Avoiding the straw that broke the camel’s back

Stress is part of life. We live in a fast-paced world, we place high demands on ourselves, and we have constant challenges with work, family, finances, politics–you name it! Typically we feel “stressed” when we don’t feel we have the energetic resources to match the obstacle we’re faced with.

There are many ways to manage our lives to decrease stress. We might compromise income for a less stressful job, for example. We can also try to live a healthier lifestyle, so that we can improve our body’s ability to cope with stress. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly are a great start. Practicing yoga or meditating can also help to put the world on pause for a moment.

It is very important to build stress management tools into our daily lives, because there is no magic bullet to give us endless energy and help us keep our cool no matter the circumstance. We are humans, not robots. That said, there is a category of herbs called adaptogens, that can support us during times of stress.

These herbs are known as adaptogens because they help to adjust the body’s stress response, much like a thermostat adjusts the temperature. There are many herbs in this category with a variety of specific effects, but they all help the body to better handle stress. Eleuthero (a.k.a. Siberian ginseng), ashwagandha, rhodiola, licorice, ginseng, holy basil, cordyceps, reishi, and maitake are all examples of these subtle, yet powerful herbs.

Much of the early research on adaptogens was done in the Soviet Union to help astronauts and Olympic athletes better cope with stress, thereby increasing stamina and improving performance. Many studies were also performed in China and Korea, most notably on the effects of ginseng.

In my practice, I don’t put everybody on adaptogens at all times, but I definitely find that my clients benefit from their use during higher stress times, hormonal transitions, and seasonal changes, among other reasons. They have the effect of normalizing energy, improving sleep and mood, strengthening immunity, and balancing hormones. All in all, they help the body to function better. My favorites include eleuthero, ashwagandha, rhodiola (more on those below), licorice, and medicinal mushroom blends.

If you’re in good health, but feel like one more thing might take you down, exploring the world of adaptogenic herbs might help. They may even give you enough energy to make it to a yoga class and cook a healthy meal.

My three top adaptogen picks


Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng, left) is perfect for someone who is overstressed, not sleeping enough, not getting enough exercise, and is eating too much unhealthy foods. It strengthens the immune system, decreases inflammation and improves physical and cognitive performance.


Ashwagandha is great for nervous exhaustion. It is calming, it improves sleep, and it reduces anxiety. It is also anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic.


Rhodiola is a rejuvenating tonic. It improves energy and cognitive function. It is especially helpful in treating depression and anxiety.