We all experience fear and anxiety from time to time. At times we may feel overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities – work, family, our health, finances, the environment etc. At other times emergency situations, traumatic events, or other stressful situations can induce feelings of anxiety. For some people the symptoms are mild and easily managed, for others anxiety is replaced by stupor from prescription drugs. The following tools are proven safe and effective for promoting calm and reducing anxiety.
Symptoms of anxiety include poor concentration, persistent worrisome thoughts, shortness of breath, indigestion, headache, trembling, restlessness, sweats, and palpitations or accelerated heart rate.
Sage – a recent clinical trial has shown oral doses of this common herb to reduce anxiety. It does so by inhibiting enzymes that break down neurotransmitters in the brain that effect mood. It has a fortifying effect on the nervous system and is especially helpful for women experiencing menopausal symptoms related to stress. It has a strong flavour and is best combined with other herbs in a tea or tincture formula.
Lemon balm – has anxiety reducing properties, acting like sage by affecting the life span of neurotransmitters in the brain. It has a special affinity for the nervous component of the digestive system and is valuable for indigestion and intestinal spasm triggered by stress. It has a gentle calming and uplifting quality. It is a pleasant tasting tea and easy to grow in the garden.
Kava – this strong acting herb decreases anxiety and relaxes the body without loss of mental alertness. It is fast acting for times of acute need; I use it with people who experience regular panic attacks. It helps to relieve muscle tension and headaches associated with stress. Unfortunately, access to this herb is limited; most herbal practitioners carry it in their dispensaries.
Valerian – this herb has a tradition of use for nervous unrest dating back thousands of years. It is a popular remedy for insomnia due to stress and anxiety. It has a strong and quick acting action, like kava, for panic attacks. It also settles the digestive system that is agitated by stress due to its soothing effect of smooth muscle. It is best taken in tincture form, in 30 drop doses as needed, or as part of a sleep regulating herbal program.
Rescue Remedy – this is a combination flower essence that is intended for acute stressful situations such as accidents, bad news, dental visits, flights, performances, nightmares in children, etc. I have had excellent results with this remedy with people and pets. Good addition to any first aid kit.
Aromatherapy – essential oils give plants their aroma. Essential oils have been extracted from plants for thousands of years for use in perfumery and healing. When inhaled they have a direct affect on the brain thus giving relief too many psychological states. The effects are usually instantaneous. Essential oils are easy to use – they simply need to be smelled. Small bottles can be carried at all times and sniffed often or as needed directly from the bottle. They can be used in oil burners to spread the aroma throughout a room. They can be diluted and added to the bath or applied to the skin. Pure essential oils are generally well tolerated by those sensitive to perfumes and other chemical scents. What better way to promote wellbeing than from a beautiful, aromatic essence! Sample the oils at aromatherapy shops or health food stores to find one that you resonate with. The following oils promote calm and reduce anxiety: Lavender, rose geranium, clary sage, rose, ylang ylang, jasmine, balm, cedarwood, lemongrass, vetiver, rosewood.
In addition to our herbal helpers, it is important to remember the value of deep breathing and exercise as tools for managing anxiety and stress. When we are stressed we tend to take shallow breaths which only compound the problem. A minute of deep belly breathing can take the edge off of any stressful situation. When stressed and anxious we produce the hormones adrenalin and cortisol; these can build up in the body and contribute to more chronic stress states. Exercise is a sure way to burn off these excess hormones in the system. A brisk walk works wonders for relieving anxiety.
These valuable self-help tools are very effective for those with occasional anxiety. I recommend that those with regular anxiety or anxiety disorders consult with a herbal practitioner to obtain a more comprehensive treatment strategy.