When we look at stress in relationship to other lifestyle issues such as diet and exercise, stress will always be the trump card. Our genes are not designed for a fast-paced, modern lifestyle. They are used to and require longer periods of recovery. This allows us a chance to “reset,” helping us adapt to our external stressors more efficiently instead of having them wage war on us.
Our bodies have another set of genes that help us adapt to the stressors in our environment. These are collectively known as the gut microbiome. When under a prolonged stress response, the composition and function of our gut bacteria become altered, leaving us less able to adapt. Although it seems rather odd that a group of intestinal microbes could have that much of a collective effect on our perceived stress, they really do exert a powerful influence on our body as a whole.
When laboratory rats are placed into a stressful environment for an extended period of time, they show greater difficulty dealing with non-stressful circumstances that were previously not a problem. Their sleep patterns become disrupted and they display greater irritability towards the rodents around them. Maybe rodents don’t mind a cranky cage-mate but we humans don’t appreciate it at all.
If you are feeling a bit on edge, cranky and not able to manage your emotions as well as you would like, your poorly adapted gut bacteria may be at fault. Or, it could just be that you’ve effectively worn-out your stress handling system, making it feel impossible to maintain a normal life. Fatigue, anxiety, irregular sleep patterns and even digestive issues can all be signs of a taxed system. We often blame the adrenal glands for all this dysfunction and although they may be part of the problem, the bigger culprit might just be your overworked and underpaid stress-handling system.
The answer lies in a simple class of herbs known as adaptogens. These provide us with the phytochemical tools to alter and restore our body’s response to stress. In essence, it gives us, and our genes, a much needed break so we can rest and recover. Regardless of whether you think you have too much cortisol or not enough, adaptogens can exert an incredible effect on restoring a normalized stress response. They can have a profound effect on normalizing sleep, maintaining stable mood, enhancing mental clarity, improving energy and providing a greater sense of vitality and well-being.