There’s stress we actually need (surprise!) to function, and a whole lot of stress we don’t. Herbalist and Medicine Maker Adriana Ayales of Anima Mundi breaks down how to distinguish the “bad” from the “good” and shares, not only adaptogens that can help, but some of the precious nervines, rejuvenative tonics, and foods we may be missing to help us find peace and calm when we feel overwhelmed…
Here’s what I can tell you about stress hormones: we actually need them. But if you take away one thing from my plea today, may it be this: calm down, you lovely humans! We do not need stress 24/7. I repeat: we do not need to stress all day, every day!
In order to thrive and not simply survive, we must become mindful of our stress levels. The first step is to avoid going into “survival mode” in our daily lives if we’re not in imminent danger.
8 Signs You’re In Survival Mode
01: Everything is urgent. The deadline is now, always.
02: You’re rushing from meeting to meeting, and you forget to eat.
03: Believing your team can’t do what you do, so you have to do everything.
04: There’s no joy. You’re so busy you don’t even feel excited when you land your dream deal or dream manifestation. There’s no time to celebrate your wins.
05: The stress is overwhelming. Your sleep is disrupted, your breathing feels off, your heart beats erratically, and you can’t think straight.
06: Everything is a reaction. You’re not being proactive, and there’s very little space to receive objective feedback. Everything feels like an attack on you personally.
07: You won’t take time to rest and recharge because there isn’t enough time.
08: Your mood swings up and down because the overproduction of stress hormones has you frantically surfing emotional highs and lows without pause.
It’s no wonder physicians affirm 90% of all office visits are for stress-related conditions and/or complaints.
Stress can directly affect our entire physical-mental makeup, impacting the nervous system and key stress-coping organs like the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands.
It’s dangerous to be in survival mode 24/7…
Cortisol, often known as the “stress hormone”, is the primary hormone released from the adrenal glands. When cortisol is secreted, it causes a breakdown of muscle protein, leading to the release of amino acids into the bloodstream.
Amino acids are processed by the liver to synthesize glucose. This process raises blood sugar levels in the brain, which gives us energy. At the same time, the other tissues in the body decrease their use of glucose. Cortisol also leads to the release of fatty acids for use by the muscles. The processes of directing and replenishing energy prepare the body to manage stress and ensure that the brain receives enough energy.
Another important job cortisol has in the body is to regulate blood pressure and cardiovascular function. It also assists the immune system in responding to infection and inflammation. If we didn’t have stress hormones to alert the immune system of potential invaders, infections would thrive!
The body’s stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels and other systems resume their regular activities. But when your mind-body feels constantly under attack by stress, that “fight-flight-freeze” reaction stays turned on.
It’s dangerous to be in survival mode 24/7. Over-adaptation to stress — the constant disruption of key neurohormones — is the trigger for countless health issues.
Over-secretion of cortisol, for example, suppresses the immune system and can cause symptoms ranging from severe anxiety, hypertension, inflammation and depression to chronic fatigue, PMS, infertility, sex hormone imbalance, insulin resistance, weight gain, insomnia, and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Over time, repeated activation of the “flight-flight-freeze” response can take a serious toll on the body and will disrupt almost all bodily processes.
Research suggests that chronic stress, even when operating silently over long periods of time, contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, causes brain changes that may contribute to brain fog, anxiety, depression, and addiction. More preliminary research suggests that chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both directly (causing people to eat more) and indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise).
Prolonged stress and adrenal fatigue…
Adrenals produce and control the release of cortisol.
When the adrenals chronically secrete cortisol and other stress hormones, your adrenals stop producing cortisol, leading to what is known as “adrenal fatigue”. This term is often used by health professionals to describe the phenomenon of the adrenal glands running on empty, and the resulting mental and physical state of those experiencing it.
