If you've ever been under sustained stress, especually work stress (and if you haven't, please tell us your secret), you know how fatiguing it can be. The bad news about stress is that there isn't an off switch in sight. Among participants in a 2006 survey conducted by ComPsych, a human resources firm, 55% reported high stress levels, with 33% saying that they missed three to six days a year with stress-related issues. And it would be hard to believe that anything has imroved since then, especially in today's turbulent economy.
Why is stress so tiring? Blame the adrenal glands , which respond to stress by producing hormones that put all the body's systems on high alert. That works just fine when stress is intense but short-lived, such as having to swerve away from a head-on collision. When stress is constant, however the adrenal glands just keep churning out hormones-until they finally give up in exaustion.
Getting a grip on stress requires being aware of what challanges you. "Identify the stresses to which you are particularly vulnerable and figure out if you can do anything about them
," says Erika Schwartz, MD, author of Natural Energy (Putnam). Learn to let go of things you can't do anything about. Scwartz says to put troublesome issues into a mental drawer-and then shut the drawer.
Traditional healers the world over use adaptogenic plants to nourish the adrenal glands and bring the body back into healthy balance. The most famous of these herbs, Panax ginseng, also known as Korean or red ginseng, is known for increasing stamina and endurance, while American ginseng provides gentler stimulation. Ashwaganda, used in India's Ayurvedic medicine, is known to both fight stress and promote a sense of calm. Siberia has produced two first-rate adaptogens: Eleuthero has increased physical and mental performance under stress in numerous studies and rhodiola has shown an ability to fight both depression and the effects of aging. Aromatherapy also uses herbs, in the form of essental oils, to fight the effects of stress. Such calming scents-which include lavender, orange, lemon and ylang-ylang-can be either diffused into the air or used in massage therapy, itself an ideal stress-buster.
In addition to herbs, certain vitamins and minerals help support proper adrenal function. "Vitamin C is an extremely important anti-stress nutrient that can help decrease the fatigue symptoms that often accompany excessive levels of anxiety and stress," says natural medicine authority Susan Lark, MD, author of The Chemistry of Success (Bay Books). She says that C "is critical for the structural support of the small arteries and veins in the adrenal glands." Lark also recommends calcium, taken at night with its mineral partner magnesium, to soothe emotional irrability and to promote restful sleep.