According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, affecting 40 million adults or 18% of the population. As a result, many people have become reliant on prescription drugs such as Xanax or Valium that come with a long list of side-effects.
However, powerful herbs already exist in nature that can protect against burnout and chronic anxiety. This article will highlight some of the best herbs you can use, and how to use them on a daily basis. Keep in mind that using herbal medicine is simpler than most people think – for example, you can reap all the benefits of natural anti-anxiety tea by drinking 1-2 cups of organic powdered green tea!
Warning Signs of Chronic Stress
The tricky thing about anxiety and chronic stress is that sometimes we don’t even realize it has it’s compounding effects until it’s too late and we’re completely burnt out. If any of these signs sound like you, it’s time to starting taking action with the 3-step plan further below.
Jaw clenching and nighttime teeth grinding (TMJ issues)
Really terrible PMS or menstrual cramps
Sleep disruption or difficulty falling or staying asleep
Changes in your skin (including breaking out, itching, eczema flare-ups, etc.)
Getting sick frequently and easily
Frequent sweet cravings
Worse than usual seasonal allergies
Changes in your bowel movements (increased, decreased, loose stools, or constipation)
3 Steps To Manage Stress
Knowing that stress is unavoidable means making sure we have stress management plans in place to help us deal with the continuous influx of daily stressors that wear us down.
Here are three key steps to stress management:
Identify what your stressors are.
This can range from work, family, friends, health, money, etc.
Identify what self-care rituals you do help you de-stress
For example spending time with friends, dancing, reading, walking, cooking, drinking a stress-busting herbal tea.
Support your body’s defense against stress with diet, nutrition, and lifestyle factors.
A balanced diet, regular exercise, stress balancing herbs such as holy basil (tulsi) and chamomile are an excellent way to further support your body’s ability to deal with stress, especially during time periods where you may be dealing with more triggers than usual (i.e., the holidays, exams, the loss of a loved one, etc.).
Anxiety Fighting + Stress Busting Herbs
Once you’ve determined your stressors and scheduled in self-care rituals, stock up on the ingredients you’ll need to give you that extra helping hand. Whether you choose to consume the anxiety-fighting herbs below as a tea, supplement or herbal tincture, keep in mind that combining them will provide the most optimal results.
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
This herb is so powerful that it is considered a sacred plant in India, and kept inside every home. Tulsi functions as an adaptogen, which enhances the body’s natural response to physical and emotional stress. Adaptogenic herbs can help your body regulate and function optimally during times of stress (1,2)
Tulsi contains active compounds which were found to have stress fighting capabilities in rats by normalizing cortisol, blood sugar, adrenal size, and creatine kinase (a marker of muscle damage) (1)
In another study performed on 35 individuals with generalized anxiety disorder they found that there was a significant improvement in mood after 60 days when subjects were given 500 mg of tulsi, twice daily (3).
Green tea contains the nutrient L-theanine which can help improve mood and focus. It has been shown to promote increased alpha-waves in the brain which signify an alert but relaxed brain.(4)
L-theanine is a potent amino acid that acts as a relaxing agent without sedative effects or any of the negative side-effects of Valium or Xanax. However, it works in a similar fashion by interacting with brain receptors to increase dopamine, GABA and glycine levels in the brain. This produces a sense of calm and reduces the perception of stress. (5,6)
Chamomile has been known to have relaxing effects and can be used to help induce sleep, ease frayed nerves, and promote a general sense of calmness and well-being. It has been shown to be useful for patients with generalized anxiety disorder when compared to a placebo. (7)
According to current research and the University of Maryland Medical Center, Gotu kola can also potentially improve anxiety. They have found that the triterpenoids present in the herb, seem to reduce anxiety and increase mental function. (8)
Ginkgo is widely used in Europe for treating dementia to improve thinking, learning, and memory. Several studies show that ginkgo not only has a positive effect on memory, but it was also shown to improve symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder when compared to a placebo over a 4-week period. (9)
How To Get Started
If you’re just getting started with using herbs, the simplest and most enjoyable method to consume these herbs on a daily basis is through a cup of tea that is a blend of most (if not all) of these herbs.
(1) Bhattacharya A, Muruganandam AV, Kumar V, Bhattacharya SK. Effect of poly herbal formulation, EuMil, on neurochemical perturbations induced by chronic stress. Indian J Exp Biol. 2002 Oct;40(10):1161-3.
(2) Muruganandam AV, Kumar V, Bhattacharya SK. Effect of poly herbal formulation, EuMil, on chronic stress-induced homeostatic perturbations in rats. Indian J Exp Biol. 2002 Oct;40(10):1151-60.
(3) Gupta P, et alConstituents of Ocimum sanctum with antistress activity . J Nat Prod. (2007)
(5) Pradeep; Lu, Kristy; Gray, M.; Oliver, C. (2006). “The Neuropharmacology of L-Theanine(N-Ethyl-L-Glutamine)”. Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy. 6 (2): 21–30. doi:10.1300/J157v06n02_02. PMID 17182482.
(6)Wakabayashi C, Numakawa T, Ninomiya M, Chiba S, Kunugi H (2012). “Behavioral and molecular evidence for psychotropic effects in L-theanine”. Psychopharmacology (Berl.). 219 (4): 1099–109. doi:10.1007/s00213-011-2440-z. PMID 21861094
(7) Amsterdam, Jay D. et al. “A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial Of Oral Matricaria Recutita (Chamomile) Extract Therapy For Generalized Anxiety Disorder”. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology 29.4 (2009): 378-382. Web.
(9) Ginkgo biloba. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2016, from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/ginkgo-biloba