Stress is a natural part of our lives, and although it gets a bad reputation, stress isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Stress helps us deal with new situations and threats. It keeps us alert and on our toes. It can even be considered healthy: the ability to adapt to stress can make the body (and mind) stronger – but only if there is a proper “recovery” period afterwards. Where we get into trouble health wise is in situations of chronic stress; when there isn’t enough recovery but a maintenance or resistance to stress for so long, followed by a phase
In the arena of stress relieving herbs, ashwaganha is having a moment in the limelight (with good reason) and cannabis stores are popping up everywhere. But the botanical world is overwhelmingly bountiful and provides a plethora of healing herbs shown to reduce anxiety, alleviate symptoms of stress, and get relaxation vibes going.
May we introduce you to some lesser-known stress relieving herbs shown to have promising results in the reduction of mental anguish:
For those familiar with valerian, it can smell funky. Like sweaty socks according to some. However, for those looking to alleviate anxiety, combat stress and get to sleep quicker at night, valerian can help. For centuries (since ancient Greek and Roman times), the herb valerian has been used as a remedy for insomnia and anxiety. During World War II, it was used in England to relieve the stress of air raidsi and administered via tincture to shell-shocked soldiers suffering from the psychological effects of fighting on the front lines.ii
Researchers speculate a possible mechanism by which valerian may cause a sedative effect is by increasing the amount of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)iii available in the synaptic cleft. GABA slows down nerve cell activity instead of exciting it. Valerian extract may block an enzyme that destroys GABA, which means that more GABA is available for a longer amount of time. Xanax and Valium also increase the amount of GABA in the body but with much stronger side effects than valerian.
Like valerian, passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is another herb that provides promising results for those who want to ease anxiousness or relieve restlessness before bed. This herbaceous flowering vine also boasts a long history of medicinal use by Native Americans as a poultice to heal cuts and bruises, and by the Incas who used the herb to brew a tonic. Many studies have verified its sedative, antispasmodic and antianxiety propertiesiv,v. One trial reported in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesiavi examined its effects on patients scheduled for surgery. Patients who consumed it reported significantly less anxiety than those who received a placebo. Research suggests passionflower increases the activity of GABA in the brain, similar to the aforementioned valerian. Oftentimes, you’ll see formulas that combine both passionflower and valerian.
Fancy a brew? Hops is typically associated with flavoring and stabilizing beer, but it has been used by herbal healers since medieval times to ease anxiety and mood disorders. A 2017 study published in the journal Hormones found daily supplementation with a dry hops extract, effective at reducing stress, anxiety and depressionvii in otherwise healthy young adults. Studies have also shown hops to be effective at tackling fatigue and reducing sleep disturbances for more restorative rest.
In addition to exhibiting stress reducing effects, it’s also been shown to improve menopause symptoms including hot flashes and night sweatsviii – which let’s be honest, can cause a whole lot of stress. Hops contain phytoestrogens that mimic the effects of a women’s own estrogen. Since symptoms of menopause are due to drops in estrogen during this time, it’s believed that hops can alleviate these symptoms. One 2010 study found that menopausal women provided an eight-week course of hops extract experienced a reduction of hot flashes, night sweats and low libido compared to those provided a placebo.ix
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! The herb lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) can soothe symptoms of stress, reduce anxiety and help you activate relaxation-mode. This lemon-scented herb belongs to the mint family and has been used since the Middle Ages for its multitude of reputed benefits which include boosting cognitive function, balancing the mood, aiding digestive issues and easing insomnia. Recent studies have demonstrated its ability to ease psychological stressx and reduce levels of anxiety to mitigate feelings of nervousness and excitability.
Researchers have also found that lemon balm extract has the ability to scavenge synthetic and natural free radicals because of its chemical constituents which contain powerful antioxidantsxi. Its antioxidant profile includes rosmaric acid, gallic acid and phenolic contents that help to prevent oxidative stress by counteracting harmful free radicals. Lemon balm not only lessens psychological stress but also physiological stress. Now that sounds like a tasty combo!
Rhodiola Rosea: https://aor.ca/raw_material/rhodiola-rosea-root-extract/
Rhodiola rosea is an herb with a long history of use and many studies confirm its ability to decrease anxiety and improve symptoms of burnout caused by chronic stress.xii It is listed in the national pharmacopoeias of France, Sweden, Denmark and Russia as an adaptogen. Adaptogens help the body adapt to physical, chemical or biological stress by balancing the levels of hormones and neurotransmitters produced by the body’s stress response. It has been clinically shown to increase energy, exerting an anti-fatigue effect to increase mental performance, particularly enhancing the ability to concentrate, while also decreasing the cortisol responsexiii. Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone, which in excess can cause all kinds of complications including heart disease, digestive issues, sleep loss, anxiety and depression. Hence, getting rid it where possible with the help of healing herbs!
While nature’s bounty is plentiful in the way of herbs to aid anxiety and reduce symptoms of stress – mindfulness exercises, diet, regular movement and everyday lifestyle choices also contribute to combatting cortisol levels. Eat well. Rest plenty. And keep moving, every day.