Adaptogens: What are they and how can they help?

National Mental Health Awareness Month has ended, but every day we need to continue to have open, honest, and unashamed conversations. 

We empower ourselves by educating ourselves.

As a budding herbalist, I practice on myself and study my health, my mind, and body, and its patterns. I experiment with plants to aid my healing. The last few times I have been sick, I noted that they followed family stress and traumas. Headaches, stomach aches, and fatigue kept wiping me out, often for days. Then I reflected that a lot of times in my past, stress, drama, trauma and even a lot of socialization would leave me emotionally, mentally, and physically strained and drained. 

Then dawned on my marble head, I need adaptogens!

There are many plants with herbal actions that are beneficial to our mental health, such as nervines, sedatives, calmatives, anxiolytics, anti-depressant, and more.

This article focuses on Adaptogens. They have increased in popularity recently and it’s important to know what they are and how they can help. 

What Are Adaptogens?

According to Oxford languages, the definition of adaptogen is (in herbal medicine) “a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress and to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes.” 

“The classic definition of adaptogenic herbs is they have a non-specific action that increases the body’s natural resistance to stressors. These could be external stressors that are either environmental or internal stressors triggered by exercise, diet, lifestyle factors, and the stresses of modern life.” {1}

Basically, adaptogens can improve the body’s ability to adapt to stress, helping to avoid collapse or overstress.

In China and in the East adaptogens are used as a preventative approach to health and well-being. They are a relatively new concept to western medicine and herbalism.” {2}

“There are three main qualities an herb must have to be considered an adaptogen: 1) It must be non-toxic at normal doses. 2) It should support the entire body’s ability to cope with stress. 3) It should help the body return to a state of homeostasis regardless of how the body has changed in response to stress.”{3}

How adaptogens can help.

When we encounter stress we go through three stages:

  1. The Alarm Phase: Our bodies produce adrenaline to improve our ability to focus on the task at hand.
  2. The Resistance Phase: While our bodies are enjoying the adrenaline boost, we are literally resisting the stress.
  3. The Exhaustion Phase: The end result is our bodies inevitably reach exhaustion.

Adaptogens don’t block the stress response but rather bring balance to the extremities in energy and mood during these phases of stress.

Adaptogens are said to work on a molecular level on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis or HPA axis is a term used to represent the interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands; it plays an important role in the body’s response to stress {4}, the release of the stress hormone cortisol, and a significant in immune regulation, digestion, and metabolism.

“Studies on animals and isolated neuronal cells have revealed that adaptogens exhibit neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, antidepressive, anxiolytic, nootropic and CNS {Central Nervous System} stimulating activity.”{5} 

In addition, a number of clinical trials demonstrate that not only do adaptogens exert an anti-fatigue effect, but they also increase mental work capacity despite stress and fatigue, particularly intolerance to mental exhaustion and enhanced attention. 

Conclusion: Adaptogens can increase energy & mental focus, nourish the adrenals, strengthen the immune system, aid in digestion & metabolism, and boost overall vitality.

Adaptogen plants:

If you’d like to try including adaptogens in your self-care, please speak to your doctor and/or clinical herbalist to make sure you find the right plant for you, as not all adaptogenic plants work the same way, and what works for one may not work for another.

Here is a brief list of adaptogenic plants and their effects:

Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) 

Ginsengs are nervine stimulants, used to support the nervous, endocrine, and immune system, and improve the resilience of the physical body. 

Asian ginseng has been used for thousands of years in China, Korea, and India for its ability to strengthen the body’s natural defenses to cure and protect from illness. American ginseng was cultivated in the 1700s and was used by several Native American tribes before Europeans discovered it for themselves. Today it is rare and even endangered in some areas, due to overharvesting.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus)  

Eleuthero works with the urinary, nervous, endocrine, and cardiovascular body systems. It’s been used traditionally to increase vital energy, improve sleep, and appetite, and treat lower back and kidney pain, as well as rheumatoid arthritis. It is also commonly used for spastic bladders.

