How to alleviate anxiety and stress naturally…
Some people thrive on a little stress as it stimulates one to achieve, but if you find yourself constantly stressed or anxious in a way in which it is excessive that’s when there is a problem. Chronic stress, anxiety and worry can have devastating effects on our heath and can trigger a number of illnesses too.
“We are often anxious in our lives, especially if we are worrying about someone or something. However, excessive anxiety can be truly debilitating and can occur for no particular or obvious reason,” explains Diana Mossop, founder of the Institute of Phytobiophysics and creator of The Mossop Philosophy. “Anxiety can take on many forms from mild worry and confusion, sweating, inability to sleep, to hyperactivity, ADHD, panic attack and excessive compulsive disorders. Sometimes the effects of anxiety are so extreme that one can be really unwell leading to fitting and epilepsy.
“Some forms of stress, especially that caused by unhappiness, can internalise and can be very destructive. Complex stress may manifest as serious digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, allergy and in serious case may even lead to a condition known as coeliac.”
“Constantly feeling irritable, under pressure and anxious can all lead to an array of detrimental health issues that can interfere with your daily life,” confirms Salma Dawood, technical advisor at Viridian Nutrition. “When you feel stressed, the body releases ‘cortisol’ – a stress hormone, in response. While a little bit of stress is fine, chronic cortisol levels has been shown in research to wreak havoc to our body’s balance. As this disrupts your body’s functions, you may be at a greater risk of developing heart disease, digestive issues, weight gain, depression and more.”
“When we are stressed and anxious it diverts our mind and body’s attention into a freeze, flight or fight mode,” comments alternative health practitioner Lynne Russell, founder of Chantry Health. “It affects how we think and feel, and also interferes with our basic physiological functioning. Every now and then is fine, but if it is happening too often, that can affect just about any aspect of our health in the short and longer run.”
The release of stress hormones triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response, increasing the heart rate, breathing quickens and muscles tense up, ready for action. Other effects of stress include insomnia, poor digestion, high blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels and headaches.
“Long term stress and anxiety can have various detrimental effects on the body including: suppression of the immune system, increased inflammation, impairment of the digestive system, depletion of nutrients and the slowing down of the body’s rate of repair as well as having a negative effect on thyroid function,” advises Jenny Bodenham, nutritionist at Higher Nature. “Inflammation resulting from chronic stress is thought to be an important factor contributing to coronary heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, muscular tension and pain. Chronic stress can also wear you down, causing low mood and depression. Stress may also have a negative effect on the intestinal flora so eating live yoghurt or taking a supplement of ‘friendly’ bacteria may be useful.”
There are many natural remedies and approaches that can offer support.
As a first step, Russell suggests listening to your body and it’s needs: “Anxiety and/or stress are messages from within you that you need to be paying attention to something. The first step is to listen and observe, and then to take steps to work with it. I usually approach this on two levels. Day to day self-care can make a huge difference – check you are eating well enough to keep your blood sugar levels even, reducing caffeine, etc. Using some self-help tools to feel more calm such as homeopathic remedies for anxiety or self-hypnosis for relaxation.
“Then there is also the level that is generating the stress or anxiety. Maybe a prompt to address something deeper such as looking at how you manage your time, relationships, approach work or home life, etc. For some there may also be a deeper root cause, such as a traumatic event or prolonged periods of stress. And if you feel you are struggling, do reach out to find support.”
“Identifying your key stressors and learning to manage them is the number one step to reducing the impact on your health and wellbeing,” agrees Dawood. “Eating a healthy, balanced diet, with seven to eight hours of sleep per night and moderate exercise are essential to managing stress. Fostering healthy relationships, doing something you enjoy and practising mindfulness and meditation are also brilliant coping strategies that many people use to relax and de-stress.”
In terms of helpful natural remedies, Russell recommends trying common oat: “One of my favourite herbs is Avena sativa (common oat) as it gently soothes and supports the adrenals and the nervous system.”
With a long history of use for energy and vitality, Dawood suggests trying ashwagandha and rhodiola: “Adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha and rhodiola may help reduce stress-related symptoms. It is suggested that adaptogens may help promote balance in the body, such as reducing elevated cortisol levels. “
Aromatherapy is another natural option, which has been shown to stimulate the growth of cells and recover the body from stress-related issues. “I recommend the use of lemon, wild orange, lavender, yang lang, bergamot, grapefruit, roman chamomile, geranium and frankincense, as they are all effective in relaxing you,” advises stress management expert Marcio Amaral. “For emotional support use clary sage and sandalwood and for daily energy I recommend grapefruit, bergamot, ginger and rosemary.”
