Easing Stress-Related Tension and Anxiety

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Section: herb spotlight
How well you cope and adapt to stress, both physically and emotionally, is a good reflection of your personal state of health. Each time you face a new challenge or stressful event in your life, do things roll easily off of your back or do you feel exhausted, lose sleep or find yourself more susceptible to colds or allergies?

Our ability to handle stress is directly affected by our nervous system, endocrine (hormonal) system and by our immune system. Our bodies are well designed to handle stress, but only for short periods of time. Chronic stress can overwhelm the body's protective mechanisms leading to poor digestion, sexual dysfunction, nervous system disorders and depressed immune function.

Many people suffer from the ravages of stress-induced anxiety, fatigue, insomnia and inflammation. Successfully treating this symptom complex with herbal remedies requires strengthening all of the body's adaptive mechanisms. A class of herbs called adaptogens help to strengthen and balance the hormonal system and has a positive effect on the immune system--important for stress adaptation and rehabilitation.

Stress Resistance

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) root is a classic adaptogen that elevates one's power of resistance to all forms of stress. It helps build both vitality and immunity and is beneficial for coping with fatigue related to chronic disease. By regulating the adrenal hormone response to stress, Siberian ginseng helps reduce stress in the alarm phase and protect against long-term stress and exhaustion. Recommended dosages vary from 30-80 drops of a liquid extract or two 500 mg capsules taken two-to-three times daily. Other important adaptogens include Schizandra berry and Reishi mushroom.

Anxiety and Nervous Exhaustion

Nervine tonic herbs relax and fortify nervous system tissue and help provide a nervous system reserve. If anxiety and nervousness are a concern, Oatstraw (Avena sativa) is a soothing restorative for the nervous system. It is a highly nutritive herb that supplies levels of calcium, magnesium and silica to nourish frazzled nerves. Oatstraw excels in treating nervous exhaustion, depression and debility. Oatstraw may be taken as a tea, tincture or capsule. Steep one teaspoon of the dried herb in hot water for 10 minutes and drink one cup, three times daily; 20-40 drops of a liquid extract or a 500 mg capsule may be taken two-to-three times daily for both long- and short-term stress.

Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifiora) is a nervine relaxant with broad benefits for the treatment of nervous tension, insomnia and PMS. It has antispasmodic and anticonvulsant properties useful for seizure and possibly relief of neuralgia and nervous headaches. Take 30-60 drops or two 500 mg capsules, one-to-three times daily or as needed.

Nervous tension and anxiety is often associated with musculo-skeletal pain, inability to concentrate and insomnia. Used in the South Pacific for centuries, the root of the Kava (Piper methysticum) plant relaxes the central nervous system and skeletal muscles. It is used for nervous anxiety, insomnia and pain relief. Kavalactones in the plant appear to be responsible for the analgesic and sedative actions. Do not exceed the recommended dose of Kava which varies from 30-60 drops or two 500 mg capsules, two-to-three times daily or as needed. After three months of continuous use a break is advised.

Sleep Disturbances

Agitation and anxiety associated with stress often interfere with a good night's sleep. There are numerous plants that effectively sedate and relax the nervous system to induce restful sleep. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a reliable aid, used for insomnia and to prevent waking up throughout the night. It reduces restlessness and anxiety and is useful for pain relief associated with muscle tension and cramping. Start with 30-40 drops of a liquid extract or one or two 500 mg capsules one hour before going to bed. Repeat the dose at bedtime if necessary. Passion flower is also a beneficial sedative and anti-spasmodic herb used alone or combined with Valerian in equal parts.

Diet and Stress

Optimal nutrition is essential for tissue repair and restoration. Poor diet and overindulgence of harmful substances including sugar, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and drugs leads to an overload of toxins and impaired absorption of essential nutrients. Stress reduces our nutritional resources, leaving us with a lack of vitality and energy. Vitamin B12, folic acid and vitamin C build red blood cells that carry nutrients to our tissues and organs. Dark leafy greens and other chlorophyll-rich foods are also good red blood cell builders. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish, fiaxseeds and flax oil nourish the brain and support optimal nervous system function.

Resolving stress often involves deep soul searching, long vacations and significant life style changes. As part of an overall stress reduction program the daily use of tonic, nervine and relaxing herbs can safely ease the stresses of our demanding society and provide enhanced physical support.

PHOTO (COLOR): A class of herbs called adaptogens help to strengthen and balance the hormonal system and has a positive effect on the immune system--important for stress adaptation and rehabilitation.

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By Kristin Cook, C.N.

Adapted by C.N.

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