It was formerly known as “Siberian ginseng,” but this created confusion because it isn’t in the Panax genus. 

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Ashwagandha works with digestive, urinary, nervous, and endocrine systems. Not only an adaptogen but also an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and restorative. It has a calming effect rather than being stimulating like ginseng. As an adaptogen, it can improve focus, and help those who are fatigued during the day but have a hard time sleeping at night, the wired, tired type.

Ashwagandha is a powerful herb in Ayurvedic healing, known as an “Indian Ginseng.”

Caution! This plant is a nightshade, so if you are allergic to tomatoes, eggplant, and other nightshades, this adaptogen is probably not a good choice for you.

Astragulus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Working with the nervous, respiratory, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems, Astragulus can strengthen the body against viral infection of the respiratory and heart and is used to protect the body from physical, mental, and emotional stress by supporting the immune system. It can help with fatigue and lack of appetite as well.
Astragalus (or Huang qi) is rich in Chinese and Asian cultures and has been traditionally praised for its ability to stimulate the body’s protective energy (qi), fight fatigue, and prevent diseases such as cancer.

Schisandra (Shisandra chinensis) 

Schisandra berry works with our nervous, respiratory and endocrine body systems., It is a stimulating herb found to increase physical stamina and can be beneficial for improving concentration, coordination, and endurance. Also known to provide protection from stress, and protect the liver from a variety of toxins.

It is known as the five flavor berry, with sour, sweet, bitter, warm, and salty notes, and is one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Chinese medicine, and in Chines folklore known to “calm the heart” and “quiet the spirit.”

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) 

Rhodiola is an adaptogen that works with our nervous and endocrine systems. Found to be similarly effective to prescription anxiolytics in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, and improve symptoms of depression such as low mood, insomnia, and mood instability.

Also has been used to treat chronic fatigue syndrome, as it improves fatigue and mental focus and decreases the cortisol response to stress.

It grows naturally in wild Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America, thought to have been used by Vikings to improve physical strength and endurance.

Holy Basil/Tulsi  (Ocimum sanctum or tenuiflorum)

Works as a calmative and adaptogen with our nervous and respiratory system. An uplifting herb for those with mental fog, and those with significant fatigue. It has been used to treat anxiety, depression, and stress-related symptoms and has been used to treat asthma as well, especially stress-induced asthma.

Holy  Basil (or Tulsi) is native to India and has long been revered as sacred and used in Ayurvedic Healing

These are only a few of the wonderful adaptogens available. Others include; Reishi mushroom, Burdock, Ginger, Blueberry, Aloe, Licorice root, Gotu kola, Royal fern, Milk thistle seed, and more!

I encourage you to do your own research.

This post is meant to educate and inspire.

It is not medical advice.

If you decide to try adaptogens, Please discuss with your medical team which plants are best for you.

References

Oxford Language&Google

{1} Evolutionary Herbalism pdf https://www.evolutionaryherbalism.com/

{2}The Herbal Handbook, A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman

{3}Whole Health Library https://www.va.gov/WHOLEHEALTHLIBRARY/docs/Adaptogens.pdf

{4}Simple Psychology https://www.simplypsychology.org/hypothalamic%E2%80%93pituitary%E2%80%93adrenal-axis.html

{5}National Library of Medicine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

{other}

https://www.healthline.com/health/adaptogenic-herbs#effectiveness

https://thebeet.com/what-are-adaptogens-herbs-and-plants-that-can-help-reduce-stress-and-anxiety/

My materia medica from my herbal apprenticeship with Misty Meadows

5 Ways I am Managing my Stress

I’ve been reflecting and came to the realization that for the first time in a very long time (16 years to be exact) I have a very full life, balancing and juggling quite a few things. I can only describe it as ‘living again.’

