There isn't a day that goes by that we don't have a customer come to our shop's apothecary counter looking for support for their stress, exhaustion and lack of energy. Our world has become increasingly fast paced over the last 50 years, with home and work demands drastically increasing and the opportunity for relaxing and rejuvenating decreasing exponentially. Throw in a pandemic and our endocrine and nervous systems feel like they have reached complete overload! But don’t despair, there are ways to nurture yourself with herbs and natural remedies that can help soothe your frazzled nervous system and bring balance back to your body.
To understand how to best support your body it can be helpful to understand the signs of chronic stress and what they can do to your overall health.
Common signs and symptoms of chronic stress and anxiety can include:
Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
Feeling weak or tired
Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
Having trouble sleeping
Experiencing digestive problems
Having difficulty controlling worry
Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
Having an increased heart rate
Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
The Effects of Chronic Stress
Having chronic stress or anxiety does more than make you worry, it can also lead to, or worsen, other mental health and physical conditions, such as:
Digestive or bowel problems
Heartburn or acid reflux
Headaches and chronic pain
High blood pressure and heart disease
Blood sugar regulation problems
Increase in symptoms in respiratory disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma
Problems functioning at school or work
Poor quality of life
Thoughts of self-harm
Note: It's possible that your symptoms of chronic stress and anxiety may be due to an underlying medical condition. Always check with your primary healthcare provider to eliminate other causes for your symptoms.
Causes of Chronic Stress and Anxiety
Lifestyle factors that can contribute:
Lack of sleep
Decreased levels of physical activity
Elevated life stressors such as financial problems; relationship issues; work challenges and balancing family responsibilities.
Biological factors including serotonin deficiency, low vitamin B6 levels and low iron levels
1) Sleep is vital – Of all the things we can do for our overall health, sleep is one of the most important. Lack of sleep impacts every system in our body and in particular the nervous and endocrine systems. While sleep is a huge topic worthy of its own blog (which we promise to do), a few things to try for good sleep are - making sure you set a time to go to bed each night that allows you at the very least 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep (7 to 8 hours is even better). No television show, computer game or household chore is more important than this. Try setting an alarm on your phone telling you to go to bed and this will help you to get in the habit of getting to bed at a reasonable time. If you find stress keeps you from getting to sleep, try practicing mindful meditation to clear the thoughts of the day away. You don’t need to invest huge amounts of time in this, 5 to 10 minutes will work well. Reading a chapter or two of a book before going to sleep can quite the mind and move you away from the thoughts of the day. Relaxation music can be helpful as well and this can be found in many apps that you can put on your phone.
2) Exercise is a natural anti-depressant – numerous studies have shown that exercise can elevate the serotonin hormone in our body. Dubbed the “feel good hormone” serotonin helps stave off anxiety and depression and eases the effects of long-term stress on the body. You don’t need to run a marathon to get this benefit – as little as 10 minutes a day of sustained exercise can do the trick. Walk the dog, dance while you clean house, twice a day climb up and down your stairs 10 times in a row. Just move, it matters! Oh, and if it is in the sunshine- so much the better as sunlight helps us absorb Vitamin D, an important factor in dealing with mental health issues.
3) Life stressors overwhelming you? Consider getting support – money, relationships, health issues, family… life is full of challenges, and they can at times feel overwhelming and lead to chronic stress and anxiety. No one is immune to these kinds of challenges and there is no shame in admitting you are struggling. Most people will experience stressful life situations at one time or another (and if they tell you differently, they’re likely not be honest with themselves). Reaching out for help is a valuable tool in easing these stresses. Whether it is speaking to a financial counsellor, mental health worker, your family physician or other supportive person, sharing the burden can help bring down your overall stress levels.
4) Let food be your medicine – Philosopher Hippocrates coined this phrase 1600 years ago and it is still true today. Good nutrition is vital to helping stave off the effects of stress. Foods that are high in tryptophan (a precursor to serotonin), B vitamins, Omega Fatty Acids, Magnesium and Iron can all help the body cope with stress. Below are some foods that can help elevate the in your body.
Foods, Vitamins and Supplements for Chronic Stress and Anxiety
Certain natural vitamins — or vitamins obtained by consuming whole foods — are thought to have particularly positive effects on decreasing the effects of stress and anxiety. While most natural vitamins also exist in supplement form and it is fine to take these, they’re more effectively absorbed by the body when ingested by eating whole foods.
