People often use the words ‘stress' and 'anxiety’ interchangeably, but they actually mean different things. What is Anxiety? and How Can it be Alleviated Naturally?
Stress is the body’s natural and protective response to a potential danger. It puts the body into a heightened state of awareness to keep it out of harm’s way.
Unfortunately, stress is difficult to avoid these days; we all lead hectic lives and stress has become a part of everyday life. The most common sources of stress for most people are work related - huge work loads, and the balancing of long work hours with the wants and needs of family life; not to mention the burdens of health, relationship problems, and money related matters.
Stress is not necessarily always a bad thing though. In small doses it can actually be a good, helping us to perform well under pressure and keeping us motivated. Stress can occur with feelings of anger, sadness, or even when we are happy and excited. It is when stress becomes constant and prolonged that we run the risk of developing anxiety and causing damage to our health and quality of life.
Anxiety is a general term used for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry.
When you’re feeling anxious, the same ‘fight or flight’ response as caused by stress is also evoked triggering a release of ‘stress’ hormones, namely cortisol, which causes your heart rate and breathing to increase, your muscles to tense, and blood flow to be diverted away from your digestion to your brain and muscles. It can also make you feel nauseous, light-headed, and may cause frequent urination and diarrhoea in some people. While the acute regulation of stress is an important protective mechanism, there are a series of downsides to constantly feeling anxious with persistently high levels of circulating cortisol.
High cortisol levels in the body has an immunosuppressive effect leaving you more vulnerable to illness and infections. It can impact your digestive health by reducing the production of stomach acids, and can disrupt gut flora. Constant high levels of cortisol can also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, it can affect women’s menstrual cycle and fertility, and can increase your risk of osteoporosis by increasing calcium in the blood.
Fortunately nature has provided us with some highly effective natural medicines that can help alleviate anxiety, by calming the nervous system, and lowering cortisol levels.
Withania (Withania somnifera), also known as Ashwagandha, is a popular Ayuverdic herb that is a highly effective ‘adaptogen’. Withania is used widely by herbalists to improve the body’s resistance to stress along with strengthening the immune system. Withania supports adrenal health and calms the nervous system, making it beneficial for alleviating anxiety in people who feel stressed, strung-out, and exhausted. Try Bodhi Organic ViridiTEA
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a well know herb used by herbalist today to treat insomnia and sleeping difficulties, due to its mild sedative and tranquillising effect. This herb helps you fall asleep without making you feel groggy the next morning, unlike pharmaceutical equivalents. Valerian is also an effective treatment for anxiety as it helps sustain levels of the calming neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. Try Bodhi Organic TranquiliTEA
B Vitamins are important nutrients for helping maintain emotional and mental health. B vitamins are needed for proper nervous system function and for the production of energy from food. B vitamins are considered one of the most important ‘anti-stress’ nutrients, helping to relieve anxiety. Niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6) and folic acid (B9) all work alongside tryptophan to produce serotonin, our feel good neurotransmitter. Foods rich in B vitamins include legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, green leafy veggies, eggs, chicken, red meat, and milk. A diet high in refined grains and processed foods will be lacking these important mood enhancing B vitamins.
Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis) is a lemon-scented herb and member of the mint family that has been long used for its soothing medicinal qualities and aromatic properties. The Arabs in the 11th century introduced lemon balm as a remedy for depression and anxiety. They believed it caused the mind and heart to be merry. Today lemon balm is popular among herbalists for treating insomnia and anxiety-related conditions, including nervous gastrointestinal complaints such as indigestion, nervous dyspepsia and nausea. Lemon balm has a sedative and calming effect on the nervous system. Try Bodhi Organic SereniTEA
Chamomile (Matricaria Recutita) has been used for centuries for its wonderful calming and anti-inflammatory properties, where it has been used in the treatment of insomnia and nervous complaints. Chamomile has a mild sedative action helping to promote a sense of calmness, which eases anxiety, along with inducing restful sleep. Chamomile is also specific for treating digestive problems associated with anxiety including nervous dyspepsia, IBS, diarrhoea, constipation and nausea. Try Bodhi Organic SereniTEA.
Reduce Caffeine: Millions of people rely on their morning coffee hit to kick start their day. Many say caffeine is addictive because it boosts energy levels and makes them feel more alert. Caffeine is naturally found in certain leaves, seeds, and fruits. The most common sources in our diet are coffee, tea, cocoa beans, soft drink, energy drinks and in some medications and weight loss supplements. Caffeine stimulates your fight or flight response, stimulating the production of stress hormones, namely cortisol, which gives you a temporary boost in energy levels, but can also contribute to levels of anxiety, irritability, muscle tension, weakened immunity and insomnia. Caffeine also inhibits the neurotransmitter GABA, which can make you feel more anxious. Caffeine can also inhibit the absorption of the hormone adenosine, needed to give us a sense of calmness, which can contribute to sleeping problems.
Better choices are caffeine-free calming herbal teas or if you love your coffee, stick to just one. Given that caffeine can stay in your system for 8 or more hours, don’t drink coffee or caffeine-containing teas after 2pm so that it won’t disturb your sleep. If you make the switch to decaffeinated coffee make sure its water, not chemically, filtered.
Passionflower (Passiflora Incarnata) is used for its sedative and anxiety relieving properties. Passionflower helps calm and support the nervous system, making it extremely beneficial for calming restlessness and nervous tension. Passionflower is also the herb of choice for treating insomnia, as it aids the transition into restful sleep without the side effects of sleeping tablets. According to the University of Maryland Medical Centre, studies have found that passionflower can be equally as effective as benzodiazepine drugs to improve anxiety. Try Bodhi Organic TranquiliTEA
Magnesium is an essential mineral vital for good health and vitality. Magnesium is needed for many cellular functions in the body, particularly for energy production. Magnesium is considered the ‘anti-stress’ nutrient as it helps to calm and support the nervous system making it beneficial for anxious and worn out people. Magnesium is also useful for people who find difficulty in sleeping. Magnesium deficiencies are associated with fatigue, weakness, twitching and muscle cramps, and a predisposition to anxiety and insomnia. Magnesium occurs abundantly in whole foods. People who consume large amounts of processed refined foods will risk becoming deficient in this important mineral. Best dietary sources include: tofu, legumes, seeds (flaxseeds, pepitas, sesame), nuts (cashews, peanuts, almonds), whole grains (oats, barley, millet, quinoa), wheat bran, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach. Take a magnesium supplement that also contains calcium, recommended dosage is 600-1000 mg of elemental magnesium daily.
By Lisa Guy, naturopath and founder of Bodhi Organic Tea.