Tonight you'll meditate. You really will. Tomorrow, you'll figure out a way to fit in that yoga class, between getting your kids to school and making it to work on time. This week, you'll start inching toward that elusive "work/life" balance you keep reading about, keep a positive attitude, and work in plenty of "me time" without neglecting any responsibilities. Really, you will. If you're like a lot of us, you tell yourself things like this every day but still struggle to make it all fit. You wonder: Who are these people anyway, who eat only home-cooked vegan, organic meals, get regular massages, meditate daily, work, raise their kids, and still find time to blog about how they "have it all"? Who are these people who reach for their yoga mats in times of stress? The only things you feel like reaching for is a sugary snack, a cigarette, or a glass of wine. You're not alone. Most of my day is spent assisting patients in finding ways to create some calm in their lives that can seem full to the point of bursting. When I ask them if they feel "wired and tired" the response is usually enthusiastic and immediate: "Yes, that's exactly how I feel!" People come to our clinic seeking relief for a variety of health challenges: digestive concerns, musculoskeletal pain, immune issues, hormone imbalances, chronic fatigue, etc. We spend significant time discussing contributing factors, which are often stress, nutrition, and lifestyle issues. If you were a fly on the wall in the clinic, you'd hear discussions of strategies on how to reduce chronic stress and how to create a more balanced and fulfilling life all day long. Over the past 20 years of practice, I've noticed a dramatic increase in how patients rate how stressful they perceive their lives. I've also witnessed an increase of more young people looking for ways to balance lives that seem unmanageable. Along with it, the number of people on antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs has skyrocketed. We see a huge boom in spas, yoga centers, wellness centers, life coaches, and so on. It seems like being "crazy busy" has become a badge of honor rather than being "balanced," and people are desperately seeking a way out of the chaos.
The people I see know there's a problem. In fact, they're often burdened with guilt and self-judgment: "I know I should meditate. I know I should drink more water. I know I should exercise." And that's before I've even asked.
Ironically, some of these people are so stressed that the idea of trying to get to a yoga class or learning to meditate is too much to handle. They are the people that often go into the deepest states of relaxation when they receive an acupuncture treatment. They are people seeking relief but are paradoxically too stressed to make healthy choices to find relief.
In the long run, lifestyle changes and better habits are the key to reducing stress. But for those of us who might not be able to become yogis or yoginis tomorrow, fortunately there are herbal formulas found in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine that can provide relief from these chronically-heightened stressful states. Often when relief from stress is provided, patients are encouraged and able to start making better lifestyle choices.
Herbs that are used to support a healthy stress response are often referred to as tonic herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine, rasayanas within the Ayurvedic medicine tradition, and more recently, the term "adaptogen" has been used to describe this category of herbs.
An Alternative to Red Bull: An introduction to Adaptogenic Herbs
"Adaptogens" are a group of herbs that seem custom-made for our stressed out times. By definition, adaptogens are "non-specific," so rather than targeting one particular symptom or part of the body, like much of Western medication, they increase your resistance overall against physical, chemical and biological stressors. They're non-habit forming, even when taken over long periods of time and, most importantly, they are normalizing -- they create balance in the body without negatively influencing any particular body system at the expense of another. Basically, adaptogenic herbs are to stress what a hot bowl of homemade soup is to a cold, rainy day -- relaxing and yet restorative and, in short, just what the doctor ordered.
Herbs used to restore a healthy stress response are traditionally prepared as formulas, not taken as individual herbs. As an introduction to this fascinating subject, here are seven of my favorite adaptogenic herbs often used in such formulas and some basic info on how they can help you relax and recharge:
Note: When using herbs, please consult a licensed healthcare provider trained in their use. Some herbs are not compatible with medications. To learn more about the subject of adaptogens, I recommend an excellent book on the subject: "Adaptogens for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes."
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