Last time I was this busy, I was raising my daughter, attending college, working and caring for my mom as much as possible through her cancer journey. Not to mention attempting to save a failing relationship with my boyfriend. My mom would literally catch me spinning in circles, talking to myself trying to remember everything I needed to do, and she would calmly say, “Breathe”, I joked “how am I going to remember to breathe without you mom”. After her passing, I didn’t have the strength or ability to juggle anymore and had my mental breakdown.

Today I am juggling my herbal apprenticeship (classes, intern hours homework), with a business course through vocational rehab and preparing to launch my own business (which is way more work than I dreamed). Along with still “raising” my adult child, trying to support and encourage her in becoming independent, and developing and maintaining relationships with my family, my coven, and my friends old and new. When I have a spare moment, I am tending to my gardens and doing housework, or simply collapsed.

At first I was severely stressed and riddled with anxiety and panic attacks. I became so overwhelmed I would just sit and cry. After learning more through my herbal classes about how stress depletes our bodies and yes, kills us, I decided I need to get a grip.

I have a few unhealthy coping skills but am developing healthier habits as well. I thought I would share a few ways I am managing my stress, each of these could probably be a full post, but here are the highlights:

1) Shift my perspective, They say things are not as bad as they seem, but when you struggle with mental health, they can seem monstrous! I remember my mom being so stressed out and struggling with depression, when things went wrong, she reacted like it was the end of the world and our family doomed. I understand the reaction, and have been guilty of it myself, but I now know it isn’t necessary or even accurate. In my overwhelmed mind, it feels catastrophic, but reacting this way only adds to the stress. Still, it is challenging. There have been so many obstacles on my business journey, I take a step forward, something happens and it feels like it puts be two steps back, but I now realize this is an illusion. I only feel like it sets me back, when in reality it makes me stronger and in a position to make improvements. When downfalls happen, I immediately stress and panic, but have learned to observe my reaction and shift the way I look at it.

2) Shake it off and let it go. My mama used to say, “let it roll off you like water off a duck’s ass”, yup she was a character! She had a point though. It makes such a big difference to be able to let things go and not brood, or overthink. I can not worry about things I cannot control, and I can’t control other people’s hurtful actions or rude comments. I can’t control the long line at the grocery store or sitting in traffic. If I let these things get to me, it only makes me sick. I constantly remind myself of this. If I catch my mind in race mode, I try to calm myself and breathe. “Worrying is like a rocking chair, you can do it all day but gets you no where!” I try to not be so hard on myself on all the things I don’t get done and acknowledge and celebrate my daily accomplishments.

3) Morning routine. This is a lifesaver for me. I have mentioned before I am not very good at routine or consistency. It took me a long time to develop, tweak and maintain my morning routine but it is an immense help to begin my day in a manner that will carry me peacefully into my day. I get up early and try to make it the same time every day. I have hot lemon and ginger water, meditate to music and affirmations, do yoga and workout, and pray at my altar, giving thanks for another day, followed by my coffee, while I read or journal, or I have my coffee outside marveling at the birds and chipmunks. Then I begin my work for the day.

4) Self care. Self love and care have been a journey for me. I carried a lot of trauma and low self worth because of it. Therapy is a great way to care for yourself, and it has helped me tremendously with integration and my mental health. Other ways I practice self care is to do things that nourish my soul, like gardening, time in nature, loving my pets, time with friends and family, a nice bath, or a cup of herbal tea. Also, basic self care, like eating healthy as much as possible, taking my supplements and/or medications, exercise and time to just sit and be silent.

5) Herbs. I try to take teas, tinctures, infusions and homemade capsules everyday, made with nettles, holy basil, lemon balm, calendula, chamomile, wild lettuce, mullein, dandelion, turmeric and ginger. I use Bach’s Rescue Remedy drops and spray, and I also smoke marijuana (which helped me quit my Xanax and anti depressants years ago) because it helps me center, ground and tune into my spirit.

