Stress-Reducing Adaptogens to Help You Survive 2020 (and Beyond)
Low energy, high anxiety and lackluster skin - sometimes it feels like the Look of the Year is “stressed tf out”-chic.
With two months to go until the election and ?? months until the pandemic is over, it’s safe to say that we’ll probably experience a few more stress triggers before the year is through.
Honestly, if you’ve made it this far into 2020 without crying in the shower, losing sleep, or blankly staring at a wall for several hours, you might just be a Buddhist monk (or really, really skilled at handling chaotic energy). For those of us who are less 🙏🏽enlightened🙏🏽, though, it can be a real struggle to find effective ways to cope with it all - especially when your health is on the line.
Enter ~drum roll please~ ADAPTOGENS, a group of natural stress-reducing herbs that act as a stimulant to stave off stress-related exhaustion, allowing you to stay alert and push through those extra tense moments. Better yet: with regular use, adaptogens have been shown to significantly reduce the effects of stress, leading you to a more balanced life ahead (2). Good for those who are doing all of the self care and those barely getting by, adaptogens may just be the sweet relief your body is craving this year. Here's why.
Already an expert on the relationship between stress and your health? Feel free to scroll ahead for our list of adaptogens to try today! If you’re looking to better understand how stress is really affecting your body, though: keep reading.
What do stress hormones do to your body?
When you’re in distress - like after browsing the news first thing in the AM😳 - cortisol, your body’s primary stress hormone, rapidly produces sugar/glucose in your bloodstream to promote tissue repair, as if you’re preparing for an actual physical threat (FYI, your body doesn’t know the difference between physical and emotional confrontations, even if you do).
Meanwhile, other bodily functions, like your reproductive and digestive system, are suppressed by the increased cortisol, as they’re deemed detrimental to your animal instinct, known as your “fight or flight” response (1). In high stress situations, cortisol levels spike; once the “threat” is gone, your body begins to self-regulate and return to its normal functioning state.
But what happens when you’re stuck in an incessant loop of stress-inducing events?
When your body is under constant attack from stress, your system is consistently flooded with high levels of cortisol, which disturbs your body's natural rhythm. As you continue down the stress spiral, it can become increasingly difficult to “turn it off” - no matter how much yoga, journaling and meditation you do - and can have real long term health complications on your body, including your skin.
Headaches, anxiety, and indigestion - sound familiar? You’ve probably experienced one or all of these while being stuck in a stress spiral. Because the cortisol hormone comes from your adrenal gland, it has easy access to important systems throughout your body, which causes major health issues due to overproduction. Women, for example, may experience irregular menstruation during excessively stressful events as their reproductive system is hindered - others may find themselves battling anxiety or depression as a result of the heavy burden of worry and the brain’s exhaustion from living in constant survival mode.
When it comes to your skin, there’s one unsuspecting place where the trouble begins: your gut. This is because, as cortisol levels rise and instincts kick in, the increased cortisol slows down your digestion, which in turn throws off the balance of your gut microbes and allows harmful bacteria to grow (3). The more often you’re in defense mode, the more bacteria can grow, which eventually penetrates the weakened lining of your intestines and sends a cascade of inflammation all throughout your body, including - you guessed it! - on your skin. This sudden bout of stress-induced inflammation can contribute to flare-ups of preexisting skin conditions, like eczema or psoriasis, and can also cause breakouts.
Best adaptogens for stress and anxiety
With your gut and skin health being so closely linked, it only makes sense that what you consume plays a key role in how well your face will handle stress. Taking adaptogenic herbs is not only a natural, healthy option, but it’s also a big help when your equilibrium is on the fritz, prolonging the “resistance” mode of your body’s stress response and allowing you to better focus on the task at hand (4). With a reduction of stress hormones, the risk of inflammation decreases, and your skin has a better chance of fighting off the strain of high stress situations and preventing painful flare-ups. Not only that, but your entire body will thank you: a sudden rush of stress-induced cortisol is slowed down when met by certain adaptogens, allowing your system to self-regulate quicker and preserve your long-term health in the process. Win, win, and mega win!
However, let’s be clear: adaptogens aren’t a cure-all, unfortunately. They can be very helpful during especially rough patches, though (like, all of 2020) and can promote an overall better sense of calm in times of struggle. All of this, all while keeping your skin at its best. SIGN ME UP.
Here’s a few adaptogens to get you started:
Not just in your grandma’s medicine cabinet - ginseng is one of the most recognized and popular adaptogens out there. Commonly found in teas that tout calming effects, ginseng is known to boost your working memory, improve reaction time, promote calmness, and support your immune system. Although there are different types of ginseng, the most popular are American ginseng and Asian ginseng, with the levels of concentration varying between the two. It’s generally believed that American ginseng works as a relaxing agent, while Asian ginseng invigorates.
Perhaps the most directly relevant to the times, ashwagandha reduces stress and anxiety and helps bring you back to center when you need it most. It does this by actively reducing cortisol and blood sugar levels in your body, quieting your system to make the fight or flight instinct more manageable - *inhale, exhale*. The word “ashwagandha” is actually Sanskrit for “smell of the horse”, which sounds… interesting, I know, especially for a supplement, however it also refers to its ability to increase strength (err, horsepower).
If you’ve visited a juice bar in the last few years, I guarantee you’ve run into goji berries. A trendy (and delicious) addition to acai bowls, gojis are chock full of vitamins and are a good source of energy, boosting physical and mental performance and promoting calmness. Goji berries can also help you sleep better, having regulated your energy during the daytime to bring you to a natural sleepiness in the evening. Also referred to as wolfberries, you’ll more often than not see them in dried-up, raisin form, which carries a sweet yet sour taste.
Test, consume, switch, repeat
Adaptogens are becoming more and more relevant as time goes on, with seemingly new stressors popping up everyday day. However, they aren’t without their own set of rules and regulations for healthy usage.
As with any supplement, be sure to follow the dosage instructions carefully and monitor your reactions for any sign of potential side effects. Once the herb has proven unproblematic for your system, incorporate the adaptogen(s) into your daily routine and switch out herbs as needed to balance what your stress hormones are causing in your body. Adaptogens come in several different forms, including capsules and powders, so adding them to your everyday routine is quick & easy (hello, evening ginseng tea🍵 ). Here’s a great starter list of adaptogens to begin experimenting with!
While it’s evident that prolonged stress is bad for our health, sometimes it just feels like nothing can stop the strain from taking over your psyche. As we navigate what the rest of the year has in store for us, maintaining a healthy balance of chemicals in our body is crucial to keeping up with all that life throws our way. Taking time to eat right and exercise is a great foundation, but for particularly challenging times, adaptogens may just be the boost you need to get through.
Written by Adrianne Neal