Ahh, the holidays….nothing like high expectations and extra obligations to turn up the heat on stress and anxiety levels. It’s a shame that the most joyful, festive, family-oriented time of year also has to be one of the hardest for many people. Stress and anxiety cause problems all year long of course, but it seems like this time of year people are rushing around much more with longer to-do lists and shorter fuses. Luckily for us, the natural world has plenty of help to offer, so much so that it seems pretty clear that nature would really like to tell all of us to chill out a bit. Since there are so many options out there, I’ve limited this post to just a few herbal and natural choices that cover the range of stress and anxiety from mild to intense but it’s still rather long. If you don’t see what you are looking for, feel free to contact me.
Nervines are a class of herbs that focus on the nervous system. They share similarities with adaptogens, which I posted about earlier, which are a different class of herbs that offer help with stress and anxiety by balancing out the body overall, with specific attention paid to the endocrine system. A great, concise article about the difference between adaptogens and nervines and when to use which can be found here. Nervines are good for any kind of stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and certain types of pain. They range in their strength from gentle tonic (such as Skullcap) to powerful sedative (such as Valerian). Most fall in-between the extremes and you can find plenty of blends that allow the herbs to work in a synergistic way.
Kava Kava is one of the most popular calming herbs, but it’s also an herb that has some warnings attached to it. Although it’s been in use in the South Pacific for it’s relaxing and euphoric qualities since ancient times, there have been a couple of issues recently that could indicate Kava might be damaging to certain people’s livers. It’s all quite inconclusive but some products do come with a warning on it, and some stores just stopped selling it, although it is still readily available in capsules, tinctures, and teas both online and found at brick and mortar stores. If you have an overload of toxins in your body, or a compromised liver for any reason, you might want to stick to other calming herbs or blend of herbs. Also, if you are taking it as a tincture, be prepared for it to numb your lips at first~ that just means it’s a potent product and it is a good sign.
Valerian which is also found in tincture, pill, or tea form is deeply relaxing and often part of herbal sleep aides. If you are not familiar with the herb, be forewarned that it has a strong scent although it doesn’t taste bad at all. More than once I’ve smelled the herb near someone or in their pocket and mistakenly thought the person was ill because it is that strong (and I have an over-active nose). If you need to address insomnia, Valerian is a good place to start.
Skullcap is also found in insomnia formulas but is milder and can be used throughout the day as a tonic for the nervous system. This is a particularly good herb for you if you find that your brain gets stuck on repeating anxious thoughts or has circular patterns of negativity. Capsules and tea forms are also available.
Blends are a healthy option if you are not sure which herb is best for you. Herb Pharm makes one which has a unique lavender taste and also comes in capsule form.
For children, the line Herbs for Kids makes a couple of non-alcoholic blends, a Valerian based one and a milder Chamomile based option. Herb Pharm also makes a kid- friendly blend to help with nighttime and nap-time that is also alcohol-free.
Most people know St. John’s Wort is good for minor depression such as the kind caused by seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It takes two to three weeks to feel the benefits of this mild tonic nervine but it really does have the ability to make one’s outlook a bit sunnier. In fact, St. John’s Wort can increase one’s photo-sensitivity so if you live in a sunny climate, do be aware that your skin just might surprise you with its quicker than usual darkening or reddening. I actually love this about the herb because SAD is related to lack of sunshine and vitamin D, so what does St. John’s Wort do? Increases your sensitivity to the sun! All the citrus essential oils act in the same way by the way~ they too increase your photo-sensitivity and they are also anti-depressants, so if you are using them in a body oil or body spray you should keep that in mind.
A word about deciding how to take your nervines. Tinctures are a great option because if you put the liquid right under your tongue you will feel the effects almost immediately. (It might burn so have some water nearby to wash the rest down your throat.) Stress and anxiety often lead to less than optimal digestion which may inhibit the results of a capsule or tablet, so if you use a tincture or tea, that alleviates the potential problem of not getting the most out of your supplement (and therefore your money). Of course, use whatever form works best for you because in the end, the best form is the form you actually take.
There are other natural products that help with stress and anxiety as well. B vitamins are important for daily stress management and are often even labeled with the word ‘stress’ right on the front them. If your daily tension levels are high then looking into a total B could prove beneficial.
As discussed earlier, vitamin D plays a role in SAD and is especially important in places where the word ‘overcast’ is in the daily forecast. Using a liquid formula is the most affective way to take D, other than getting at least a half hour of sunshine on some bare skin every day. (And that includes no sunscreen for that half hour.)
For times when your anxiety is high because of a certain event, or you are anticipating something stressful, then GABA might be your answer. GABA is a neurotransmitter already found in our brain that has anti-anxiety action. This study gives a brief explanation of one test and what the results were if you are interested. My naturopath actually first suggested GABA to me for times when I had to take my kids to get shots because of the extreme stress around those situations. (The GABA was suggested for my kids but I needed it too!) We use the chewables or lozenges because they are faster acting and personally, I feel the effects far greater than with capsules.
Essential oils are really at their prime working on stress and anxiety. They are definitely nature’s messengers telling us silly humans to relax, enjoy beauty, and quite literally to stop and smell the roses, or at least the rose oil. Neroli blossoms used to always be part of bridal bouquets because of their calming attributes and the essential oil continues that tradition of being a powerful anti-anxiety oil. Lavender is well-known as a relaxing scent and it combines beautifully with almost any other essential oil. Combining it with Neroli creates an affective anti-anxiety spray or oil, and combining Lavender with a citrus oil creates a lovely uplifting scent for diffusing or wearing. As mentioned above, all the citrus oils are anti-depressant (and also mildly stimulating), but the best ones for uplifting your mood are Orange, Grapefruit, and Bergamot.
Clary Sage is often referred to as a ‘euphoric’ and it combines well with Bergamot for an uplifting, anti-depressant effect. I like to make body/room sprays that are half Clary Sage and half Bergamot.
Making body oils is a great way to wear your anti-anxiety and anti-stress essential oils like a shield. You can put the oil on the bottom of your feet, all over your body, or make a stronger scented perfume oil or spray that you can reapply to your pressure points throughout the day. There are so many natural options for help with stress and anxiety that you really don’t need to just push through those moments, days, or seasons alone. Of course, always consult a medical professional if you are struggling to the point of it disrupting your daily activities, but know there are plenty of natural options to help you enjoy your life fully and with optimal health.
Peace to all of you this season and please share this with anyone who might be looking for a little natural help with stress, depression, and/or anxiety.