Tools to help battle stress, anxiety, depression and more
Words Kaisha Scofield
If there’s one thing we are all tired of talking about, it’s stress. Because talking about stress is, well, stressful!
Yes, we know there is too much stress in our lives and, yes, we know that meditating, doing yoga, going for walks and deep breathing will melt that stress away. But let’s be honest, when life is stressful, the idea of deep breathing makes most of us want to scream. The hustle is real and, for most people, finding time to de-stress is the most stressful task of all.
A close second stressor is the knowledge that stress is really detrimental to our overall health and wellness. There are seemingly endless studies coming out about the brutal effects stress can have on our mental and physical health, with some suggesting that too much stress can even shorten lifespan.
Unfortunately, dealing with stress is one of those situations where it can get worse before it gets better. The act of de-stressing is only possible when the body and mind feel supported enough to tackle extra challenges. Sometimes a vacation, an unplugged weekend or even a spa day can offer just enough peace to face stress head on.
However, acts of self-care are usually initiated only after the stress has become unbearable, and often the last thing I want to do with newfound vacation peace is deal with my stress.
It might be time to call in reinforcements.
You may have seen some strange new products pop up in your local coffee shop, like mushroom coffee, ginseng elixirs and turmeric lattes. If you’re a follower of Gwyneth Paltrow, you may have heard her GOOPies drop words like reishi, ashwagandha, rhodiola or schisandra. No, this isn’t an exclusive new GOOP language, they are talking about adaptogens, the latest hack in wellness town. Adaptogens are not new. They are derived from plants that have the ability to aid the body in adapting to daily stressors and/or improving body function. They have been used around the world and studied extensively by non-western medicine for centuries.
Ginseng, for example, was mentioned in Chinese medical texts as early as 196 AD. Turmeric was found in tombs on the Indian subcontinent dating back to 2500 BCE. In the 1980s, Russian scientists put great effort into studying adaptogens in hopes that they could be used to support military efforts.
Today, adaptogens have reached peak popularity in the mainstream wellness industry and, as a result, we are seeing them pop up on coffee shop menus, and in juice bars and cookbooks. Because they are derived from natural plant sources, people find them less intimidating than supplementation. One of the biggest appeals of adaptogens is that they can be paired and customized to the specific needs of the user.
As with any product that promises health and wellness, it is wise to be as informed as possible about what you are consuming. Issues can arise if adaptogens are taken incorrectly. For example, they can be ineffective, can cause stimulation while the desired result is relaxation, or even interfere with medications and hormone balance.
Here are some of the more popular adaptogens and what they are more commonly used for: ginseng increases brain function, reflexes and immune function, while decreasing stress and creating a sense of calm; ashwagandha relaxes and reduces stress and anxiety. It is also anti-inflammatory and helps with blood sugar regulation. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory, while boosting brain function and combating depression; rhodiola rosea stimulates and combats fatigue while improving brain function, and it is said to elevate exercise performance; schisandra is stimulating and increases brain performance, capacity and endurance, and supports fitness; reishi mushroom aids in sleep health and reduces stress.
This is just a sample; there are many more adaptogens on the market, including a whole host of adaptogenic mushrooms, mojo-boosting maca, stress-reducing tulsi basil and stimulating astragalus.
One of the most promising areas of adaptogen research is in countering the undesirable effects of perimenopause and full menopause. For example, rhodiola can help to balance the hormones that cause mood swings, anxiety and hot flashes, while schisandra has been shown to stimulate the central nervous system, improve cognition and balance neurotransmitters.
This all sounds pretty good, right? Brain-boosting, stress-reducing, anti-inflammation—yes, to all of that!
So how do we go about taking these magical elixirs? An important first step is to be clear on what symptom you are most interested in tackling and plan accordingly. Some adaptogens are calming and others stimulating, so while it is okay to combine them, you want to be sure to time your consumption accordingly. For example, don’t take a large dose of rhodiola with your evening meal unless you want to pull an all-nighter, on account of its stimulating effects.
Dosage is also a consideration, as is duration of consumption. Most adaptogens build up in your system over time so there is a benefit to sustained use. However, some can become less effective over time, so it is advisable to cycle your use accordingly.
The most important step to taking adaptogens to is to do your research, keep track of what you are taking and what effect (if any) it is having on whatever symptom you are hoping to improve. It is this nutritionist’s hope that adaptogens are used as a tool to create the space needed to tackle the stresses of life, to clear them out and ultimately make room for activities in life that bring joy and wellness. As tempting as it is, they should not be used to take on more work and further compound the stressors of life.
Adaptogens will not make you a superhero but they might make you super enough to clear out some of your more overwhelming tasks and projects.
Note: if the stress in your life feels overwhelming to the point of altering your ability to enjoy activities that you have enjoyed in the past and is causing depression or anxiety, please couple your adaptogen use with help from a mental health professional.