Of course, I am a work in progress, and have unhealthy habits too, like smoking too much marijuana sometimes, or my wine and Netflix escapes, and recently I have relapsed on smoking cigs, but I know I am doing the best I can and I am proud of where I am. Not long ago I was not able to get up out of bed, get through a day without crying or my heart racing or my mind. I couldn’t socialize or function. My old self could not even imagine that I would be here now, with this full and beautiful life.

Where ever you are in your mental health recovery, please don’t give up, keep going, it does get better and easier. Just keep showing up for your life, one baby step at a time, take a break when you need it, but don’t stay down.

Wishing you love, luck, light, peace and power!

May be an image of flower, nature and text that says 'Transformation formation in progress... @beyouthentic'
I was lucky enough to catch this picture of a Monarch butterfly pollinating my Calendula flower! Butterflies represent transformation and affirms that I am right where I need to be. My healing and metamorphosis is in progress! I AM TRANFORMING!
May be an image of 1 person and text that says 'I HAVE THE POWER TO CREATE THE LIFE I DESERVE!!! @BEYOUTHENTIC'
On the recent New Moon in Leo and the Lion’s gate portal, I thought it was a good time to set a powerful intention!! Yes, I do have the power to create the life I deserve! I AM WORTHY!

Pure Panic

panic-attacks-symptoms

This past Friday, I had a major panic attack. I hadn’t had one in a long while. They happen when my anxiety spins out of control. I have managed my anxiety pretty well; but, sometimes it sneaks up on me, and before I know it I am in pure panic mode.

When it rains it pours, and I was soaking wet. Last Thursday my niece had showed me a bedbug she found in the middle of the night. It’s been two months since that hell and now they were back. Friday my best friend and nieces dad was getting out of detox for alcohol and coming back to stay at my place. They both have been staying here because they are basically homeless. My best friend was drinking heavily again and we got into two nasty and emotional arguments. So, he went to detox. I really wasn’t feeling ready to have him back; but, he had no where else. Then out of nowhere my sister attacked me verbally and I felt deeply hurt. These things coupled with the fact that I had orientation on Sunday for my new herbal apprentice class stressed me out immensely.

My anxiety couldn’t be calmed even with xanax. My heart was pounding loud and fast. My hands shook and sweat poured out of me. I felt nauseous. I thought how am I going to do this course, with all of this going on? I can’t do it! I cried. I tried to do a meditation for anxiety and still couldn’t manage my panic. Fortunately, I had therapy that day. The first thing she had me do was ground. Put my feet on the floor feel the connection to Mother Earth. She said it’s okay to be scared, then the tears flowed. I was terrified. I was scared that this bedbug problem will never get under control. I was nervous about my best friend and I getting into an argument. I was stressed having less space in my apartment with everyone staying there. I felt depressed over my sister’s comments, and I was scared to take this class. My social anxiety was booming.  After grounding and crying it out, my therapist gave me some DBT interpersonal skills to work on to prepare for Sunday.

Pure panic had me in it’s grip for a bit; but, after facing the fear and letting emotions flow I felt better. I went to my Orientation and it went very well. Yesterday they treated again for bedbugs. My niece and best friend are looking for a place. I am not taking my sister’s comments personally, she has her own stress going on.  

All is good for the moment. Just breathe….

 

 

pic credit from holistichealthliving.com 

Stressed. Sick. Scared

sick

Stressed=Sick=Scared, it’s a viscous cycle.

Stressed. The whole process of my temporary job caused me a heavy load of stress, not all bad; but, stress just the same. The way my body reacts to stress? Depression, anxiety, insomnia, poor eating habits, constipation, muscle tension and migraines. My body becomes worn and prone to sickness. 

