5 natural stress fighters that aren’t yoga or meditation
It’s a typical Tuesday: The kids are squabbling in the supermarket. Your boss pings you again, while you’re struggling with an armful of groceries. You pile into the car and creep through maddening rush-hour traffic. At home, you rifle through the mail and see a late notice from your cell-phone carrier. Argh. In the midst of life’s craziness, you completely blanked on paying last month’s bill.
In this era of jam-packed schedules and round-the-clock connectivity, such stressors have become constant—and are taking a sneaky but serious toll on our health.
How? By overtaxing the adrenal glands. Back in caveman times, these endocrine structures evolved to pump out cortisol and adrenaline, “fight or flight” hormones aimed at helping humans survive imminent physical danger. If a grizzly bear came running, that hormonal surge drove up blood sugar for a burst of energy, cranked blood pressure to help the body remain upright in the event of major bleeding (ouch), and accelerated heart rate to drive oxygen circulation.
It’s an amazing safety system—until it’s not.
Fast forward to today, and research has found that our adrenal glands are grinding in overdrive, responding to routine stressors as though they are raging forest fires.
What’s more, living in nonstop emergency mode can sap the adrenals and set off symptoms of glandular burnout ranging from digestive issues (nausea, appetite swings, weight gain) to cognitive complaints (anxiety, blue moods, trouble concentrating). Low libido, sleep trouble and frequent infections are common, too—when the body is perpetually fighting everyday “dangers,” fighting the common cold takes a back seat.
While practices such as yoga and meditation are proven to temporarily quell the stress response, they’re not always practical for busy people. (After all, if you had the freedom to chill out and om the day away, you probably wouldn’t be stressed in the first place.)
But there’s good news, too: We in the medical field have learned that a unique class of herbs dubbed adaptogens can offset the effects of stress to reduce adrenal fatigue. These healing plants won’t stop your boss from bugging you at all hours, but they could help your body, well, adapt to life’s relentless agitations—no downward dog required.
In supplement form, adaptogens are generally considered safe for most people (exceptions may include pregnant women and people who are taking blood thinners) and require about three months of use to reach their full effect. Your doctor may recommend screenings—such as a saliva test for cortisol—to determine if an adaptogen is right for you. To get the conversation started, here’s a quick guide to some of the most promising:
- If you’re feeling mentally foggy, rhodiola might help. By suppressing production of cortisol, this root can help reduce concentration difficulties, reverse fatigue, brighten mood and support healthy immunity.
- Astragalus might be helpful if your adrenal fatigue is causing cravings and weight gain. In addition to aiding in the body’s production of stress-fighting proteins, it also shows promise in supporting healthy blood sugar—a key to appetite control.
- If you’re tossing and turning at night, ashwagandha may help you get your ZZZs. The root of this native South American plant is known for calming the stress-induced anxiety that delays sleep onset. As a bonus bedroom perk, it may also rev sex drive.
- Feeling physically exhausted? Panax ginseng might be the adaptogen for you. This soothing, antioxidant super root has been shown to support both physical stamina and mental clarity to keep you on your game.
- Eleuthero, also known as Siberian ginseng, is quickly becoming the go-to adaptogen for people over 40. Packed with antioxidant polyphenols, this root has been shown to help undo long-term oxidative stress, as well as promote heightened mental alertness, efficient muscle repair and improved sleep.
- And note: Adrenals need love even after healing. A natural tonic that combines supportive herbal ingredients such as licorice root—shown to hinder the body’s cortisol uptake—and fresh devil’s club root bark—which helps tamper the brain’s response to anxiety—is an easy, everyday way to ensure you’re ready the next time stress strikes.
Chances are, your busy life will never calm down. But thanks to these breakthrough herbs, your adrenals just might.