Herbs for Stress

Stress causes very real physical changes in the body, including harming the neurological, endocrine, and immune systems. Stress is the response your body goes into when there is a perceived threat. Evolutionarily this served the purpose of helping us to fight off things that were trying to gobble us up for dinner. When we enter a stressed state we receive a burst of energy, our breathing increases, our heart rate rises and blood flow is prioritized to vital organs. This allows us to enter a state where we are focused on and can at least try to eliminate the threat at hand. Once this is over our body SHOULD revert back to a state of rest and repair. We are not meant to sustain a stress response over the long term. It creates a lot of wear and tear on the body to constantly be in a state of high alert. Long-term stress can affect cognition, sleep, increase inflammation, mess with metabolic and digestive health, decrease libido and reproductive function, decrease immune function and contributes to anxiety and depression.

Our modern age keeps a lot of people in long-term states of stress without an outlet (responding to a physical threat) to bring the body back to a relaxed state. We are constantly connected, never getting a break from work e-mails, notifications on our phone, fighting (or watching fights) with strangers on the internet, checking the daily (really hourly) state of our nation. We stay up too late binge-watching the current Netflix hit, get crappy sleep and try to slap a band-aid on it the next day with a jolt from an extra large coffee and a donut. Add to this living through a historical pandemic (can we please be done with this yet?!), lives turned upside down, distance learning, lack of social connection, and on and on it goes.

BUT regardless of what is going on around us we do have choices we can make each day to help curb and deal with the stress laid upon us, either by choice or by circumstance. Lifestyle change is hard. Simple, but hard. We are used to our routine and habits – good or bad. A little motivation and a lot of discipline go a long way. This may be as extreme as quitting your horrible job, uprooting your life and moving to another state, but let’s be real, most of us just need to change up our daily habits a bit. Try some of these lifestyle changes to reduce your stress and take your life back!

Limit your phone use: yup…quit checking it every three seconds. Nothing on there is that important. Try a timer app that only allows you to check certain apps at chosen intervals. Or put your phone in airplane mode and only turn it back on at chosen times.

Get movin’: add some movement into your day. Go for a walk, join a gym, check out all the virtual options available to you now. It doesn’t have to be crazy, you don’t need to become a Crossfit competitor or an ultra marathoner, but hey if that’s your jam then more power to you!

Prayer or Meditation: find some time…no, no, no MAKE some time, seriously even FIVE minutes, for a little quiet, calm and reflection in your day. If you need a little help on where to start there are plenty of great meditation apps to get you started.

Sleep: get your butt to bed! This simple change can have a profound impact on stress. Sleep is when your body repairs and regenerates itself. So get that phone turned off at least 30 minutes, but ideally an hour or more before you plan on hitting the hay. This signals to your body that it is time for sleep and helps promote your sleep hormones. Don’t eat or drink alcohol too close to bedtime and make your room as dark and comfortable as possible. And NO TV on!

Eat well:  you don’t have to do a major overhaul in one day, but look to make a better choice at each meal. Eat whole, unprocessed foods that support your body rather than work against it. Pack your lunch instead of grabbing something to-go, plan your grocery trip with a few meals and snack ideas for the week, and prep for at least the next day or two. Having a few good choices on hand will go a long way!

After all that, if you still need some help with the stress in your life there are some great herbal options to help you along the way. Adaptogens are herbs that help your body to, surprise, adapt to stress. In general, adaptogens help to make you feel less stressed, increase energy levels, vitality, and balance the body. Adaptogens are considered tonic herbs which mean they are most effective taken over a long period of time. This means months to possibly years depending on the situation, personal goals, etc.

Stimulating Adaptogens: great for those who need a potent source or physical and mental energy. One should look to these when the body is very depleted, dragging and depressed. These are best taken in the morning so they do not interfere with sleep. Not indicated for those who are already overstimulated, anxious, manic or suffer insomnia. 

Ginseng: consider this herb if you lack overall vitality, feel slow and sluggish, are immune deficient and suffer from libido and reproductive issues.
Eleuthero: one of the best researched adaptogens. A powerful stress reliever and energy builder. Can greatly help the body’s response to stressors, especially loud noises and temperature fluctuations.  
Rhodiola: a quicker acting adaptogen. Traditionally used for its effects on energy, focus and vitality making it a great option for students, athletes and those with demanding jobs, especially night workers.

Balancing Adaptogens: these are more broad range herbs that can cover a wide range and are well tolerated by most. They have a simultaneous effect of energizing while keeping one calm.

Ashwagandha: often rumored to give you the “strength and vitality of a horse.” It is very nourishing and strengthening to the nervous system, adrenals and thyroid. Helps immune function and decreases inflammation. Good for those with anxiety and promotes overall vigor.
Schizandra: this herb is very well tolerated by most people and best known for is very balancing nature. Great for sleep, energy, cognition, mood, vitality and libido.

Calming Adaptogens: these are the go-to herbs to help calm one’s energy and a good option for those suffering from anxiety. Generally well tolerated by most

Holy Basil (tulsi): this herb is well known for its ability to relieve anxiety and calm while also promoting energy levels without being stimulating. Great for one’s overall vitality it helps to strengthen one physically.
Gotu Kola: a more subtle herb that can be most helpful with its brain-boosting abilities  and helps to quell anxiety.

This is not an exhaustive list of every adaptogenic herb, but a good overview of some of the most popular ones. Many times these herbs will be combined for greater benefit.