The human body is simply... amazing.
It allows us to not only withstand a tremendous amount of physical and mental pressure to think and move quickly enough to save our life during a threat, but also copes with the daily grind of our ever increasing workloads and over-stimulation of this modern world.
However, there is only so much stress the mind and body can cope with before it inevitably will crash - a protective mechanism to force us to stop in order to, literally, survive.
I experienced this crash recently in my life (scroll down to 'My Story' for the details), and now in retrospect, I understand exactly what behaviours I was doing which lead to this.
Luckily, I learnt about the incredible (and completely natural) solutions to not only recover my health, but feel even better than before I got sick. What I learnt transformed my life, and I am sharing this information to help you gain the vitality you're also capable of having.
The Nervous System
Before I share my secrets with you, I want to first lay the foundations of the human body to help you understand why the particular herbs and specific lifestyle changes I implemented helped me (and will help you) so much.
Our bodies are so intelligent that from the moment we are born, we are hardwired with multiple adaptive mechanisms which are closely attuned to every stimuli in and around us. The powerhouse of them all is our nervous system.
When we are stressed, whether it is from a life threatening situation, or simply an overbearing boss, or even demanding screaming children, it signals our nervous system to be on 'high alert' and kick in the functions to keep us focused and attentive. This is known as the 'Sympathetic Nervous System' response, in which the body pumps out certain hormones and neurotransmitters (mainly cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine) to cause a surge of glucose to enter the blood stream, make our heart beat faster, increase our respiration rate, and stop all other unnecessary functions for that moment (which include our immune response, digestion and reproduction) in order to face the stressor. This is otherwise known as 'Fight or Flight', and is only meant to be used short term until the 'threat' is gone.
The nervous system also compensates, or balances, this reaction with an opposite response known as the 'Parasympathetic Nervous System' response, which is activated when we are relaxed, and allows us to 'Rest and Digest' or 'Feed and Breed' - basically sleep, eat food, and make babies.
This incredible process in our bodies happens mostly without us even realising it; but like everything in life, it has to be balanced.
Our modern lifestyles are now completely taxing our Sympathetic Nervous System, keeping us chronically stressed without enough chance to recover in Parasympathethic mode, leading to more cases of / increased risk for:
Muscle aches and pains
High blood pressure
Depressed immunity = more colds and infections
Inability to focus/concentrate
Skin problems (eczema, psoriasis, acne, ect)
Physical and mental burnout
Weight gain/weight loss
Sexual dysfunction and/or loss of sex drive
Luckily, there are many things we can do to prevent, and reverse, some of these symptoms that likely you are already experiencing as you read this.
Improve Stress Tolerance
The best place to increase your resilience to stress is through breathing. When you take in a deep breath (try one right now), it signals the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) to relax the entire body. There are many specific breathing exercises you can learn to enhance your PNS and overall health in general, which I will share in more detail in a future post, but you can start with this technique to balance the nervous system.
As well as breathing, learning to sleep regularly and enough is vitally important in restoring your health and balancing the nervous system. I will also talk more in depth about sleep in another post, but here is a great place to start if you want to learn the foundations of getting quality sleep.
One thing that has helped me tremendously in the past year, which has been an incredibly easy addition to incorporate into my daily routine, is taking adaptogens.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are natural substances that work with your body to help you adapt to stress, by regulating important stress hormones and neurotransmitters (such as cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine which I previously mentioned). Chronic stress can make you less sensitive to the effects of these hormones/neurotransmitters, and inevitably cause your body to start producing less of them too, which can cause generalised inflammation, adrenal fatigue, and a myriad of other serious health conditions.
Adaptogens work by strengthening the adrenal system, and also tend to be good sources of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, which helps to prevent cellular damage.
Essentially, adaptogens make you more resilient to stress and bring overall harmony to the body.
Benefits of adaptogens include:
⌲ Boosting the immune system
⌲ Increasing physical endurance
⌲ Increasing mental focus
⌲ Maintaining a healthy weight
⌲ Balancing / improving mood
In fact, there are dozens of herbs that have these affects on the body, which have been used by holistic practitioners for thousands of years, but I will focus on the ones I personally have been using which significantly improved my health (see my infographic below).
The reason I wanted to incorporate adaptogens in my life in the first place is because almost exactly one year ago, I wound up in hospital due to precisely what I just explained - chronic stress. I had spent years working shift work in a very busy and stressful emergency department, not sleeping properly or managing my stress very well. I struggled with anxiety and depression often for many reasons, but primarily due to lack of self-esteem and sense of true purpose in life. The relationship with my partner at the time became strained which lead to a painful break-up, and the difficulties with my immediate family (who live on the other side of the world) heightened because of my poor communication skills, which lead to more anxiety and depression. And even though I was practicing yoga and eating a healthy and nutritionally adequate whole-food plant based diet during this time, I was not able to sufficiently gain the benefits or absorb the nutrients, which lead to a depletion in many vital minerals, further perpetuating the stress cycle.
I was chronically so stressed out, that I didn't even realise I was stressed.
At one point, I quit my job out of frustration to spend four months solo-backpacking across six countries, putting a financial stress in my life too; and to make it worse, during this trip I experienced multiple episodes of food poisoning, became completely exhausted from sleeping in a new city nearly every night, traveled for hours in awkward postitions in dozens of planes, trains, buses, boats, and automobiles across multiple time zones, and spent weeks feeling shaken after being followed by a strange man somewhere in Brazil whilst walking around on my own, which left me feeling vulnerable and angry with the world.