Our glands release high levels of cortisol during stressful periods, which is the most important hormone we have to help the body manage stress. We can think of cortisol as our own built-in alarm system, alerting us when the body senses real danger. It also works with certain parts of the brain to control mood, motivation, and fear. If too much cortisol is secreted, many bodily processes begin to underperform, potentially resulting in illness and even death.
We often forget stress doesn’t just come from a busy life or emotional overload, it can also be inherited (think: intergenerational trauma), or it can be triggered by environmental toxicity, agricultural chemicals, exposure to heavy metals, electro-smog, and viruses.
Below are four major categories to help diagnose your most probable stressors:
The 4 Types of Stress
PHYSICAL | Intense physical activity, healing from accident or injury, recovery from strenuous exercise, physical pain, inherited traits, and chronic illnesses are among the physical stressors we experience. Biological stressors like exposure to mold, harmful chemicals and bacteria, parasites, etc. can also trigger stress.
CONSUMABLE | Toxic substances–alcohol, drugs, tobacco–as well as refined/highly processed foods, mineral-depleted/genetically modified consumables, foods grown in toxic environments, coping with nutritional deficiencies, and free radicals that are the result of toxicity are all stressful to the mind and body’s healthy functioning.
PSYCHOLOGICAL | Depression, moodiness, anger, fear, anxiety, loss of desire or appetite, lack of greater purpose or meaning to life, worry, grief, shock, trauma, mental illness, major life changes, and overwhelming responsibilities can all negatively impact our mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies.
ENVIRONMENTAL | Pollutants and toxins in the atmosphere, water and soil, noise, UV light, altitude, allergens, xenoestrogens, electromagnetic frequencies (WiFi, radio waves, electric high-voltage lines), and radiation may cause stress and other health issues.
It’s time to relax and restore. Below, I’ve categorized some of the precious nervines, adaptogens, rejuvenative tonics, and foods into four sections so you can match the types of stress you may be feeling to a potential remedy to facilitate a return to your normal baseline and better health…
13 Herbs + Food To Avoid Burnout
Physical: Herbs for A Nervous System Gone Haywire
SKULLCAP | An excellent anti-spasmodic, muscle tension reliever, anti-inflammatory and blood flow stimulant, skullcap assists with chronic headaches and relaxation. Used in European medicine and by Native Americans to soothe the nerves and help from body pain recovery, skullcap also supports the treatment of hysteria, insomnia, anxiety, and epilepsy. Learn more
PASSIONFLOWER | A gentle anti-anxiety, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and mild sedative supportive herb. It is traditionally used by Native Americans and curanderos in Latin America to help ease muscle pain, bruises, and insomnia. Quercetin, one of the active compounds, is an exceptionally effective ability in ridding the body from damaging free radicals while helping to inhibit various enzymes that cause inflammation, relaxing the nervous system and helping to relieve nerve-related pain. Learn more
Consumable: Stress Ignited from Nutritional Deficiency
HE SHOU WU | a.k.a. “Fo-Ti” is a powerful root with adaptogenic properties, used for more than 3,000 years as a rejuvenative, ‘anti-aging’ supportive beauty tonic. Traditionally, it was used to thicken hair, increase virility, and rejuvenate the internal organs. Scientific studies have found a plethora of benefits such as aiding with DNA repair, supporting the bones and cognitive functions. If used in large amounts it might be toxic to the liver, be sure to prepare the right dosage for the right amount of time. Learn more
SUMA | ‘Brazilian Ginseng’ nutritionally contains 19 different amino acids, a large number of electrolytes, trace minerals, iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamins A, B1, B2, E, K, and pantothenic acid. In other words, it’s a powerful multivitamin! Its high germanium content accounts for its properties as an oxygenator at a cellular level; its high iron content may account for its traditional use for treating anemia. Learn more
CORDYCEPS | Prized for their natural ability to help fight free radicals, infections, and inflammation, Cordyceps are impressive disease-fighting fungi that have been used for hundreds of years to reduce symptoms of respiratory disorders, coughs, colds, liver damage as well as energy. A true superfood, the cordyceps mushroom can support slowing the effects of aging and stress and boost energy levels. Learn more