Amaral also recommends cleansing the body of toxins: “The best thing to do is to use Epsom salts and baking soda in the bath in the evening before bed as it will relax you for a proper night sleep. The best measurement is one cup of Epsom salts to a bath combined with ½ cup baking soda.
“Another great product for stress is the Bach Flower remedies and for stress you can use olive, oak, walnut, hornbeam, beech, impatiens, white chestnut, mustard, gentian and rescue remedy.”
Iona Leigh, education director at Findhorn Flower Essences, recommends trying flower essences too: “Harley street physician and Flower Essence forefather Dr Edward Back described the action of flower essences as remedies that dispel psychological and emotional stress patterns by stimulating the natural self repair mechanisms of the body to recuperate and recover. We use flower essences to restore a harmonious flow through the human energy system (also known as energy centres of the seven the chakras), until the immunological system is robust enough to take over. So, flower essence therapy offers self help path in times of stress, by helping each person address their symptoms firstly, in their emotional body.”
Essence combinations are readily available, but in terms of specific essences Leigh advises: “Individual essences that help with anxiety include bell heather, daisy, ginkgo, Scottish primrose, sea holly, thistle and wild pansy. Individual essences that help with stress include rose water lily, sycamore, thistle and valerian.”
Iona Leigh is available for one-to-one Skype consultation sessions if you would like to find our which essence can help you in your particular situation, when dealing with stress and anxiety.
Good nutrition plays a crucial role in supporting the body during times of stress. Many people who are stressed or anxious immediately head for sugar and refined sugary foods such as white bread, white pasta, white rice, cakes and biscuits. These foods should be avoided as they have a negative effect on blood sugar levels, quickly spiking blood glucose which then inevitably causes a slump.
“Dips in blood sugar can lead to fatigue, lethargy, weakness and hunger,” explains Bodenham. “When blood sugar dips the production of the stress hormone, cortisol is activated. Balancing blood sugar levels is very important to help with energy and stress levels. Choose wholegrain alternatives such as oats, brown rice, wholemeal bread and wholemeal pasta. Caffeine can also affect blood sugar levels and elevate stress hormones so is best avoided. Green tea is a good alternative as it contains theanine, a calming and relaxing amino acid.
“Eating good quality protein such as fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, lentils and beans is a must for anyone who is stressed and anxious, as these foods contain tyrosine and taurine. Tyrosine is an amino acid that is needed by the body to produce certain stress hormones and can be depleted in the body by stress. Taurine another amino acid is important for maintaining a calm and relaxed state of mind. Additionally oily fish, nuts and seeds are a good source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, low levels of which have been associated with an unhealthy stress response. Plenty of wholegrains, fruits and vegetables will also supply good levels of vitamin C, B vitamins and magnesium, which are essential for supporting the adrenals.”
Observing regular mealtimes is important for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Eat breakfast within an hour of waking, have lunch around midday and dinner around 6pm. It is also important to combine protein, complex carbohydrates and some healthy fats at each meal.
“When suffering with anxiety you can become nutritionally depleted very rapidly and this requires careful and specialized supplementation,” comments Mossop. “The most important vitamins for anxiety are vitamin C and anti-oxidants found in sun ripened fruits and vegetable fruits. Essential fatty acids especially vitamin E found in eggs and whole grain and minerals such as zinc, germanium and selenium found in the allium family of foods- garlic and onions. Black fruits such as blackcurrents, blueberries, black grapes and plums are rich suppliers of antioxidants.”
There are a number of specific nutrients which can help too. Bodenham highlights the essentials:
Chromium is needed in the body for maintaining normal blood glucose levels. Chromium also helps break down fats and maintains healthy cholesterol levels.
B vitamins help to balance blood sugar and support energy levels and the nervous system. Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) is particularly important in supporting adrenal function.
Vitamin C is highly concentrated in the adrenal glands and used up when under stress. It helps protect the adrenal glands from the high levels of free radicals produced when under stress.
Magnesium is a mineral that promotes calm and relaxation and it is quickly depleted in the body when under stress. It is involved in more than 300 metabolic reactions in the body and is involved in energy production, adrenal hormone synthesis.
Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that induces alpha brain wave activity which is associated with a state of relaxation and is thought to decrease both physiological and psychological symptoms of stress.
Certain plants may be able to help support the body’s resistance to stress, and anxiety and to generally help maintain physical and mental functioning. These plants include rhodiola, and ginseng. Other plants such as passionflower and lemon balm have been used traditionally to support the nervous system and aid the body in dealing with stress and anxiety.
Omega-3 fish oils help to lower inflammation in the body by supporting anti-inflammatory pathways.