Your life is full of stressors that are often impossible to avoid. From work deadlines to that pile of bills to your endless to-do list, it’s no wonder you feel stressed out much of the time. You might have trouble sleeping, find it difficult to focus, or suffer from recurring digestive issues. That’s because non-stop stress can take a toll on your emotional, mental, and physical health.
Even though you can’t always control the things that worry you, you can change the way your body manages stress. This can help you avoid getting stuck in a stress spiral that keeps you in a reactive fight-or-flight state. For extra support, you can count on safe, natural botanicals that can de-stress and supply calm, focused energy every day.
Stress Takes a Toll on Your Health
When you’re stressed, an alarm system in an area of your brain called the hypothalamus is activated. Your pituitary gland receives the alarm signal and passes it on to your adrenal glands. This relay then sets off a chain reaction that includes increased adrenaline and cortisol production designed to help you escape danger. Once the threat has passed, the alarm quiets, your hormones normalize, and you return to life as usual.
That cycle works well when you’re facing an immediate and finite threat, like a minor car accident. But when your stress becomes constant—think a grueling daily commute or an endless cycle of worrying news—your body never gets the “all clear” and stays stuck in a reactive mode. And that can have an unhealthy whole-body impact.
Current research shows a clear link between chronic stress and dozens of health conditions, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Digestive problems
- Immune system suppression or overreaction
- Premature aging
- Type 2 diabetes
- Weight gain and obesity
Luckily, you can change the way your body manages stress by avoiding stress-increasing activities and embracing stress-reducing options.
Life Choices Can Increase the Consequences of Chronic Stress
When you’re constantly stressed out, it’s easy to fall into bad habits. Those can end up amplifying the negative aspects of your body’s stress response and increase your risk of developing stress-related diseases.
Examples of the unhealthy choices that increase the consequences of chronic stress include:
- Avoiding social interactions
- Drinking too much
- Poor food choices
- Sedentary lifestyle
Any of these bad habits can interfere with the way your body manages stress and makes it harder for your body to enter its calm-down phase. Unfortunately, chronic stress can drive you toward these unhealthy behaviors and make it feel difficult to engage in healthful activities shown to reduce your stress level.
Stress-Reducing Activities Help Calm Your Body
When you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, start with one or more of the following relaxation techniques to help soothe your nervous system. Then build on that progress to do even more to get your chronic stress response under control.
Some proven de-stressors include:
- Box breathing
- Spending time in nature
Taking any of these active steps can help reduce your stress levels. Combining them with natural stress-busting herbs can help you stay balanced and steady in the face of intense stressors.
Balancing Adaptogens for Easier Stress Management
For centuries, natural healers have relied on a special class of herbs called adaptogens that help the body adapt to stressors. Adaptogens help keep stress hormones in balance, allowing your body to better respond to stressful situations. That balanced response helps you avoid falling into a chronic stress cycle.
With their balancing effects, adaptogens can relax and rejuvenate you at the same time. These prized botanicals deliver profound healing effects for overly stressed bodies in several ways, including boosting stamina, giving a sense of well-being, increasing strength, and reducing mental and physical fatigue.
All adaptogens can help rebalance your body’s stress response, but they each work differently. Some excel at gently energizing your mind and body, while others work better for calming anxiety. This allows many adaptogens to work well when taken together.
5 Calming Adaptogens
Adaptogens have helped people feel mentally and physically revitalized for generations. These five traditional botanical medicines alter the way your body manages stress and can help you avoid the health consequences of a chronic stress cycle.
Andrographis. Andrographis has been used for thousands of years in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. This adaptogen is prized for its ability to strengthen immune defenses, which can be compromised by chronic stress. Andrographis contains a special compound called andrographolide that provides most of the health benefits this plant delivers including strong antioxidant and neuroprotective activity. A 12-month, placebo-controlled pilot study found that andrographis reduced fatigue by 44 percent in patients with multiple sclerosis.
A combination of andrographis and another powerful adaptogen, ashwagandha, heightens the effects of each. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial published in the journal Pharmaceuticals (Basel) found that a formula containing both herbs reduced anxiety and improved attention and concentration after just four weeks of treatment.
Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha has been a staple of Ayurvedic medicine for more than 5,000 years. This revered botanical adaptogen contains powerful compounds called withanolides that are well known for their ability to increase the body’s resistance to stress. Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, which helps quiet the fight-or-flight response that can make you feel tense and panicked. That’s crucial for chronic stress sufferers whose cortisol levels remain elevated all the time, eventually leading to burnout and fatigue. A 12-week clinical trial that appeared in the journal Cureus showed that older adults who took 600 mg of ashwagandha had better sleep quality, enhanced mental alertness, and substantially improved quality of life. During another clinical trial, cortisol levels dropped by 33 percent in healthy adults who took 600 mg of ashwagandha daily. The subjects taking the herb also enjoyed better sleep quality and significantly lower stress scores.
Echinacea. Though echinacea is typically associated with cold and flu support, a specialized root extract of this ancient herb provides ongoing relief from stress and anxiety. According to one study testing the ability of various echinacea preparations to ease anxiety, only an alkamide-rich root extract of Echinacea angustifolia showed consistent results. What’s more, the dose that showed the best anxiety-reducing result was much lower than what’s typically used to stimulate the immune system.
In a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, a specific echinacea extract known as EP107 was shown to reduce anxiety and improve emotional well-being after patients took a dose of either 40 mg or 80 mg daily for six weeks. Another clinical trial published in Phytotherapy Research found that participants taking the standardized echinacea extract for just seven days had three times less anxiety compared to those taking a placebo. The researchers concluded that EP107 delivered “significant beneficial effects on anxiety in humans.”
Red Ginseng. One of the first adaptogens used as medicine, red ginseng increases physical and mental resilience while improving your body’s ability to adapt to stress. This Asian plant helps reduce your body’s reactivity to stressors by encouraging calming brain chemicals and balancing cortisol levels thanks to compounds in the herb called ginsenosides. There are more than 100 different ginsenosides in ginseng, the vast majority of which aren’t absorbed well by the body. To be effective, they must be converted to so-called noble or “rare” ginsenosides by the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
However, one proprietary form of red ginseng known as HRG80 has already done the conversion, ensuring you’re getting a highly absorbable and bioavailable form of this herb. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial published in Pharmaceuticals (Basel) showed that red ginseng improved mood and brought a sense of calm and relaxation to older adults during cognitive challenge tests. An earlier pilot trial published in the same journal found that treatment with red ginseng improved attention, memory, and perceived stress better than standard ginseng or a placebo. The researchers noted that the anti-stress benefits of red ginseng appeared after just one dose and it continued to outperform standard ginseng over the full 12-day trial.
Rhodiola. Rhodiola, an herb native to northern Europe and Asia, is well known for bringing a sense of calm and focused energy, rather than the frenetic spike brought on by stimulants like caffeine. This adaptogen increases dopamine and serotonin activity in the brain, improving memory and attention while allowing specific areas of the brain to work more calmly and efficiently.
Rhodiola contains unique compounds called salidrosides, which include rosavin, rosin, and rosarian. These plant chemicals deliver the stress reduction and relaxed energy that rhodiola is prized for. An exploratory clinical trial published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment found that taking rhodiola improved emotional exhaustion and significantly relieved the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion in adults suffering from burnout. Another small eight-week trial published in the journal Complementary Medicine Research showed that chronic fatigue patients who took rhodiola saw their symptoms decline significantly after just one week.
Practicing one or more of the relaxation techniques mentioned and adding adaptogenic herbs to your daily routine can help keep a lid on stress. Over time, these strategies can help you stress less and enjoy life more!