Stress impacts every living organism on our planet, and humans are certainly no exception. There are different types of stress, including physiological (think: getting chased by a lion) and psychological (think: losing a loved one), but the impact on the body on a biochemical level is the same. Unfortunately, we live in a busy society when being under chronic stress is normal. There are many stressors that one may not even consider, but do have a negative effect on the body. These include toxicity from pesticides, pollution, and cosmetics; artificial light sources from electronics, fluorescent lighting, and LED’s; food sensitivities; and the busy, non-stop, often chaotic lifestyle many working individuals and parents endure.
A few primary hormones are involved in the body’s stress response, including cortisol and adrenaline. When these hormones are produced by the adrenal glands, our body goes into “fight or flight” mode in preparation to deal with the source of acute stress. This is an important response from an evolutionary standpoint. However, when stress is chronic and the body overproduces cortisol, problematic symptoms arise. Anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, inflammation, and fatigue are amongst the most common symptoms of chronic stress.
Cortisol also plays an important role in our body’s sleep-wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm. Cortisol production should peak in the morning, waking us up, and providing a sense of alertness and energy upon waking. Cortisol should be lower in the evening and throughout the night. However, if our circadian rhythm is disrupted or our adrenal glands produce cortisol at the wrong time, cortisol can spike before or during sleep, interfering with the onset of sleep or waking us throughout the night.
There are some foundational steps to help support the body’s stress response and better cope with daily stressors, which in turn, benefit sleep, mood, and energy. These include regular connection to nature (think: barefoot walks, gardening, forest bathing), ample daily movement and regular exercise, and eating a nutrient dense diet based on whole foods. Restoring specific nutrients, such as vitamin C, B vitamins, and magnesium, all of which are depleted under stress, will help with relaxation and energy production.
Adaptogenic herbs such as Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha, and rhodiola help to support the adrenal glands, lower cortisol production, and support energy and focus. Another consideration for adrenal support is supplementation of adrenal cortex. Adrenal cortex is the extract of adrenal gland from an animal source, and works on the ancestral wisdom of “like supports like”, nourishing and aiding the function of our own adrenals.
Nervine herbs such as lemon balm, passionflower, and valerian are beneficial for calming nervousness and anxiety, and aiding in the onset of sleep. Melatonin, a hormone that triggers the onset of sleep, can be increased naturally by consuming 1 Tbsp of raw honey, or a small glass of black cherry juice. Melatonin can also be supplemented.
Lifestyle factors play the biggest role in supporting our body’s stress response, sleep cycles, and optimizing energy production. Managing stress is first priority, followed by movement, diet, and meditation. Adding supplementation into a stress management protocol can help improve symptoms of chronic stress and burnout, increase energy, and improve sleep quality.