Everyone knows the feeling of being stressed out. It’s caused by not having control of life’s situations, other people’s behavior, work schedules, and time itself. Sometimes the feeling is caused by something real, and sometimes it is a result of the way life is perceived to be.
Feeling stressed activates the body’s fight-or-flight response — the same response that would be triggered by confrontation with a mortal threat, such as a tiger. When the fight-or-flight response is activated, all resources in the body are directed toward managing eminent conflict: reflexes quicken, vision becomes more acute, heart rate increases, muscles tense, and glucose is mobilized to power muscle contractions.
A little stress every now and then is okay, but when the tiger never goes away, the body starts breaking down. With chronic stress, all systems of the body suffer, with immune system functions possibly suffering the most.
While you can’t always make stress go away, you can learn to live around it. Part of that is about how you go about life, but certain herbs and natural ingredients can give you an edge that makes dealing with the stress of modern life more comfortable.
One that is very useful for managing stress, metabolism, and menopausal symptoms is ashwagandha. Studies support ashwagandha’s adaptogenic qualities of balancing the hypothalamic functions. It has also been found to support normal thyroid hormone secretion and optimal cognitive function.
Some people, however, have a mild stimulation with ashwagandha. For those individuals, a combination of magnolia and phellodendron can help. It has mildly sedative properties and works by balancing adrenal functions. The herbs combined show greater benefits than when used independently.
L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, has the unique properties of counteracting stimulating neurotransmitters in the brain. Studies show that l-theanine improves focus and concentration, along with providing a calming effect, but without being sedating. L-theanine is why green tea is less stimulating than coffee.
If sleep is being disrupted by an unusually stressful day, there are many herbs with sedating properties to choose from, but some have side effects. Valerian and hops can potentially adversely affect liver functions. Kava is potentially addictive and also can adversely affect liver function.
A better bet: Bacopa. This herb from India was traditionally used for stress and improved sleep. It is side effect free, but has also been found to support brain function. Studies have shown that bacopa enhances mental clarity and focus in subjects ranging from college students to elderly individuals with mental decline.
Passionflower is another soothing herb with few known side effects. Beyond sedative properties, passionflower also offers muscle relaxing properties. One more to consider is motherwort, which not only has sedative properties, but is also useful for reducing palpitations sometimes associated with stress.
Lemon balm is a gentle, multipurpose herb, with benefits for a variety of mental and emotional stressor. Its relaxing and grounding qualities make it well-suited for clearing the mind and relaxing the body for quality sleep and digestion. It has also been used to help ease occasional headaches and for occasional sleeplessness in menopausal women.
Finally, remember that herbs and other natural ingredients are not designed to treat out-of-control stress associated with anxiety and depression. See your healthcare provider for management of these conditions.