Everybody experiences it. We all know what it is. That feeling of angst and ick when you peek at your lengthy to-do list, you’re running late for a meeting or you’re worried about the health of a loved one. It’s stress. And it’s all pervasive. Some might say it’s an epidemic. I know for my clients it’s the underlying cause of a lot of health concerns.
Stress is such a large part of daily life these days it can actually become habit-forming, numbing you to its effects on your body and your quality of life. It’s easy to forget that feeling stressed isn’t “normal,” but actually a sign that something in your body chemistry is out of balance. Many of my clients feel helpless to the overload of tension and strain in their lives and “worry” starts to feel like the norm.
What Can You Do About Stress?
One of the quickest ways to alleviate stress in the moment is to get into a more heart-centered space. Your heart is your intuitive feeling center and it affects all the organs in your body. If you’re calm and centered you can quickly change your entire body response to become less stressed.
One super simple way to do this is just by focusing your breathing. Regulating your breathing is like accessing your internal pharmacy. Many of us are accustomed to reaching for sugar or other foods to help calm down our mind, but connecting to our breath and getting back into our heart is much more effective — and it doesn’t cause shame or guilt. It’s also free and can be done anywhere and anytime.
Calm Yourself Down
Taking long deep breaths is a tool that helps to synchronize your entire nervous system to a more balanced state.
Biochemically, you cannot be in a state of rest and stress at the same time. Adrenaline and cortisol have to be down for parasympathetic activity to be up. These are two different nervous systems in the body and one is generally dominant. You can’t produce the adrenaline to run from a predator while at the same time producing hormones that bring about peaceful, calm feelings. Unfortunately, your body can’t give you a jolt of relaxation like it can give you a jolt of urgency, it’s just not designed that way. But calming, heart-centered breathing is about as close as you can get!
So how can you use your breathe to calm down? It’s pretty simple. Just follow these steps:
- Stop what you’re doing.
- Close your eyes.
- Connect with your heart.
- Put your hands on your lap.
- Take a nice deep, long inhalation
- Breathe out slowly.
- Do this 5-10 times and I promise you won’t be as stressed out as you were 5 minutes ago.
Here’s a great resource for all different kinds of breathing meditations and practices.
How Else Can You Manage Stress?
Besides your breathing practice and doing all the stuff that helps you to have less stress in your life (self care, I’m talking to you) there are also natural ways you can help your body adapt better to stress. Because let’s face it, stress isn’t going anywhere. It’s normal, natural even, to have some stress in your life. Chronic stress is never good, but the good type of stress also fuels the exciting stuff in life, like buying your first home, getting married, or starting a new job.
It’s the stress that keeps you up at night, causes intense worry and fear and prevents you from living fully in your life that is the problem. Over time, this type of stress leads to the physiological changes that effect your physical and emotional health.
The first thing many people turn to as a way to “treat” chronic stress is medication. And while this is a valid option for some, it’s not the choice everyone wants to make. Medications may work to mask the symptoms of stress, but they don’t address the underlying root cause of stress and they don’t train the body to adapt to stress in a more balanced way. They also come with side effects that can impact your long-term health. So what else can you do?
Adaptogenic Herbs: A Natural Support Option for Occasional Stress
I’ve been using adaptogenic herbs for years and I find them to be a useful tool in my stress-management toolbox. As a supplement to daily self care, meditation, exercise, good sleep, eating healthy, exploring my creativity, and focusing on joy every day, I use adaptogens as a way to better train my body to ADAPT to daily life stressors.
Adaptogens have been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Indian and Chinese civilizations. The word “adaptogen” is derived from the Greek word “adapto,” meaning “to adjust.” Adaptogens are biologically active plant substances that help your body “adapt” or adjust to stress.
Bacopa is used for its ability to promote memory and cognitive function. It’s also known to maintain healthy enzyme activity in the brain, supporting the ability to deal with stress.
Rhodiola has been used traditionally for hundreds of years to help moderate occasional mental and physical stress. This adaptogen is also known for its potential to support healthy glucose metabolism, and even promote endurance.
Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng) is used to support adrenal function and stress response. It’s also associated with promoting energy, vitality and immune defense.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is one of the most widely used Ayurvedic herbs with a 4,000 year history of traditional use. It is best known for it helping to counteract the effects of occasional physical and mental stress. It’s also associated with supporting the immune system, cognitive and memory function, healthy lipid metabolism and thyroid function.
Chamomile and lemon balm provide traditional support for calmness and relaxation.
How to take Adaptogens
If taken properly and consistently, adaptogens can help us support our body during times of stress and indirectly help with digestion, sleep, energy, and immunity which are often affected by stress.
I suggest finding a way that will be consistent and convenient for you as you incorporate adaptogens into your supplement routine. You can take them as teas, tinctures, powders or in capsule form.
I always recommend you speak with a Registered Dietitian or healthcare professional before starting a supplement regimen so you can accurately identify what nutrients may be missing from your diet and to determine the best supplement plan for your unique needs. I’m happy to help!