The Best Natural Remedies for Anxiety and Stress

 

Feeling stressed or anxious is something that most of us are familiar with. However, there are natural remedies that you can use to help combat these feelings.

 

Various herbals can have an impact on mood and increase resistance to stress.

  1. Lavender

Lavender is a popular scent often associated with calmness, and for good reason.

Although limited research shows the effectiveness of lavender scents for reducing anxiety and stress, studies have shown benefits of oral lavender supplements. Oral lavender supplements have decreased stress in participants in various human trials. Other studies also demonstrated that a daily lavender supplement even had comparable effects to some low dose anti-anxiety medication.

  1. Rhodiola

Rhodiola is a plant used in traditional medicine in Asian and Eastern Europe. It grows at high altitudes and in cold regions. 

Preliminary research shows that it can help increase energy, increase resistance to stress, and help to manage symptoms of anxiety.

  1. Chamomile

Chamomile is one of the oldest, well-documented medicinal plants ever used. It is part of the daisy family. It is a well-known herb with many people drinking chamomile tea before bed to help with relaxation.

A study conducted in patients with mild to moderate anxiety disorder found that ingesting chamomile extract helped improve anxiety-related symptoms compared to a placebo. So, if you are feeling stressed, go ahead and drink a cup of chamomile tea!

  1. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogen that can help with both physical and mental stress. It is a common herb used in Ayurvedic medicine and extensive research has been conducted on its many benefits. Ashwagandha has been used as an antioxidant, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, antifungal, and neuroprotective agent. Most notably, ashwagandha has been used as an anti-stress and antianxiety agent.

 A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was conducted with 64 adults who had a history of chronic stress. At the end of the 60-day trial, researchers found that participants taking ashwagandha daily had significantly decreased all stress-related assessment scores. Cortisol, a stress hormone, had also significantly decreased in the treatment group.

  1. L-theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid that is found in green tea extract. It was isolated from green tea leaves in the 1950s. L-theanine has shown to improve cognitive function and have a calming effect in humans.

In fact, the relaxing and calming effects of L-theanine were observed in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Participants taking an L-theanine supplement reported lower levels of stress, had a decreased heart rate, and lower activation of the nervous system when doing stress-inducing tasks. This was in comparison to a placebo group who were not taking an L-theanine supplement.

 

Just like certain micronutrients can impact stress and anxiety, so can your overall diet. 

By now many people have heard of the gut-brain connection or the gut-brain axis. Essentially, the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotions. Feelings of anger, sadness, stress, or anxiety can all trigger physical symptoms in your gut.

The brain has a connection to the gut and vice versa. For example, even the thought of eating prepares your body for digestion; salivary glands release enzymes to break down the food you’ll be eating, and your stomach begins producing acid. Think about a time you felt nervous. Many people would describe feeling like their stomach was in knots, or like they had butterflies.

 Emerging evidence is showing more and more this strong connection between the gut and the brain. Certain dietary patterns can increase the risk of anxiety, whereas other diets can decrease it. While the science behind this is complex, the big idea here is that our gut microbiota can influence our mental health.

Our gut microbiota refers to the tiny micro-organisms that live in our gut. Although this sounds a little bit scary, it is completely normal. Things like bacteria live in our gut and help us to break down food and extract the nutrients in that food.

The million-dollar question: What foods help against stress and anxiety? 

It’s not so much specific foods as it is overall diet. Research has found a strong correlation between those who consume a typical “Western” diet (think: fatty foods, fried and processed foods, red meat, high-fat dairy foods, few or no fruits and vegetables) and high incidence of anxiety. In contrast, people who consume a Mediterranean diet (high in fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, and moderate levels of eggs and fish) generally have lower levels of anxiety.

An unhealthy diet low in micronutrients can lead to an unhealthy gut microbiota. This means a gut microbiota without a lot of diversity. Bacteria that are not good at extracting nutrients from food, or bacteria that promote unhealthy weight gain may flourish with a poor diet. However, a healthier diet encourages a healthy gut microbiota.

Now this seems simple enough, right? Healthy diet = healthy gut = healthy mind.

But, as we all know, sometimes after a long and upsetting or stressful day all you want is some comfort food.

