Science & Health

Adaptogens for Stress Relief

Medicinal mushrooms, also known as adaptogens, have numerous benefits in supporting reduced stress and anxiety

Min read
Cori Sue Morris
January 22, 2023

And 5 common conditions related to stress

We don’t often think about this: stress can have a major impact on health. While we’re drinking our weight in green juice and spending hours on the Peleton, how often do we stop and just spend a few minutes relieving stress? We’ll be the first to admit that we don’t pay as much attention to stress as we do our other health markers. And experts believe this could be a big mistake. Stress may play a major role in other health conditions and may not only decrease our quality of life — but it could also shorten our lifespans.  Discover the five common conditions related to stress and the best adaptogens for stress relief. 

How Does Stress Affect Health?

Stress can affect your health in so many different ways. Not only can stress and anxiety reduce your quality of life and lead to attention problems and mood disorders, but stress can also lead to chronic conditions and increase your risk of heart disease. While there’s no hard evidence that supports a link between stress and cancer, some studies show that stress may cause a recurrence of cancer.  

Stress responses, such as the release of cortisol and adrenaline happen when our bodies’ fight-or-flight mode is activated. And constantly living in a state of fight or flight isn’t healthy. Stress may even cause autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Stress can lead to sleep issues, such as insomnia or unrestful sleep (waking during the night or not entering deep sleep modes). If you can’t get a good night’s sleep, you’re more likely to suffer from hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke. It can affect your health on both a physiological level and a mental level. 

Does Stress Lead to More Stress?

When you’re stressed, it’s easy to get caught in a cycle of stress leading to more stress. Not only can stressors, such as work, kids, and responsibilities cause stress — but stress itself can even stress you out! Talk about a Catch-22.  Has anyone ever told you to, “Stop stressing,” or, “calm down” before? How well did that work out?  When we’re trying to stop stressing, it’s easy to get even more stressed out, and it can feel practically impossible to get out of fight-or-flight mode, simply because the act of doing so can be a stressful task in itself. And to make matters even worse, chronic stress can lead to both mental and physical chronic conditions. 

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Chronic Conditions Related to Stress

Chronic stress can even lead to more chronic conditions. When you’re stressed, your body preserves its energy and shuts down non-essential functions. During this time, your system is essentially waiting for the stressful situation (and the stress itself) to pass before resuming its regularly scheduled program. This means that normally essential functions, such as paying attention, sleep, digestion, recovery, and more, may be put on the back burner until the stress subsides. 

Attention Problems

Have you ever struggled to pay attention to something when you’re stressed out? Even a new episode of RHONY can’t keep your attention when your mind is otherwise occupied with a stressful situation. Both stress and anxiety can lead to attention problems and exacerbate attention disorders, such as ADHD. 


Anxiety and stress are two conditions that are often confused for one another. We even use these two words interchangeably. Stress is a physical or mental response caused by external triggers and anxiety is a response caused by internal triggers. Both anxiety and stress have similar symptoms, including increased heart rate, “butterflies”, physical pain, tension, insomnia, and more.  

Mood Disorders

Stress can also lead to mood disorders, such as depression. Since your body releases adrenaline and cortisol when you’re stressed out, your body can become overly flooded with these hormones. Too much of them can lead to depression (studies show that depressed people are more likely to have lower serotonin levels and higher cortisol levels).


When you’re stressed, your body’s parasympathetic system cannot activate. This system is in charge of rest and repair. When you can’t sleep or suffer from poor sleep quality, you’re more likely to feel tired and fatigued throughout the day. It also takes a lot of energy for your body to remain in fight-or-flight mode all the time. Chronic stress may lead to fatigue or even chronic fatigue. 

Autoimmune Disorders

Chronic stress, if not addressed, can even lead to immune dysregulation. 80% of patients with immune disorders report stress as a common factor before experiencing disease symptoms. 

Autoimmune disorders include diseases such as:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Lupus
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Psoriasis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Type-1 diabetes 

Stress can trigger symptoms or worsen existing symptoms. 

Best Adaptogens for Stress Relief

All adaptogens may be able to reduce stress. Ashwagandha and reishi are the two adaptogens that have been tested the most for stress relief and these two are considered the heavy-weight adaptogen champions when it comes to easing stress. Yet, there is a long list of adaptogens that may help manage stress — and ease a host of other stress-related chronic conditions. 


Ashwagandha is like the grand matriarch of adaptogens. If you only take one, this is the one you may want to opt for. In several studies, patients reported feeling less stress, depression, and anxiety after taking ashwagandha for two months.  


All adaptogens are used to repair the HPA axis, but some also serve other purposes, too. Another adaptogen for stress relief, reishi is also used to help boost the immune system.  


If you’re constantly feeling like you need extra energy (who doesn’t feel this way? We want names), you may want to try cordyceps. This mushroom is used to boost both immunity and energy. 


Turmeric has been used for hundreds of years to boost immunity. It’s used in soups, stews, and other dishes as a natural defender. It’s an anti-inflammatory and may have antidepressant properties, too. 


Another immune booster, Chaga is used in teas to fight infection and disease. It may also help ease stress, and it contains a long list of vitamins and minerals.  

How do Adaptogens Reduce Stress?

All adaptogens are good for managing stress — both short-term and long-term. Adaptogens work to repair the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), which is also known as the “stress stem”. When our bodies are in constant fight-or-flight mode, this stress stem can become damaged. “The biological effects of glucocorticoids are usually adaptive; however, inadequate or excessive activation of the HPA axis may contribute to the development of pathologies.” Adaptogens have been shown to repair the HPA axis over time as well as ease stress in a variety of immediate ways. While all adaptogens are used to reduce stress, each one also has its own benefits.

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About the Author

Cori Sue Morris

Cori Sue is the founder & CEO of Retreat. She’s a recovering journalist and serial entrepreneur, having started, scaled and sold a media company, Bitches Who Brunch, and a marketing agency. She loves mushrooms, microdosing, empowered women, and helping others.

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