest and digest” this is called the parasympathetic nervous system response.
So what happens when we are exposed to long periods of undue stress?
The body continues to produce cortisol and organ systems in the body start to dysfunction. We see anxiety, weight gain, inflammation, insomnia, hormonal imbalances, intestinal problems, poor detoxification, decreased libido, and fatigue.
Adaptogens: a Natural Way to Slash Stress
How do we adapt to this new normal of stress? One of the best ways to readjust the adrenal system is to use herbal adaptogens. Adaptogenic herbs aid the physical, emotional, and mental body in dealing with stress both short and long term. They also increase energy, improve memory, amplify metabolism, enhance immune function and help get your mojo back. So whether you’re trying to get through your stressful midday zoom call, enduring your kids’ home learning program, or even just figuring out what to make for dinner, adaptogens are crucial for sustainability.
Adaptogens to Zen You Out
There are many adaptogenic herbs and they have different effects on the body. So how to know which to choose? Here are my top three favorites. But don’t limit yourself to these. Experiment with the other adaptogens based on how you are feeling and have fun, mix it up. Find your own inner herbal mixologist.
Ashwagandha – Withania somnifera
In Sanskrit ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” indicating that the herb has the potential to impart the vigor and strength of a stallion, and boy does it! Ashwagandha is adaptogenic and an herb best suited for when you are feeling debilitated or exhausted. It is a highly effective, evidence-based remedy for anxiety and stress by lowering cortisol levels and mimicking the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. It also improves mitochondrial (the powerhouse of the cell) function and replication providing limitless energy.
Ashwagandha has a mythical reputation as an herb of longevity and an elixir of life. It is useful for all who wish to strengthen their Chi, the vital energy of the body. It helps to cope with excessive stress and will strengthen the power of endurance. Ashwagandha sharpens mental powers, enhances memory, and is a valuable aid to those who are studying.
Ashwagandha is also known to help strengthen the immune system after illness, chemotherapy, or surgery. Add it into your herbal regimen when you feel a cold start to come on or if you need an extra immune boost to get through a lingering virus.
Holy Basil – Ocimum tennuiflorum
Holy basil, Tulsi, is a very important symbol of Hinduism, and this illustrious adaptogen helps the body to deal with all levels of adrenal fatigue during times of prolonged stress.
Tulsi protects the cells from environmental pollutants and is a powerful detoxifier of heavy metals helping to decrease the toxic load. When the body is under stress, the fat or adipose tissue holds on to toxins which is one of the reasons it’s easier to gain weight, plus those snacks just look so much more appetizing, don’t they!
Emotionally Holy basil lightens the mood and opens the heart helping deal with depression and worry. After you have had a hard day at the office, make a cup of tulsi tea, put your feet up, and feel your troubles just melt away.
Rhodiola – Rhodiola rosea
Rhodiola is the go-to adaptogen for burnout. It increases energy helping the adrenal system to adapt and resist long-term stress.
It’s common for women to have irregular cycles and men to have lower levels of testosterone when stressed as the body focuses on trying to make more cortisol instead of reproductive hormones – this is called the cortisol steal. Rhodiola recharges and rebalances the hormonal system boosting libido and regulating menses.
Rhodiola is also a powerful antioxidant improving cognition and protecting the neurotransmitters responsible for short and long-term memory. It’s great when working long hours or studying for an upcoming exam.
How to take Adaptogens
Adaptogens are easy to add to your daily routine as teas, powders, tinctures, or even canned adaptogenic drinks. (Drink up, Buttercup.) Each adaptogen has a different potency and effect so make sure to follow the product instructions. One of my favorite uses of adaptogens is in my morning coffee ritual. I make a delicious concoction of raw cacao, ashwagandha, maca, and reishi for an extra adrenal boost. Yum!
Are adaptogens the Answer to Pandemic Stress?
They sure can be. But make sure to not rely solely on adaptogens as a substitute for self-care but instead use them as an adjunct to help you cope with intense periods of stress. Start adding them into your daily routine and you will notice a new world of balance and energy.
As with any supplement or pharmaceutical adaptogens can have side effects, contraindications, and interactions. So do your research and check with your healthcare provider before beginning a new herbal protocol.
Dr. LuLu Shimek is a Naturopathic Physician and expert in genetic health, working with patients experiencing chronic disease: autoimmune disease, digestive disorders, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Connect with Dr. Shimek at www.doclulu.com.
- Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62. doi: 10.4103/0253-7176.106022. PMID: 23439798; PMCID: PMC3573577.
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