[UPDATE 14 APRIL 2020: With the onset of COVID-19 and the related Social Distancing and business closures, the information in this post seems more relevant than ever! Scroll down to the middle of the article for a downloadable pdf #stayathome #stopthespread]
I don’t know about you, but one of the biggest challenges I’m facing lately is managing the stress in my life. This may surprise you, because I have a lot of experience with energy work, follow a daily exercise routine, and eat really healthy. Isn’t that enough? Well, for the most part it is, but there are still times when I need a little extra support.
As someone who rarely takes anything other than my daily supplements, I prefer using a few key herbs when the stress gets high enough to start affecting my daily life. I also incorporate a few of these herbs into my every day regimen to keep stress at bay.
What is Stress?
Stress abounds these days, and it’s not just coming from the sudden news of acts of terrorism or devastating natural disasters. The fast pace of our daily lives and constantly being “plugged in” adds a certain amount of chronic stress that also affects us physically, mentally, and emotionally.
You may have heard reference to the “fight or flight” response – essentially the human body’s way of dealing with an onslaught of external stimuli that it somehow perceives the need for protection from. These stimuli cause the production of the “stress hormone” cortisol (referred to in Psychology Today as “Public Enemy No. 1”) by the adrenal glands. If stimulated too often or in too large a quantity, it can become difficult for the body to regulate this response and the body remains in a state of heightened “stress”.
The Power of Adaptogens
Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants that balance, restore and protect the body and make it easier to handle stress by regulating hormones and physiological functions.
The list of herbs below are some you may want to consider to help normalize your body’s reaction to stress. These herbal remedies are known to target this stress response, allowing the body to return to a state of calm naturally.
Most can be taken either as a supplement or as a tea. With the upcoming holiday season, you can find an excellent recipe for ABUNDANT ENERGY HOT CHOCOLATE MIX WITH SUPER HERBS here, which uses several of these herbs to create a tasty and relaxing beverage.
Ginseng (American Ginseng, Panax quinquefolius, L. and Asian Ginseng, P. Ginseng, main active constituents: ginsenosides, also called ginseng saponins)
Both American Ginseng and Asian Ginseng are believed to provide an energy boost, lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, reduce stress, promote relaxation, treat diabetes, and treat sexual dysfunction in men.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera, Family: Solanaceae or nightshade family, main active constituents: alkaloids and other phytochemicals)
Known to encourage healthy response to environmental stresses, ease the effects of temporary everyday life changes, promote an overall feeling of well-being, and support the body as it ages.
Maca (Lepidium meyenii, Plant Family: Brassicacea, main active constituents: acyclic keto acid, keto alkyloids)
Known for its anti-stress effects among other adaptogenic and nutritive benefits.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea, Plant Family: Crassulaceae, main active constituents: cinnamic alcohol, chlorogenic acid, rhodiooctanoside, rosiridin, rosavin and the phenolic compounds salidroside, rhodiolin in addition to a novel compound consisting of viridoside with an attached arabinose unit)
Known to promote a healthy response to stress.
Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum L., Family: Lamiaceae, main active constituents: contains many biologically active phytochemicals with variable proportions)
Also known as Tulsi, Holy Basil is mentioned in the ancient texts of Ayurveda as an “elixir of life” (life-saving) herb and worshipped for over 3000 years due to its healing properties, it has many health benefits including regulation of serum cortisol levels.
Cocoa (Theobroma cacao, also called the cacao tree and the cocoa tree, Family: Malvaceae, main active constituents: serotonin, tryptophan, tyrosine and phenylethylamine, antioxidants, calcium and magnesium)
With it’s abundance of antioxidants and mood elevating chemical components, cocoa is an excellent natural remedy to combat stress.
Trouble Getting to Sleep?
Taking a nice warm bath has its benefits to helping us relax and get to sleep. When that's not enough, Kava and Valerian are two herbs known for their calming effects and may be just what you need to help you get to sleep naturally. (see cautions below)
Kava (Piper methysticum, family: Piperaceae, main active constituent: kavalactones) is known to calm the nerves, ease the effects of mild tension and stress, promote relaxation and sleep, support muscle relaxation.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis, family: Valerianaceae , main active constituents: iridoids - known as valepotriates, an essential oil, and cyclopentane sesquiterpenes including valerenic acid) is known to support nervous system health, promote relaxation and encourage sleep, and ease the effects of temporary or occasional stress.
SPECIAL CAUTIONS FOR KAVA AND VALERIAN:
KAVA - It’s very important that you take every precaution if choosing to use kava in any form. If you’re pregnant, breast-feeding or using any prescription medication, please avoid taking kava and make sure to check with your doctor prior to making any decision about kava. There is concern that it might affect the uterus.
If you have symptoms of depression, kava use may make depression worse. Because kava affects the central nervous system, it might increase the effects of anesthesia and other medications used during and after surgery. If you use kava, you should stop using it at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
It’s also important to consider dosage. The appropriate dose of kava depends on several factors, such as the user’s age, health and overall condition. Natural products need to be reviewed with your doctor and pharmacist before using.
VALERIAN - Valerian should only be used for two to three weeks, followed by a break of the same duration. Continual use can cause depression and headaches in some people. Another caution: In a small percentage of the population, valerian has the opposite effect – it can cause agitation, giddiness, restlessness, and sleeplessness. Just be aware, in case you’re one of the approximately 5 – 7%. Avoid using valerian with small children, and for those over 65, start with very small amounts.
More Natural Remedies for Stress
Looking for more ways to reduce stress & anxiety? This article by Dr. Axe, 8 Natural Stress Relievers to Try Now gives you more ways to combat stress, including yoga, meditation/prayer, acupuncture, diet, behavioral therapy, getting outdoors, keeping a journal, and deep breathing exercises.
What to Avoid when Stressed
Just as the above herbs and essential oils are known to relieve stress, other foods and compounds are known to make it worse. Avoid over-indulging in caffeine, alcohol, and sugar when you are trying to overcome stressful periods in your life. Although they may be first of mind when we are suddenly faced with a stressful situation, the short-term mood elevating effects are temporary and will inevitably lead to an even bigger crash in mood and energy.
We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products and/or essential oils, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.
Natural Wellness, Inspiring Creativity
Susan Heidi Filardo
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After a great deal of research, I decided on studying Clinical Herbalism with the Herbal Academy of New England to enrich my knowledge of the production and use of herbal products.
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