How Adaptogens Relieve Stress

mushroom adaptogens

I’ve been thinking about stress a lot lately and experiencing way more of it like everyone else on the planet. With a pandemic in full swing, we’re all having to change our lives around dramatically. That in itself is stressful but on top of this, we’ve got lots more on our plates to make life even more stressful.

Parents are coping with working from home while also being full-time homeschool teachers. Family members may have moved in, crowding the living space. Extra work for cooking and cleaning has been created by so much at-home-ness. The list just goes on and on. Plenty to stress about without even getting started on our health!

Stress vs. Anxiety

The state of stress can sneak up onyou. It’s not like anxiety, which makes itself well known as it gnaws in your gut. Although you can be both anxious and stressed at the same time, you probably pay a lot more attention to the anxious feelings than you do to the more subtle overall sense of being under stress.

People around you may perceive that you’re stressed before you realize it. They see the shortness of your temper, the irritability, the tenseness of your face. I personally found myself realizing I was much more stressed than I fully comprehended and I began tracking the symptoms. Tense shoulders, tired eyes from staring at screens, uptight reactions, panic around taking care of everything, and maybe worst of all, an inability to really think clearly.

If you can’t change the things that are causing you stress on a day-to day-basis, what can you do to reduce it?

The answer is, you can rely on adaptogens, the herbs and mushrooms that support the body in adapting to stress, to help you stay calm and keep out of the high stress zone. Let’s look at what adaptogens do in your body to reset your stress levels.

First Things First ~ What Are Adaptogens?

It all started with Russian scientists in the 1950’s researching what herbs would help their Olympic athletes and their cosmonauts adapt to stress under extreme conditions while producing health benefits like increasing their endurance and enhancing their immune systems.

Here’s the definition of “adaptogen” that has evolved since those days for the term they created:

Adaptogens are herbs and mushrooms that increase resistance to stress, whether the cause is physical, chemical or biological.  They have a non-specific normalizing effect on the body’s physical systems by strengthening the immune system, the nervous system and the glandular system. Adaptogens also enhance the body’s ability to recover after exercise, to reduce fatigue and increase cognitive function. They may be taken on a continuous basis without causing any harm.

The Three Stages of Stress

When you’re first succumbing to stress, your body enters the “fight or flight” response. Your adrenal glands pump out cortisol and other stress hormones to heighten the feeling of being energized by increased mental alertness while your liver floods your blood with glucose for quick energy. If you’ve read my newsletter for a while, you’ll know that caffeine stimulates this stress response too. At the same time, your body pulls energy away from your digestion and immune system so you can prepare to fight off an enemy or run from danger.

Hans Seyle, a Canadian researcher and medical doctor, identified three stages of stress he called the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). The first stage is the alarm stage when you initially react to stress and are in the fight-or-flight response. The second stage is the resistance stage when your body tries to adapt to the stressful state. Cortisol will stay elevated in your blood stream, increasing the duration of stress, which begins to affect your mood and your body. Your blood pressure may remain elevated, you may be irritable and have poor concentration. You are quickly frustrated and various muscles remains tense.

If you remain in the resistance stage too long, you enter the third stage of stress, which is the exhaustion stage. This is when you feel burnt-out, exhausted all the time and your mood may be anxious or depressed. Your immune system is depressed too which puts you at risk for developing an illness or chronic health condition.  Prolonged stress may cause heart disease, strokes, digestive problems, insomnia and weight gain.

Adaptogens & Cortisol, The Stress Hormone

One of the standard tests for evaluating an herb or mushroom to determine if it qualifies to be an adaptogen is to test whether or not its continuous use will normalize the adrenal gland’s production of cortisol. The battle to maintain optimal cortisol levels is the key to relieving stress.

Although the mechanism that adaptogens use to support the body in relieving stress isn’t well understood, they seem to normalize the balance between the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the fight-or-flight response, and the parasympathetic nervous system which stimulates the body to “rest-and-digest”. Thus, if you have too little cortisol, adaptogens will support the adrenals in producing more whereas if your adrenals are producing too much cortisol, they will help its production come back into balance.

Studies also look at the ability to perform better on cognitive tests when under stressful conditions in order to determine the ability of an herb or mushroom to support a better response to stress.


The first herb Russian scientists were studying when they developed the term ”adaptogen”. Originally known as Siberian ginseng, eleuthero is a member of the same botanical family as ginseng. Russian studies showed it to have many of the same health benefits as ginseng such as increased endurance, lowered stress response and support for the immune system.


Asia’s Mushroom ofLongevity has been renowned for 2000 years for its strengthening effects on health so much so that it was believed that consuming reishi mushrooms helped prolong life. Its antioxidants and polysaccharides are some of the active ingredients thought to support stress reduction.


Considered a tonic herb in Asia, astragalus is often added to soups to help prevent illness and strengthen vitality. Animal studies show that astragalus improves cognitive performance such as memory and learning as well as reducing anxiety under stressful conditions.



Revered in India for over 5,000 years, Tulsi has been well studied for its effects on reducing stress whether from physical, psychological, metabolic or chemical stressors. Animal studies show that tulsi optimizes physical endurance, improves cognitive performance under stress, and human studies have shown results for mood improvement and reduction of stress scores.




Growing in the northern most climate of Siberia where cold temperatures subject plants to stress, rhodiola has shown the ability to improve the response to stress. Human studies show rhodiola can reduce fatigue associated with burn-out, uplift mood and relieve anxiety while improving mental performance.

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1 comment

I had no idea! After surviving a severe and life-threatening brain injury, I have changed my approach to life and art, of which Teeccino has been a major part!

Jennifer Lyn Nightingale

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