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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Adapting to Stress

 By: Erica Eddleman


"Where do I start?"

That’s the same question I asked myself over 11 years ago.  As a sophomore in college, I anxiously questioned the direction of my life.  There are many transitional moments in the course of our lifetimes that spark similar questions. "What do I want now?" "Why am I in this situation?" "How can I change things?" From such introspective moments we can often obtain the right answers.  And sometimes those answers may lead to an inspired life, which is exactly what happened to me.

After much study and practice in holistic health and wellness, I came to believe that in order to build an ideal life we must build a solid foundation, and the foundation we must invest in is in our health. I’m referring to our whole health, or wholeness, as the origin of the word denotes. The online etymology dictionary defines health as, "wholeness, a being whole, sound or well."

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Whole health or wholeness is more encompassing than what’s practiced in allopathic medicine. Wholeness is even more engaging than what an acupuncturist or naturopath can treat. True whole health requires the highest level of personal responsibility. It incorporates all of the dimensions of our being: physical, emotional, mental, energetic and spiritual. Whole health is the result of embodying whole consciousness, and that is a whole lot.

There are many systems that outline a path toward wholeness and you may already have a routine that works for you. Likely it may include exercise, meditation and a nutrition regimen, and, when followed diligently, it works.  However there are times when we are unable to apply our routine and there are times when maintaining healthful habits seem impractical.

Why? What happens then? Why are those times tougher than others? Does something get in our way?

That something is known as stress. It sounds like a mischievous goblin looking to sabotage everything that hard work builds. Think about it. When someone describes an obstacle, more often than not, stress is the culprit. Call it an invisible sidekick to adversity. Fortunately, stress isn’t a masked bandit running amuck, and we can better manage its impact on our lives.

For many of us, the word stress is somewhat ambiguous. Wikipedia states, "stress is how the body reacts to a stressor, real or imagined, a stimulus that causes stress."  According to another definition, stress relates to the pressure, pull, or other force exerted on one thing by another. The source of the tension is a stressor, and the quantity, quality and duration of the tension helps to categorize it as a specific type of stressor. To better understand stress, we need to take a closer look at the types of stressors:

  • Mental stressors—all mental illness, chronic unresolved issues, major life changes, overburdened with responsibility, self-image issues, and obsessive thinking
  • Emotional stressors—anger, rage, irritability, worry, anxiety, fear, fright, terror, depression, desire, lust, sadness, grief, and over-excitement
  • Physical stressors—too much strenuous activity such as overwork and too much exercise, physical trauma, starvation, medical issues, suffocation, alcohol and drug use, lack of sleep, illness, and child-birth
  • Environmental stressors—sudden changes in climate or exposure to severe climate conditions, electromagnetic waves (Wi-Fi networks), excessive exposure to sun, exposure to harmful microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, molds, and parasites), exposure to chemical toxins (pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, heavy metals, households and industrial chemicals); also, consumption of nutritionally deficient foods such as refined foods, irradiated foods, trans fats, caffeine and other stimulants
  • Spiritual stressors—loss of direction and life purpose
As we can see there are many kinds of stressors. Certainly, it is important to minimize our exposure to unnecessary stressors even though stressors are a part of life. Therefore our focus should be on how we process stress.  Our bodies metabolize stress in two different ways; either as helpful eustress, which is anabolic in nature (meaning it builds us up) or as destructive distress, which is catabolic (meaning it breaks us down). The old saying is true, "what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger."

Hans Selye outlined our stress response in more detail, and earned the nickname "the father of stress research." In his General Adaptation Syndrome, Selye delineates a sequence of reactions the body goes through when responding to a given stressor. First, in the alarm stage, we experience an internal alert where the body prepares for action with adrenaline and cortisol. This is commonly known as a fight-or-flight response. Next if the stressor persists, the body goes into the resistance stage. Here the body reallocates its primary force to deal with the stressor. This is the "cope and adapt…or else" stage. If the tension persists, then the body will fall into the exhaustion phase. This is the danger zone. In the exhaustion phase we are vulnerable to illness and weakness. Selye’s research proves that the key factor to our body’s survival is its ability to adapt. Our ability to adapt depends on our adaptive energy. He coined that phrase because in situations when our adaptive energy is high, we move through stress unscathed. But when our adaptive energy is low, all things can go wrong and likely do.

Bravo Hans! Good job.

The importance of adaptive energy has been a part of ancient wisdom for centuries. Adaptive energy is the same force that mystics and scholars realized is the foundation for spiritual growth, as well as physical health and well-being. They called it prana, ki or qi (sounds like chi). Because of its vital significance, sages of antiquity sought out ways of enhancing qi.  They found help through Mother Nature. There’s an actual solution—a group of rare botanicals that enhances adaptive energy more than anything else. These plants cultivated strong adaptive power because they grow and thrive in harsh conditions. When consumed, the body absorbs their extra adaptive power. In Chinese Medicine these plants are called tonic herbs for their tonifying effects. This group of herbs is also found within Ayurveda’s rasayan formulas for spiritual alchemy.  As fate would have it, these botanicals were rediscovered in the West in the 1940’s when Russian scientists unlocked their secret and named them adaptogens.  The Russians used adaptogens to help alleviate the distress their Olympic athletes experienced from over-training and they were also used as healing aids after the nuclear accident in Chernobyl. Their modern research proves that adaptogens have a unique ability to bring the body to homeostasis and lessen the effects of stress on a person, be it physical, emotional, mental or environmental stress.

