Stress has physiological impacts on the body. It triggers hormonal responses and uses up essential vitamins and minerals. During periods of intense stress and anxiety it is important to support the body with a healthy diet, regular exercise and rest, to help replace the nutrients being used up and balance out the chemical changes in the body. In addition, some supplementation may be of benefit, particularly if your diet (or digestion) is less than optimal.
If you have a general practitioner, your doctor may be able to prescribe medicines to help you deal with acute stress, such as the sudden loss of a loved one, but for chronic stress – perhaps an ongoing work situation or financial concerns – pharmaceutical intervention may not be appropriate or desirable.
There are a number of natural approaches you can try to help your body cope better with the stress and anxiety you are experiencing.
Vitamins and herbal remedies for stress management
There are many causes of stress and there are many ways of managing it. When the body is under stress it draws heavily on stores of B vitamins, zinc and vitamin C to process the hormones triggered by the stress or “fight or flight” response. Replacing these vitamins and keeping them topped up will help you manage your stress and anxiety. A good B-complex supplement may help. Be sure it contains Vitamins B12, and Folic Acid.
There are also a number of herbs for stress that may be useful. They include: St. John’s Wort (Hypericum), Rhodiola, Ginkgo, Magnolia Bark, Poria, Lavender, Valerian, Sacred Basil (Tulsi), Withania (Indian Ginseng) and Polygala.
St. John’s Wort can help the nerves and is well-known as a remedy for depression. It may react with some prescription drugs so you will need to mention it to your doctor if you decide to try it, especially if you are taking warfarin.
Rhodiola can help boost and balance serotonin levels and improve stamina, so it is a popular for the treatment of stress.
Lavender essential oil can help soothe the nervous system and combat exhaustion. It is used externally, and is not to be taken. However fluid extract of Lavender flowers can be used in herbal mixtures, prescribed by a herbal practitioner.
Valerian can assist with chronic sleep issues and can help with relaxation. It is thought to work on chemicals in the brain that balance excitement and anxiety.
Sacred basil (Tulsi) is an adaptogen that can help the body cope with stress and improve endurance. It has a number of other reported benefits as well, such as combating viruses and bacteria, and reducing inflammation.
Withania (Indian Ginseng) helps to rejuvenate and strengthen the body, increasing vitality and may reduce stress by working on the dopamine receptors in the brain.
Natural treatments for stress
Some other natural approaches to managing stress include: attending a regular yoga class of a suitable level; meditation; a soothing soak in a warm bath with some lavender essential oil; spending time in nature; cardiovascular exercise; counseling or talking to a non-judgemental friend; watching a funny movie; or a change of scene, meaning putting yourself somewhere entirely new or doing a thorough spring clean of your home.
Stress over an extended period of time or great intensity can lead to burn out and adrenal fatigue. This can leave the body depleted of essential nutrients and lacking in vitality. It can even feel like an illness, and can cause damage to the heart and adrenal glands. Living with constant stress is not a normal way of being and our bodies are not designed for it. It can shorten our lives.
If you recognize that you have been living with anxiety and stress for a period of weeks or months it is important that you take steps to care for your body, and, if possible, reduce the daily stressers in your life, or find ways to change your thinking so you are less impacted by the triggers for your chronic stress reaction.
Vanessa Blake is a freelance writer and health freak with a ridiculous general knowledge of nutrition and the body. No wonder she decided to study for a Diploma of Nutrition in 2003. She also loves yoga.