MACA | Grows high up in the Andes mountains of Peru and Bolivia. Maca is an important staple of these diets given it is highly nutritious and able to grow wild, surviving harsh climates. It is also said to help people adapt to the altitude and to thrive in harsh conditions, including severe cold, rugged terrain, low oxygen, strong sunlight, and intense winds. It’s commonly known as a nutrient-dense aphrodisiac; naturally rich in copper, vitamin C, potassium, plus trace elements like iodine, iron, zinc, fatty and amino acids. Learn more
Psychological: Stress Ignited from Depressive Moods
ALBIZZIA | The Tree of Eternal Happiness. Both the bark and the flowers have been traditionally used for hundreds of years as a calming sedative. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is used to anchor the spirit for those who struggle with worry, anxiety, confusion, and depression. The flowers have been used as a treatment for insomnia, amnesia, and melancholy. Albizzia is thought to enhance all aspects of neurotransmitter secretion and regulation, which is why some find it helpful as an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety supportive herb with no known side effects. Learn more
ASHWAGANDHA | Ashwagandha has been a popular Ayurvedic remedy for millennia. Ashwagandha may help to balance the hormones that contribute to anxiety. On one hand, it can fire up your body and give you energy when you’re feeling fatigued and burned out. On the other hand, it can also suppress stimulatory hormones when you’re strung out and stressed. It can also depress the central nervous system, inducing relaxation and aiding sleep. This is helpful for stress and anxiety disorders, which tend to involve two extremes of high stress and stimulation, combined with fatigue and adrenal exhaustion. Learn more
RHODIOLA | Rhodiola has been found through extensive clinical studies to have antidepressant properties by balancing neurotransmitters in the brain. Human-based clinical trials also demonstrated how Rhodiola reduced mental fatigue on stressful work-related tasks by 20% within a 20 day period. In another study, students experienced significantly reduced mental fatigue, improved sleep patterns, and increased motivation after a 20-day intake. Rhodiola is an essential staple as an energizing mental health aid. Learn more
MUCUNA | is a mood-boosting super herb with adaptogenic qualities. Mucuna is one of the only naturally occurring (and certainly most concentrated) sources of L-Dopa—as in dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that ignites brain performance, along with feelings of joy and bliss. Learn more
MILKY OAT | A soothing superfood for the nervous system and excellent trophorestorative, milky oat is a nourishing food that brings deep restoration. This remedy has been crafted for over 150 years by eclectic physicians as a tonic remedy to calm shattered nerves and relieve emotional instability, helping restore peace to an already burnt-out system in need of nutrient-dense recovery. Learn more
Environmental: Stress Ignited from Insomnia + Agitation
MULUNGU | Indigenous Amazonian peoples have used mulungu for centuries as a relaxant, for mental disorders (depression, anxiety, stress, panic, trauma, etc.), liver disorders, high blood pressure, and heart palpitations. Scientific studies demonstrate all of the indigenous uses were highly accurate, demonstrating significant pain-relief, antispasmodic, anti-convulsive, neuroprotective, and anti-inflammatory results.
KAVA KAVA | Kava is a hypnotic sedative used ceremonially for centuries by Polynesians, Hawaiians, and others. There are over 15 varieties of Hawaiian kava alone, and each one has its own qualities, flavors, and potencies. Research shows that kava root can be used to treat anxiety because it’s a nonaddictive and non-hypnotic anxiolytic. Kava is used to improve mood, ease anxiety, and boost sociability. It works by stimulating dopamine receptors and inducing euphoria. Learn more
We’re obsessed with Anima Mundi. Shop all of herblist, Adriana Ayeles’
top picks for stress + nervous system health HERE.
This story is brought to you in partnership with Anima Mundi. From time to time, TCM editors choose to partner with brands we believe in to bring our readers special offers. The Chalkboard Mag and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on The Chalkboard Mag is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programs.