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Feeling Stressed? Burnt Out? Adaptogens To The Rescue
February 23, 2018 donecountingsheep

Feeling Stressed? Burnt Out? Adaptogens To The Rescue

Posted in Sleep Better
black and white picture of stressed individual

Feeling Super-Stressed, Tired But Wired, Burnt Out?  Read On.

If you’re feeling stressed right now or feel stressed on a regular basis, then let me introduce you to your new best friend: adaptogens.  If you’re not familiar with the term, adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants which help to neutralise the effects of stress.  The term adaptogen was first coined by Russian scientists in the 1940’s after they were given the task of identifying plants which would improve physical and mental performance and would be destressing at the same time. They increase the body’s resilience by restoring physiological balance and protecting the body from harmful changes in response to stress.  Stress can be emotional, physical, biological or environmental.

Adaptogens – When Do We Need Them?

None of us are immune to the pressures of life: deadlines, long commutes, family pressures, emotional turmoil, environmental toxins, infectious agents can all take their toll and put the body under stress.  Throw in poor sleep and you are really on the back foot!  The Health & Safety Executive estimated that 43% of all working days lost due to ill health was the result of stress in 2014/15.  Life can sometimes feel akin to running an assault course.  A long distance assault course.  Feeling stressed?  This is how you can tell.

Symptoms Of Chronic Stress

  • Feeling tired but wired (fatigue with an inability to relax)
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Non-restorative sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Low threshold for stress
  • Chronically lowered immune system
  • Poor digestion

Chronic Stress And Fight Or Flight Hormones

When you are faced with stressful circumstances of any kind, your adrenal glands release extra cortisol and adrenaline.

These fight or flight hormones are important for getting you out of immediate danger or for helping you when confronted with a stressful circumstance because they initiate a release of sugar into the blood (amongst other things) which is used for extra brain, muscular and heart activity.  Perfect to get you out of a tight spot or away from a tiger for example (that’s one stress I haven’t experienced either but I’m pretty sure that being chased by a field of cows is a similar experience).

So the fight or flight response is a vital and protective response but, and it is a big BUT, we are not supposed to be in fight or flight mode continually.  Every minute of every day is not supposed to be stressful.  This is called chronic stress and it can be caused by chronic mental/emotional challenges and physical stressors.

Chronic stress reduces physical and emotional resilience, overwhelming the body’s ability to cope ultimately leading to insomnia, tiredness, anxiety, depression and even physical illness.

It can be difficult to jump off the merry-go-round of a perpetual stress response. And this is where adaptogens come in.

Adaptogens Increase Your Resilience To Stress And Mental Power

Is it possible to be more relaxed and energised at the same time?  It is with adaptogens!

Adaptogens improve overall energy, working potential, physical strength (which is why they are often used by endurance athletes and business men and women alike) whilst not interfering with sleep or producing an over-stimulating effect.  In fact, paradoxically, they help sleep!

Based upon clinical trials, the really great thing about adaptogens is they can be used for long term stress and also short term or  acute stress, such as exam situations, as they reduce the fight or flight response without dulling the mental powers.

How Do Adaptogens Work?

Adaptogens protect the body from stress-induced disease by moderating the stress response via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the central nervous system, reducing cortisol and the fight or flight response.  Their protective effect improves the cell’s response to the biological changes that occur under stress, helping to maintain cellular energy and repair damage. The adverse effects of stress on the entire body is reduced in this way.

For a more in-depth read on the mechanisms of adaptogens read here and here.

Take Adaptogens To:

  • Reduce mental exhaustion
  • Increase energy
  • Lift mood
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Improve overall wellbeing
  • Enhance attention and mental endurance
  • Reduce stress response
  • Improve blood sugar levels
  • Optimise protein synthesis
  • Regulate the hormonal balance
  • Improve immune function
  • Improve sport performance

There is no come-down from taking adaptogens as with other “stimulants” that are usually taken for energy and performance.

My Favourite Adaptogenic Herbs

Here are a few of the most well studied adapatogens:

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

Over a thousand papers have been written on the adaptogenic properties of Siberian ginseng, and like most herbs, it is very difficult to narrow their uses down to just two or three areas. But for the sake of this blog, Siberian ginseng is used primarily for mental and physical endurance, especially where there is mental or physical fatigue. It is very good for chronic and acute stress. It is also supportive for the immune system.

Ashwagandha or Indian ginseng (Withania somnifera)

Helps to stabilise cortisol levels and as the Latin name suggests (som is Latin for sleep) it can also be very useful for sleep.  Ashwagandha has also been shown to improve thyroid hormone levels in sub-clinical hypothyroidism.  Ashwangda is good when you feel utterly frazzled and need a sense of raised resilience to stress and increased energy.  I have also seen it lift depression.

Holy Basil or Tulsi (Ocimum gratissimum)

Holy Basil has a long history of use as an immune booster.  This is interesting because stress is a well established cause for lowered immunity and resistance to infection.  It has also been shown to help in generalised anxiety disorder.  I view Holy Basil as an uplifting and relaxing adaptogen.  A doctor friend finds it very helpful and uses it to keep her going strong through a long day.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)

Vikings would pillage the North cost of Scotland for the strengthening and protective powers of Rhodiola rosea, or rock rose (such a beautiful name).  Clinical trials support its use for mild to moderate depression (taken over a six week period) and improved mental and cognitive performance in fatigue and chronic fatigue conditions.

This is to name but a few and to greatly minimise their full potential use.  Want to know more?  I’ll be posting more detailed information on each herb very soon, in the meantime read our blog on why sleeplessness – even when our mind is on overdrive – starts in our body.


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Photo by David Cohen on Unsplash

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