I am grateful for many things that our modern society has brought about. However, more often than not, it also has us on the go with never ending to-do lists. Plus, with all our plates full, it can feel counterproductive to take a break to tend to our needs. Which is why this “busy” culture is a breeding ground for unrelenting stress.
This is a problem when it comes to your health as well as your waistline. Chronic stress wreaks havoc on your body. If left unchecked, it can lead to inflammation and inflammation is at the root of many serious conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and cancer. Stress also leads to unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking too much, making poor food choices, and overeating.
In fact, chronic stress causes your adrenal glands to keep secreting cortisol is a hormone known for increasing your appetite as well as your motivation to eat.
For this reason, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, I don’t actually recommend food, even if it’s healthy. Too much of anything can be a bad thing. In reality, there are no foods that can actually relieve your stress.
You see, stress is your body’s response to a threat, whether the threat is real or perceived. So, while alcohol and food may temporarily numb your pain, they can’t actually neutralize threats. Only you can do that with your thoughts and actions.
Which is why it’s so important to give your body time to relax and recharge. What you do during this breather is up to you. Some of my favorites are exercising, meditating, and laughing with friends. I’m also a big fan of making a big cup of tea and sipping it peacefully while I put my feet up or take a warm bath. Some herbs and botanicals can help promote a sense of peace as well as help reduce symptoms of anxiety often caused by stress.
When your mind and body are truly calm, you’re more likely to find a healthy perspective and let go of the threats that aren’t real or you can’t control. Less threats equals less stress. With that being said, here are some of my favorite calming herbs and botanicals.
Calming Herbs and Botanicals
Passionflower has been used in folklore as well as modern times to treat anxiety, restlessness, and nervousness. In a randomized, placebo-controlled study, passionflower performed equally as well as prescription anti-anxiety medications. And while relief took a bit longer, those treated with passionflower were able to function better at work than those treated with pharmaceuticals.
You’ll find many “calming” or “nighttime” herbal tea blends or tinctures with passionflower in them for this reason. You can also buy dried passionflower to make your own tea.
For centuries, many cultures have used kava to relieve anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia without the mental impairment that come along with prescription medications. People often report feeling happy and chill.
However, research is split. More than half of the random controlled studies (63%) found kava to be effective at reducing anxiety. While the remaining research found it to be no more effective than a placebo. Nevertheless, many people in these studies did find relief. Which means you may be one of those people that it helps. And if you’re not, luckily there are other options to try.
Now, there are some concerns circling the web about potential damage to your liver. However, the studies performed found there is very little risk, if any, when consumed below 400 mg a day.
Mountain Rose Herbs is a good source of kava root powder. You simply blend it with a cold or warm temperature liquid of your choice and consume. Heat is not recommended as it is believed to destroy some of the beneficial properties. If you don’t like the taste, capsules and tinctures are available.
Antioxidants that help fight oxidative damage caused by stress (among other things) can be found in Green tea. It’s also a good source of the amino acid theanine, which has been shown to promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep.
If green tea isn’t your thing, no worries! Theanine can also be found in black tea, oolong tea, matcha, and even moringa. While traditional green, black, and white teas are made by steeping and discarding the leaves, matcha and moringa teas are made with ground leaves that are consumed in their entirety.
Theanine supplements are also available, but I think tea is a much more enjoyable way to get it. Plus, it comes along with many other synergistic nutrients. In this study, researchers found that “realistic dietary levels” of theanine found in tea was sufficient enough to increase alpha brain wave activity. Alpha brain waves are associated with a relaxed state of mind. It’s what happens to your brain during meditation or daydreaming.
Nevertheless, if you choose to supplement, be sure it’s in the “L-theanine” form. And consult with your healthcare provider regarding the proper dose.
One of the oldest and most used medicinal plants is chamomile. It is estimated that more than one million cups of chamomile are consumed every day.
When it comes to stress and how it affects your sleep, this is where chamomile shines. Chamomile teas, tinctures, and essential oils are widely used to promote relaxation and initiate sleep. In fact, it’s widely considered a mild sedative.
Science suggests a compound known as apigenin interacts with receptors in the brain to produce this effect. But more studies are needed to understand the exact mechanism and if other compounds are involved.
Dried lavender buds can be found in teas and tinctures. However, many people these days are using lavender essential oil as part of aromatherapy to help them relax and unwind.
Many animal studies have suggested that lavender is equally effective as prescription anti-anxiety medications. However, human studies show promise as well. Clinical trials have shown that an oral lavender oil preparation is more effective at reducing anxiety than a placebo. Participants also reported better sleep and an overall better sense of well-being and quality of life.
In this study, 122 patients admitted to a general intensive care unit were either given a massage, a period of rest, or an aromatherapy treatment with lavender essential oil. While there was no difference in physiological stress markers among the three groups, those that received aromatherapy experienced a significant improvement in their mood. They also felt less anxious and more positive after the treatment.
A handful of additional small studies using lavender essential oil have replicated these findings. For example, one study found lavender essential oil helped reduce anxiety in dental patients. While another found lavender essential oil helped reduce anxiety among high-risk postpartum women.
Commonly known as Tulsi, Holy Basil has a long history of use within Ayurvedic medicine. In India, for its restorative and healing powers, Holy Basil is referred to as the “Queen of Herbs”. However, there are also several studies that support its use to treat a variety of health conditions, including anxiety and other stress related symptoms.
In this double-blind control study, researchers found that patients treated with 1200 mg of holy basil extract per day over the course of 6 weeks experienced a 39% improvement in their stress induced symptoms, which included fatigue, sleeplessness, and forgetfulness.
And in this small study, patients given 1000 mg of a holy basil extract daily experienced significant reductions in anxiety as well as related symptoms, such as stress and depression. Researchers also noticed that the patients were more open to making lifestyle changes after 60 days of treatment.
Holy basil is commonly found as a tea. Organic India is a popular brand sold in many stores. If you’re experiencing high levels of unrelenting stress and related symptoms, a holy basil extract supplement might be your best bet. Holy basil extracts can be found at most natural health food stores as well as online. A well respected brand is Gaia Herbs.
We can’t eliminate stress from our lives. But we can find ways reduce it and relieve it. Herbs and botanicals are excellent tools when it comes to calming the body and mind. Thus, I recommend incorporating them daily as well as reaching for them instead of alcohol and junk food in moments of distress. However, let me be clear, herbs and botanicals are no substitute for taking time to relax and recharge. Both are necessary. In addition to a nutrient rich diet. Because your body needs an abundance of nutrients to deal with stress. And on top of that, stress is known for depleting your body of nutrients.
It’s also important to understand that what works for your bestie might not work for you. And some benefits may take time to achieve. Plus, this is not an exhaustive list of calming herbs and botanicals. So if you aren’t finding support with those I’ve listed, don’t give up! Some other good ones to consider are valerian root, lemon balm, and rhodiola.
To get you started, here are some tea blends by Traditional Medicinals to help with relaxation. I’m also a fan of Peace by Mountain Rose Herbs, which includes chamomile, passionflower, lavender, rose, spearmint, and cinnamon. The trick is to find a blend or preparation that you enjoy the flavor as well as the experience. And if you’re taking any prescription medications, please consult with your healthcare professional to avoid any potential contradictions.
Keep thinking Big and living BOLD!