L-Tryptophan - Serotonin isn’t found in foods, but the amino acid L-tryptophan is. When this amino acid is to combine with good quality carbohydrate foods like brown rice, oatmeal, or whole-grain bread your serotonin levels may increase. Food sources of L-tryptophan include eggs, cheese, pineapples, tofu, salmon, nuts and seeds and turkey.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids- Fish oils contain omega-3 fatty acids which make up the basic building blocks of the brain and nervous system. These acids are essential for cognitive functioning and have also been shown to improve symptoms of depression, which is often closely linked with anxiety. These can be found in a wide variety of fish species, including salmon, tuna, mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines and anchovies as well as seeds such as chia, flaxseed, and hemp.
B Vitamins -B vitamins are vital to healthy nervous system functioning. As such, they play a key role in various aspects of mental health, including attention, energy and cognition. They can also have a significant impact on two key aspects of anxiety symptoms: stress management and mood. Because of these benefits, many people incorporate B vitamins into their diet for anxiety. (It is good idea to take a good B-complex alongside individual B vitamins since they work synergistically).
Vitamin B1 is important for balancing blood sugar levels, which are a significant factor in anxiety levels.
Vitamin B3 plays a crucial role in the synthesis of serotonin and has been shown to help with anxiety at a dosage of 1,000-3,000mg per day.
Vitamin B5 supports the adrenal glands, which reduces stress and anxiety levels.
Vitamin B6 together with magnesium can balance out anxiety that occurs in conjunction with PMS.
Inositol (vitamin B8) is a water-soluble fatty lipid necessary for healthy cell production. This can be a particularly useful nutrient to consider where obsessive rumination of thoughts is a problem.
Vitamin B9 (also known as folate or folic acid) and vitamin B12 are important in balancing out depressive moods.
Good sources of B vitamins include wild salmon, shrimp, tuna, halibut, yogurt, eggs, cheese, liver, lamb, venison, turkey, grass-fed beef, carrots and green, leafy vegetables, whole grains, potatoes, bananas, legumes, nutritional yeast, and molasses.
Pre and Probiotics – Extensive research now shows that a healthy gut can lead to a healthy mind. Consuming a high-fibre diet to fuel healthy gut bacteria, which has been shown to play a role in serotonin levels through the gut-brain axis. Eating fermented foods is another way to support a healthy gut and foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, kimchi and tempeh can be very helpful.
Magnesium – This element helps to nourish the nervous system and prevent anxiety, panic attacks, and restlessness or irritability. Magnesium has long been known for its calming properties on the nervous system, and it is also used to relax tight or overworked muscles. Magnesium and calcium are usually taken together, where you need twice as much magnesium as calcium if used for nervous disorders. Leafy greens are rich in magnesium, along with whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, beef, chicken, fish, and bone broths.
Vitamin D -If you decide to supplement with this nutrient, make sure that you choose vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), not the synthetic D2 form (ergocalciferol). The body makes its own vitamin D as a response to sunlight exposure, and it is also found in eggs and fatty fish.
L-Theanine - L-theanine is an amino acid that can improve focus, reduce stress and promote relaxation. Research has demonstrated its ability to produce positive effects on mood in humans. L-theanine can only be found in a few foods and drinks, including black tea, green tea and bay bolete mushrooms.
GABA - Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid and neurotransmitter located in the brain that is crucial to serotonin production and it plays a significant role in mood regulation and relaxation. While many vitamins improve anxiety by affecting GABA levels in the brain, GABA can also be consumed directly through supplements to reduce anxiety symptoms.
Herbs for Chronic Stress and Anxiety
Herbs have been used for thousands of years to nourish and strengthen the body, helping to bring it back into balance. At Tilia Botanicals our Medical Herbalists are training to discuss your specific needs with you and come up with a unique blend to address your stress and anxiety issues. Sometimes we give you a combination of herbs while other times we give a single herb depending on your specific situation. Below we have included some of our favourite individual herbs that support a healthy nervous system, calming and restoring it.
Passionflower - Passionflower is a calming herb that has long been used as a treatment for anxiety. It’s been shown to promote positive moods, improve sleep quality and alleviate nervousness. The leaves and flowers of this beautiful vine are considered one of the best herbal "tranquillizers" in nature's medicine chest. It is excellent for relieving the symptoms of anxiety and stress and for gently inducing sleep, easing tension headaches, muscle tenseness, restlessness and for stress induced high-blood pressure.
