Stressed. Don’t your shoulders tense when you think of the words? Jaw clenches, stomach tightens, your whole body subtly shifts to “Alert” mode. Whether it’s triggered by an argument in your family, a tight deadline, a looming presentation, a traffic jam on the way to the airport, or a dark alley between the parking garage and your destination, stress is one of the inescapables of life.
Sometimes this is OK – even good! Healthy stress, such as preparing for a race, or measuring up to performance reviews, keeps you at the top of your game. But when you’ve been under pressure for weeks, months, or even years (as with adults who have been abused as children), your nervous system, your muscles, your heart and lungs – all of your body systems! – become locked in a chronic stress pattern.
Your body’s response to stress is largely managed by a hormone called cortisol (a.k.a. “the stress hormone”). Cortisol is involved in controlling blood sugar levels, immune responses, anti-inflammatory responses, blood pressure, cardiovascular function, and central nervous system function, among other things.
While cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day, they also peak when the adrenal glands signal a response to stress. When the stressful situation passes, cortisol levels should return to normal – but if the body has responded to ongoing stress for weeks, months, or years (for example, in adults who were abused as children), cortisol levels never have a chance to fall. And this can be damaging – even deadly – to your health and well-being, leading over time to conditions such as:
- Brain fog
- Weight gain
- Addictive behaviors, from shopping and eating to substance abuse
- Anxiety and depression
- Irritability and rage
- Digestive problems
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
So what can you do to reduce stress? While I could literally talk for days about self-care tools such as exercise, meditation, sleep – even simply taking a deep breath! – one of the most effective tools I’ve found has been adaptogens. That is, plant-based substances such as herbal teas, tinctures, and supplements that help your body to respond to stress and anxiety, resist fatigue and boost the immune system.
Some of the adaptogens that I personally use most often are:
- Maca root
- Holy basil
- Chata, Reishi, and Shiitaki mushrooms
But if you’re interested in using adaptogens to control your stress levels, it’s important to be cautious! Talk with a holistic doctor, nutritionist or nutritional endocrinology coach about the herb that’s best for your system, and start gently with a small dose for a few days. See how your body responds, and then continue or adjust the dose. Be gentle with yourself during this period and watch changes in your body and mood carefully. Most important, stay in touch with your doctor or wellness coach.
And while we’re talking about do-it-yourself treatment for stress…
One of the ways we’re often tempted to “self-medicate” under stress is through comfort foods such as breads and pastries, chips and cookies, and of course chocolate. Most of these are empty-calorie snacks (which are usually loaded with preservatives and GMOs): they may give you a momentary boost of energy or mood, but a crash is sure to follow!
So, instead of these guilty, harmful pleasures, I’m going to close with a recipe for one of my favorite sweet indulgences….enjoy!
“On The Go” Herbal Treats
Mix wet ingredients in a bowl:
- 1 cup nut and or seed butter (almond, cashew, and/or sunflower)
- 2 tbs of unrefined melted coconut oil
- ½ cup raw honey or vanilla stevia to taste
- 2 tsp of vanilla extract if you use honey or plain stevia
Combine dry ingredients in a bowl:
- ½ cup of chopped nuts or seeds ( brazil nuts, almonds, and/or pecans)
- 1 tsp of sea salt
- about 1 cup herbal powders (ashwaganda, holy basil, chaga, shilajit, maca, and astragulus) You can use all of these or a combination of the ones you have; I recently combined all of them! Use about 1 -2 tbs of each herb.
- ¼ – ½ cup of dried fruit (goji berries, cherries, raisins, figs, apricots, dates, cranberries )
Combine dry and wet ingredients; mix to the consistency of cookie dough. Divide up the dough and roll into balls. Roll the balls in cacao or carob powder and/or coconut.
To receive the health benefits of these herbal delights, I recommend eating two a day. You can store these balls in the freezer until ready to use.