These herbs are amazing.  Just take a look at some of these herbs and their benefits!

American Ginseng

By far the most popular adaptogen, Ginseng (pronounced "gin-sing") is considered the most lucrative legal crop in the world. Ginseng has been used for thousands of years to prevent an extraordinary amount of problems, from premature aging, to low libido, low energy and cancer. It can, to a certain extent, be supported with scientific research regarding its anti-carcinogenic and antioxidant properties. American Ginseng is the best variety of the ginsengs because of its neutral healing properties.


Astragalus has been considered one of the most potent immune tonics by ancient physicians and modern researchers alike. For over 2,000 years, it has been used for lifting the mood, strengthening muscles, increasing metabolism, reducing stress, and strengthening the body as a whole.


Atractylodes is a powerful energy tonic. Also, it is well-known for balancing the digestive system. It is widely used by athletes and those interested in weight loss because of its mild diuretic action, and ability to increase metabolism and vitality.


Cordyceps is renowned as a powerful energy and endurance tonic, because, it increases oxygen capacity, battles weakness and fatigue, and boosts lung function and capacity. Also, it strengthens the immune system and improves sexual vitality. Cordyceps is a superstar among the longevity tonics!


Gynostemma is the all-time stress-fighting botanical. Gynostemma calms the mind, eases tension in the body, and increases vitality and energy; plus, it acts as an anti-inflammatory and powerful immune tonic.


Licorice root has been used for thousands of years to rid the body of unwanted toxins, increase energy, and harmonize herbal formulations. It is one of the most commonly used adaptogens.

Fo Ti

Also called Polygonum Multiflorum Root, it has incredible rejuvenative effects. It is often used to bring about mental clarity and to invigorate the brain. However, its real claim to fame is its ability to restore youth to a tired, old body! In China, it is said to help return an aged person to youthfulness.

Reishi Mushroom

Reishi is one of the most powerful, potent tonic herbs known to man. It is an immune booster as well as a mood regulator. It is widely used among meditators for calming the mind and inducing expanded states of consciousness.

Shiitake Mushroom

Shiitake mushroom, one of the most highly prized botanicals of Chinese and Japanese herbalism, is used to improve energy, blood circulation, and strengthen the body as a whole.


Ancient physicians have used ashwagandha for everything from hiccups to cancer. No doubt it has impressive adaptogenic properties. This powerful herb is one of the best adaptogenic herbs for restoring homeostasis!


It is said that Lycium will brighten the eyes, promote happiness, and strengthen vitality, plus, it is a strong sexual tonic! In essence, it restores and builds the hormones that keep us vital and youthful!


The story goes that those who regularly took Rhodiola lived to see 100 years. Science has now proven this herb to have powerful longevity attributes, and helps control stressful situations that lead to chronic diseases. Rhodiola also has been observed by researchers to have a potent detoxing effect on the body’s systems.

Gotu Kola

Gotu Kola boosts the body’s energy reserves, thus strengthening the brain. This is why it is referred to as a brain tonic. This action of boosting the brain by revitalizing the body’s energy is known as the "secret of immortality."

Siberian Ginseng

Siberian Ginseng strengthens sexual performance, builds energy and stamina, and improves mental abilities. It was given its fame by Russian Olympians who used it to expedite the recovery process from over-training.

Adaptogens are my safety net or insurance policy. They help me stay in control of my reaction to stress and with their help I avoid the desperate choices that I could make because of exhaustion. And most often they provide a boost of energy and mental clarity.

We are fortunate to have access to these herbs with the click of a mouse. In the book, Adaptogens; Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, by Winston and Maimes, multi-herb formulas are recommended for the harmonizing and boosting effects. Though single herb preparations are fine, a wide array of adaptogens in a single combination prove to be more powerful and balanced. Because these herbs primarily restore balance in the body they are safe to take on a regular, long-term basis, unlike treatment-oriented formulas.

Supplementing with adaptogens is the easiest step I’ve taken to build an ideal life. Of the many choices available, my personal favorite adaptogenic product is ShenTrition. I think it is the most powerful and effective.

Do yourself a favor and take these herbs regularly! Safeguard your health and growth with adaptogens.

From her background as a dancer, qi gong and martial arts practitioner, Erica is a natural movement therapist. She built on her bachelors in health science by studying personal training, massage therapy, energy medicine, general nutrition and wellness therapies. Her goal is to empower others with the know-how and passion to live life whole.
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