Stress and anxiety are complex issues and both are a spectrum – indeed, both of symptoms and intensity. The first thing to say is that stress and anxiety are natural human states, they are part of our evolved survival mechanisms – the ‘Fight or Flight’ response. They let us know something is not quite right or safe with this situation – and that’s the ultimate way to overcome it – to change the situation or your reaction to it.
Mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy and even simple relaxation techniques can disarm the panic button and help you view the situation differently and so react less. I would urge everyone who is having a hard time with anxiety or stress to get to the bottom of what is triggering their distress and to seek out psychological tools and other supports. But until you rewire your brain to a better place, there are dietary and herbal interventions.
Prescribed Anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals work by targeting the GABA receptors in the brain to influence neural signalling and calm the central nervous system as well as slowing down alpha waves and taking the steam out of over thinking – thus providing a more tranquil experience. There are a couple of plants that have been doing that job for thousands of years.
Chamomile, lavender and lemon balm are known as the three great stress busters. What’s so cool about them is they can alter our brain chemistry and disarm stress molecules in the body via two routes – we can make a pleasant herbal tea and sip some calmness or you can carry an essential oil in your backpack and avail of the aromatherapy. Both the sip and the inhale are equally effective in stepping the brain down a gear. The chemistry is in both to ease tensions off of our neurotransmitters and GABA receptor in particular. The chemistry is in both methods to trigger the body to dissolve or decrease cortisol and other stress makers.
GABA receptors can also be influenced to a calmer setting by ingesting a bioflavonoid known as Apigenin which is found in parsley, thyme, onions, oranges, tea, celery, buckwheat and a whole host of kitchen staples. Apigenin is present in beer and red wine which is perhaps why so many people self-medicate that way – but why have the hangover. Hops in beer are chemically an anxiolytic (reduces anxiety and stress responses) but you can soak some hops in the bath and absorb the tranquil chemistry through the skin without the fermented next day headache. we have receptors on our skin as well as in out stomachs and brains they respond to the hop chemistry. Hops are in the cannabis family and work on those same receptors that cannabis affects.
Cannabidiol aka cbd, extracted from cannabis is popular today almost as a panacea for every ill – it won’t fix the ingrown toenail but where it works with anxiety and stress is in supporting serotonin (happy hormone) levels, improving cerebral blood flow and lowering blood pressure – all of which help diminish cortisol and other stress markers in the system.
The trick is not to use any of these herbs as a perpetual crutch but to utilize as a temporary support until you can diminish those stress triggers. Any of the mindful entries across these pages will help in that direction.