Sick. Three weeks ago, I had to call into work on what would’ve been my last day. My daughter hadn’t been feeling well, and I assumed I picked up whatever bug she had. I had stomach pain, headache, stuffed up nose and just plain old exhaustion. We both rested as much as possible for the rest of the week. My daughter complained about her ears, so I made her a doctor’s appointment. I was feeling a little better and thought I was going to be okay. Late last week, I brought my daughter to her appointment and I was feeling awful. Extremely sore throat, chest congestion and body aches. I made an appointment for myself. Yesterday I saw my doctor. I have a sinus infection and my asthma is exacerbated. Not to mention that my bowels are impacted and my ovaries are in a great deal of pain. I was put on Prednisone (a steroid I know all to well after a lifetime of asthma), antibiotics and a bunch of Miralax.  I also have to get ultrasounds for my ovaries and colon.

Scared. Being sick always equals depression for me. After a lifetime of asthma, it doesn’t scare me as much as it used to. However, the situation with my ovaries does. If you remember, I had a surgery last year around this time to remove my uterus lining. It relieved the heavy bleeding and therefore some of the ovary pain. Unfortunately, the ovary pain returned. I saw a new gynecologist three months ago and she put me on the birth control pill in hopes of helping. She told me if it didn’t then to think of what I wanted removed, just ovaries, or ovaries and uterus. She explained that with the symptoms I have, and for how long I’ve had them, she is assuming I am pretty corroded. She informed me to call in a few months and let her know if the pills helped. They did for two months. This month my pain is back with vengeance. I have an appointment for March 14, and most likely will be discussing surgery. After a long talk with my doctor yesterday, I learned that t endemetriosis can affect my colon as well, and there could be adhesions everywhere. I concluded that to ever get any real relief, I have to have surgery; but, I’m scared.

Being scared brings naturally brings me right back to stressed. 😦

Update: Out Straight

Presently I write this post from my sick bed, which comes to me as no surprise, because I have been literally out straight. This month has been so jampacked that even a “normal” person might have had a breakdown.

On April 6th, I finally signed my lease after much running around acquiring paperwork and funds; but, I couldn’t even stop to think about moving, because I had to get ready to leave for Pennsylvania for my eldest brother’s wedding and reception. We were also to celebrate my nephew’s birthday and Greek Easter all in the same weekend.

On April 9th, I planned to leave after my daughter got out of school. There was one more stop. I had finally got a referral from my doctor to a gynecologist for my ovarian cysts. For three years I have been suffering with extreme pain and heavy bleeding. I was not expecting to accomplish much with my first appointment; but, much to my surprise I left there with a scheduled surgery for May 15th. So, with that spinning around in my head, I left to round up family members and head to Pa.

Seven hours later we arrived and we had a wonderful weekend. It had been about twenty years since all six of us siblings have been together in one place. I did overdo on the drinking, but I guess weddings are like that. I packed all the joy in my heart and left on Monday April 13th for my seven hour drive home.

April 16th was my birthday, my daughter had suggested Seussical, one of her friends from school was performing in it and well, I love Dr. Seuss! So of course we went. It was the first time I had been to a theater in years. I had great passion in my younger years for acting and it was nice to reignite that spark.

April 18th, FINALLY, I started to sort and pack boxes. Though Serenity and I camped out a few nights in our new apartment, we had nothing moved in. I spent the weekend packing and moved a few things in.

April 20th, my best friend (and brother in law) came to help me with heavy things. We spent the next few days moving and I got most of my things in. I still had a bunch of sorting and packing. I also had a few pieces of furniture I wanted to paint before I moved them.

April 24th, I went to work at my seasonal job cleaning hotel rooms. My boss had asked me to help open up a few rooms early. In the middle of moving? Why not?

April 25th, 3:00 am, my daughter is wining about her back hurting. I got her the heating pad and an anti-inflammatory. She continued to complain. In my exhaustion, I awoke angrily and had a meltdown. We screamed, cried, talked and hugged. We spent the rest of the day together in her room sorting and packing.

April 26th, neither one of us could move from the bed. I had extreme body pain, headache, stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, chest congestion. You name it! I had it!

April 29th, on the mend and back to the grindstone.