Well, here’s the kicker. Our mood can influence how we perceive food. This is why when you are upset, you may crave something high in sugar and/or fat. So, we get stuck in a cycle. Feeling upset leads to unhealthy eating. Unhealthy eating leads to poor gut health. Poor gut health means poor mental health. It can be difficult to break out of this cycle, but exercise may be a way to do it.

 

Adding in daily movement or exercise can contribute to a better mood and mental health. 

Have you ever heard of a “runner’s high?” It’s that amazing feeling that people get after running. What is really happening is that your body is releasing hormones, and specifically endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that make you feel good which is why after exercising many people report a positive feeling.

Well, this idea can be applied to other forms of exercise and stress and anxiety. Feeling stressed or anxious is not a good feeling. Having a rush of endorphins, or feel-good hormones, can work to combat these negative feelings. 

A meta-analysis investigated the effects of exercise on anxiety. 15 different studies were compared. They found that increased exercise and more intense exercise significantly helped to reduce feelings of anxiety and other anxiety-related symptoms. If you are feeling stressed, try to get in some movement! Although more intense exercise had a bigger effect on anxiety levels, even something like walking provided people with benefits.

While exercise is an excellent way to combat stress and anxiety, there are some other things that you can try!

 

Here are a few other remedies that you can try and incorporate in your day-to-day to reduce stress and anxiety.

  1. Spend time with friends and family. And give someone a hug!

Spending quality time with friends and family (and pets!) is a great way to increase oxytocin levels in the body, decrease blood pressure, and slow heart rate. Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone”, but increased levels can result in warm and fuzzy feelings and can help combat stress. Giving someone a hug or showing signs of physical affection is a great way to boost the release of this hormone! 

  1. Do breathing exercises or practise meditation.

Consciously slowing down breathing or slowing down your mind through meditation has shown to help with stress and anxiety. For example, slowing down breathing is a good way to reduce your heart rate, which is often elevated when feeling stressed or anxious. Meditation has shown to decrease blood pressure, which is often elevated in times of stress.

  1. Positive psychology practises such as writing in a journal. 

Positive psychology is the study of what contributes to people leading happy and healthy lives. The intention isn’t for it be superficial, but rather a science that can help people in their day to day lives.

An example of this is a gratitude journal. Taking time every day or every week to write down a few things that make you happy or grateful can be a great way to decrease stress and increase overall well-being.

 

The takeaway?

Stress and anxiety are negative feelings that have become too frequent in our daily lives. However, incorporating some of these remedies into your daily or weekly routine may be just what you need to relieve some stress and anxiety. Herbals, diet, and exercise are big key players when it comes to maintaining a healthy mind!

 

References

 

  1. Amsterdam, J. D., Li, Y., Soeller, I., Rockwell, K., Mao, J. J., & Shults, J. (2009). A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial Of Oral Matricaria Recutita (Chamomile) Extract Therapy Of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 29(4), 378–382.
  2. Aylett, E., Small, N., & Bower, P. (2018). Exercise in the treatment of clinical anxiety in general practice – a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Health Services Research, 18, 559.
  3. Bear, T. L. K., Dalziel, J. E., Coad, J., Roy, N. C., Butts, C. A., & Gopal, P. K. (2020). The Role of the Gut Microbiota in Dietary Interventions for Depression and Anxiety. Advances in Nutrition, 11(4), 890–907.
  4. Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 34(3), 255–262.
  5. Crane, P. J., & Ward, S. F. (2016). Self-Healing and Self-Care for Nurses. AORN Journal, 104(5), 386–400.
  6. Kimura, K., Ozeki, M., Juneja, L. R., & Ohira, H. (2007). L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biological Psychology, 74(1), 39–45.
  7. Saeed, S. A., Cunningham, K., & Bloch, R. M. (2019). Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Benefits of Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation. American Family Physician, 99(10), 620–627.
  8. Yeung, K. S., Hernandez, M., Mao, J. J., Haviland, I., & Gubili, J. (2018). Herbal Medicine for Depression and Anxiety: A Systematic Review with Assessment of Potential Psycho-Oncologic Relevance. Phytotherapy Research: PTR, 32(5), 865–891.