The past few years have brought about unexpected and unprecedented change. As a consequence, it has also burdened us with significant stress: stress at the workplace, stress in relationships, stress about the future, financial stress, and burnout. For many of us stress has permeated our lives, becoming a daily and constant unwelcome companion. It is important to note that not all stress is bad. In healthy amounts, stress can be a source of motivation, it can help us endure discomfort in the short term for long term gains, it can help keep us safe by cueing us into danger. When stress becomes prolonged and overwhelming, however, it stops being beneficial and instead becomes disruptive, burdensome, and even detrimental to our health. Excessive stress can cause fatigue, disrupt our sleep, make us more irritable and on edge, and lead to or exacerbate chronic conditions like IBS, hypothyroidism, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Luckily, there is a group of herbal allies that can help us bear the weight of stress so that it does not feel so heavy. These allies are called adaptogens. Adaptogens are uniquely well suited to help our bodies adapt to stress on a physiological level. When taken regularly, adaptogens can help decrease fatigue, improve attention and endurance, and blunt the detrimental effects that chronic stress can have on our hormones, immune system, and nervous system.
Let’s take a closer look at four common adaptogens.
Rhodiola is a short, fleshy perennial herb with a fragrant rhizome that is abundant in the Arctic and originates in Siberia and the mountains of northwest China. Just as the plant itself is able to withstand and even flourish in these harsh habitats, rhodiola as an adaptogen helps to increase endurance, combat fatigue, and enhance physical and mental performance. It is ideal for those who are experiencing prolonged periods of heightened stress leading to fatigue, burnout, and difficulty focusing. Think of this plant for those who are burning the candle at both ends, such as college students, exhausted parents, and overworked individuals. Because of its energy boosting properties, it is best taken earlier in the day.
Find rhodiola in the Co-op's wellness department here.
Astragalus is widely used in Chinese medicine as an adaptogen with cooling and calming effects. In addition to being an adaptogen, astragalus is inflammation-modulating. It does it all. Astragalus protects the kidneys and liver, supports a healthy heart, breaks down scar tissue, and fights against viral infections. It is best used on a regular basis for general stress support, especially when stress leads to frequent illness, anger and irritability, and chronic fatigue.
Find astragalus in the Co-op's wellness department here.
Ashwagandha has a long history of use in the Ayurvedic medicine tradition as an herb that helps to replenish us when we feel our vitality is depleted. Not only a powerful adaptogen, ashwagandha is also anti-inflammatory and anxiety reducing. It helps to nourish and protect the brain. Ashwagandha is ideal for those experiencing stress-related insomnia, as it can help increase sleep latency times, allowing us to sleep longer and more fully. Think of this plant for when you are feeling “wired and tired,” exhausted and unable to cope with stress with excessive worry and thoughts.
Find ashwagandha in the Co-op's wellness department here.
Bacopa is the go-to adaptogen when stress is starting to affect brain health. Bacopa crosses the blood-brain barrier and acts as a powerful antioxidant and neuroprotective agent. It helps to increase blood flow to the brain, increases GABA (an anti-anxiety neurotransmitter), and helps to repair damaged neurons. Bacopa is helpful in improving cognition, focus, memory retention, and concentration. Because of these qualities, it can be a powerful adaptogen for the aging, the overworked, and those with ADHD.
Find bacopa in the Co-op's wellness department here.
By Kelley Garrison, ND
Dr. Garrison is a licensed naturopath at Northwest Life Medicine Clinic who specializes in stress and stress-related conditions such as anxiety, panic disorder, and irritable bowel syndrome. She enjoys working with patients to find the root cause of their symptoms and helps them cultivate the resources needed to feel healthy and resilient. You can find her at nwlifemedicine.com.