Valerian Root - Valerian root has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes since the time of ancient Greece. It is one of the most widely used herbs in the world for sleep issues. While valerian root is commonly known as a sleep aid, this herb can also be helpful for reducing anxiety. Once ingested, valeric acids found within the herb convert to calming, “feel-good” neurotransmitters in the body, regulating stress and relaxing the body and mind. Note: for some people valerian can have a stimulating action so it is best to start with a small amount until you determine the best dose for you.
Licorice Root - People enjoy licorice root for its sweet taste, and it’s traditionally used in many candies and beverages. However, this herb also carries many health benefits for people with anxiety because of the effects it has on the adrenal glands. Within the body, the adrenal glands produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Licorice helps regulate the production of these hormones, buffeting the body’s defenses against stress and reducing anxiety symptoms. Licorice root can also soothe gastrointestinal upset, which is common in many people with anxiety. Note-this herb should be avoided in cases of hypertension.
Ashwagandha- For centuries, Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to combat the effects of aging, improve energy and reduce anxiety. In natural medicine, the root is considered to be an “adaptogen,” or a compound that helps regulate the body’s natural processes and promote overall wellness and health. Today, many herbalists use Ashwagandha to support the nervous and endocrine systems and to improve the effects of long term stress and reduce anxiety symptoms.
Linden - Also known as lime blossom, the flowers and strobiles of this highly aromatic tree act as relaxing nervine and tonic to the body. It helps to alleviate tension headaches, stress induced insomnia, high blood pressure - especially when stress is a factor, and it has a general calming effect on the body in cases of over-excitability and anxiety. It is safe for use in children and its pleasant flavour make it particularly good in teas. Note – Our business is named Tilia after this amazing tree (botanical name Tilia cordata). Calm, strong, beautiful - everything we hope our shop is!
Lavender - The beautiful, fragrant lavender is also one of our most effective herbs for anxiety — both chronic anxiety and acute situations. Taken on a regular basis about an hour before sleep, research shows that lavender has demonstrated efficacy very similar to that of conventional tranquillizers (benzodiazepines) in reducing anxiety, with none of the side effects or addictive potential. The aroma of this plant also has a powerful effect on the limbic system of the brain stimulating a sense of well-being.
Turmeric - turmeric has been found in several studies to be beneficial in treating both depression and anxiety. Curcumin, which is one of the principal active ingredients derived from the spice turmeric, has particularly powerful anti-inflammatory effects and these have been found to be helpful in reducing anxiety specifically associated with a chronically activated stress response.
Reishi Mushroom - Reishi is in a class of herbs called adaptogens, that help us to adapt to the stresses and demands of modern life without getting stuck in chronic “survival mode.” They gently and effectively regulate the body’s stress response via their tonic actions on the adrenal glands. This medicinal mushroom is particularly calming and relaxing and is one of the best herbs for anxiety (and specifically one of the best adaptogens for anxiety), as well as anxiety that prevents you from sleeping, for which it can be taken just before bed.
Chamomile – one of the most well-known herbs in the world, this gentle but effective herb is traditionally associated with anti-stress properties. Chamomile is approved in European countries in which herbal medicine use is the norm, and it numerous studies have shown it to be very effective at relieving anxiety and daily stress and improving mood. Like lavender research has show that chamomile is as effective as tranquillizers (benzodiazepines) in reducing anxiety and stress.
Lemon Balm - Traditionally called “the gladdening herb,” lemon balm has been used as medicine in Western Europe for hundreds of years to elevate mood and brighten the spirit. It increases a sense of calm and decreases anxiety. Referred to as an amphoteric herb it works to balance the nervous system by calming us when we are anxious and elevating mood when we are feeling “blue”. Like chamomile, this gentle herb is safe for all ages and works very well for children who have become over excited or are experiencing stressful times.
Kava kava - Kava kava is an excellent “emergency remedy” for a panic attack, and is great for use when there is stage fright, test anxiety, or fear of flying as well as for chronic stress that has lead to a heightened sense of anxiousness. Kava combines well with Ashwagandha to address longer term stress and anxiety. Note: This herb is potent and is best used under the supervision of a trained herbalist.
Additional Herbs for Chronic Stress and Anxiety
Adaptogens (balance nervous and endocrine systems)
Lion’s Mane mushroom
Digestives/Vagal Nerve Tonics (support a healthy gut/brain function)
Relaxing Nervines/Tonics (calms and strengthens the nervous system)
St. John’s Wort
So don't despair, there is hope for your stressed out system. Remember at Tilia we're here to support you through the tough times and look forward to celebrating your good times thanks to the wonder of herbs!
All material contained herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care.