All of this culminated one day in a hospital admission with a ruptured appendix, and subsequently I was left with mysterious daily severe abdominal pain, intermittent (and extremely scary) intestinal bleeding, and severe fatigue, depression, and anxiety for over a year afterwards, which multiple GPs, specialists, and holistic practitoners could not adequately resolve despite their best intentions. As a result, I couldn't work very much, went into thousands of dollars of debt with all of my tests and treatments, and had to move in with a supportive family member because I couldn't even pay my own rent. I really felt like I had hit my rock bottom.
I not only crashed.... I burned.
There were many days where I could not even get out of bed, and when I did, I had no energy or motivation to accomplish anything. I also struggled to eat because all types of food caused me intense abdominal pain, which lead to me being very anti-social, and inevitably down a very dark hole.
But I was lucky, because I already had a foundation of knowledge around health and wellness that I could utilise and expand on during this difficult time. So even though I was suffering a lot, I believe that my physical and mental health could have become MUCH worse.
So, what did I do to gain the thriving health I have today?
First: I learnt how to become aware of how my thoughts and actions affect my mind and body. I gained awareness through breathing exercises, along with various meditation techniques too. Once I learnt how to increase and stay in my calming parasympathetic mode, I was much more attuned to when it was veering off into a sympathetic ('stress') mode, and could bring it back much more quickly and easily.
Second: I determined my values, and started living in alignment with them. This enabled me to really priortise what was most important, which ultimately changed the direction of my life to one of abundant opportunities that brought me joy and aligned with my values. I also surrounded myself with loving and supportive people, and really focused on improving my communication skills and personal growth/development in order to have more loving and meaningful relationships with them.
Third: I used the power of nature to heal my body (herbs, plant foods, sunshine, fresh air, clean water, and the ocean/earth beneath my bare feet), and became so much more aware of and grateful for the beauty and magic in the world that we live in.
My crash became a blessing in disguise, because it forced me to look at my body in a whole new way, appreciating its intelligent design which kept me alive under so much stress, and I now listen to its subtle messages everyday which let me know if I am on the path to wellness and when I am veering off, so I can make the necessary changes to find my equilibrium again.
So what herbs/adaptogens do I use? I made this handy infographic to share with you my favourite ones that I take everyday:
I only noticed a massive difference in my mood, energy levels, and stress resilience when I started combining a variety of adaptogens and taking them consistently every day. They proved to be extremely effective recently in my life when I was going through a particularly stressful time of studying two units of my Masters degree, starting a new job, moving house, and traveling overseas for 5 weeks, all within a three month period of time, and I didn't experience one episode of intense anxiety, insomnia, or panicky feelings in my chest like I would have done in the past under similar circumstances. (I passed those Masters units too!)
I would recommend finding two adaptogens that you can afford and you think will benefit you the most, before investing in more high quality adaptogens (from reputable companies) that resonate with your particular health needs. Take them consistently for at least three months to really feel their effects.
Here is exactly the regime I follow to bring harmony to my mental and physical health:
⌲ Ashwaganda: I take 1 tablet 1 x a day, or 2 x a day when I’m really stressed. I also consume this in a powder form that I bought in my bulk herb shop, and mix it in my food.
⌲ Rhodiola: I take 1 tablet in the morning.
⌲ Medicinal Mushrooms*: I rotate between Resishi, Cordyceps, Chaga, and Lion’s Mane, and I usually buy the ‘Life Cykle’ brand when my budget allows it. I use 1 teaspoon of one or two of these mushroom powders (Reishi and Chaga are my favourites) to add in my Morning Medicinal Elixir.
⌲ Holy basil: I drink ‘Tulsi’ tea regularly, especially when I'm at work in the busy Emergency Department (Ginger Tumeric is my favourite).
I will give an honourable mention to the following adaptogens which I also take occasionally:
⌲ Astragalus Root: Anti-inflammatory, immune booster, improves heart health, has antioxidant properties, assists in prevention and reversal of diabetes, and has even been shown to reduce tumour growth. I use a powder to mix in with my Morning Medicinal Elixir.
⌲ Maca: Aphrodisiac, nutritive tonic, and balances hormonal health. I mix it in smoothies or breakfast muesli, and I genuinely enjoy the taste!
⌲ Schisandra: Anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, liver cleanser, supports adrenals, improves skin health, promotes brain health, and improves fertility. You can consume it in its dried berry form or powder, but I usually take it in capsules.
⌲ Ginseng: Improves energy, reduces inflammation, increases sexual function, improves cognitive function, can prevent and reverse symptoms of diabetes, and boosts the immune system. The 'Herbs of Gold' product that I've linked is great value and contains multiple varieties of ginseng along with other adaptogens too!
I am fortunate enough to buy some of these adaptogens in bulk at my local herb shop so that I can cut down on my plastic consumption (there might be a similar store in your city too!), but if it's not possible to buy them in bulk, you can order all of them online as well. They are all available on Amazon and can be delivered straight to your home (click on the links provided for each adaptogen).
I use a loose Roasted Dandelion Root Tea with additional chicory root as well because I love the taste (the Bonvit brand is available in my local health food store), but you can also buy it on its own in individual tea bags too if you prefer. Roasted dandelion has a bitter earthy taste, similar to coffee, but without the caffeine. It is high in calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin B6, and is known to cleanse the liver and digestive system, promote effective functioning of the pancreas to prevent diabetes, improve clearance form the kidneys which prevent urinary tract infections, and prevent cell damage from free radicals with its high antioxidant properties.
Do you take adaptogens ? Let me know in the comments below ! I’m genuinely curious about how others incorporate them in their routine as I’m always looking for the best natural remedies to improve my health and share the information to help others.
[Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, herbalist, naturopath, or otherwise. Please consult with your health practitioner before deciding to take any of these herbs.]