Stress is a reaction to being under too much pressure, where you feel unable to cope (NHS, 2015). There are numerous causes of stress from demands at work, relationship issues, changes in life circumstances (even good changes), financial worries etc. Stress can be short-term (acute) or persist for a long time (chronic). If you feel unable to cope you should contact your GP for advice as soon as possible.
Stress presents itself differently in different people, symptoms include: sleep problems, fatigue, palpitations, irritability, memory problems and lack of concentration, skin problems (e.g. hives, eczema), tension in the body (e.g. neck, shoulders), hair loss and high blood pressure (Glenville, 2010). Long term stress can lead to a plethora of health issues, including anxiety, depression, digestive issues such as IBS, high blood pressure and heart problems…..but let’s try not to get stressed about that!
Here’s what you can do to manage your stress levels:
Basic stress management techniques include mindfulness, exercise such as yoga, breathing exercises, taking some time to yourself to do an activity that you enjoy and eating a healthy diet that is low in caffeine, alcohol and sugar. Continue reading for herbal remedies to help you relax. For more information on basic stress management techniques from the NHS click here and here.
Herbs to help you relax:
Herbs affect everyone differently, please make sure you read the cautions at the end of the article. If you are unsure of whether these suggestions may be suitable for you and are not sure of the doses please consult a qualified herbalist and/or your GP. If you wish to arrange a consultation with me (Rachel Barrow: Medical Herbalist) please click here.
Valerian Root (Valeriana officinalis)
Valerian is a powerful, non-addictive, herb to be taken in times of extreme stress or anxiety. It can be made as a tea, although there are essential oils that could escape, so ensure that you use an airtight container or lid for the preparation. Most people, however, do not like the taste. Details on how to make your own valerian tincture coming soon! Valerian has been used since Hippocratic times and has since been shown to naturally relax the Central Nervous System (Balch, 1998). It can be taken safely in combination with skullcap, limeflowers, passionflower, hops or oats depending on what would best suit the individual. Caution: valerian can cause headaches and giddiness in some people.
German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
German chamomile (which is the type of chamomile in ‘chamomile tea’) is useful for helping you relax during short-term stress. As an adult, you can have a cup of tea as desired. Chamomile is a mild sedative and can calm anxiety, soothe irritability and reduce nightmares (McIntyre, 2006).
add Catnip (Nepeta cataria L.) if you are feeling adventurous.
If you want to make your own tea, add 1tsp of dried chamomile flowers and 1 tsp of catnip to 250ml of water. Seep for 10 minutes and then strain (Vukovic, 2003). Catnip is effective against stress as it is a mild sedative. It can cause drowsiness so should be taken in small doses (Balch, 2012).
Hops (Humulus lupulus) and Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Hops, best known for flavouring and stabilising beer, can be particularly useful in soothing stress related digestive issues due to their antispasmodic, calming effect. Do not take hops if you are suffering from depression. Contrary to popular belief, hops are gluten-free and can be taken by those with coeliac disease (although obviously not when they are in beers containing barley/wheat etc!). They are best taken as a tea, tincture or made into a pillow.
Hops work well when they are taken in combination with another herb. One effective combination for some is with passionflower.
Passionflower is particularly useful for tackling insomnia. It calms the nerves and reduces muscle tension (McIntyre, 2006).
‘Siberian ginseng’ (Eleutherococcus senticosus)’
Taken as a tincture for improving memory and concentration during times of stress. Siberian ginseng is traditionally used for stress caused by weather or environmental changes (Balch, 2012). It strengthens the adrenal glands helping the body to cope (Vukovic, 2003). Do not take for more than six weeks. Avoid if you have prostate cancer or any autoimmune disease such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
‘American ginseng’ (Panax quinequefolium)
Taken as a tincture to restore health and for general well-being during chronic stress (Balch, 2012).
and ‘Ginseng’ (Panax ginseng)‘
Ginseng is a nerve tonic for helping memory and reducing cardiovascular problems during prolonged stress (Balch, 2012). It is usually taken as a tincture.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Skullcap limits the production of a particular hormone associated with stress, the adrenocorticotropic hormone (Balch, 2012). It can be taken as a tea and has uplifting properties. Do not take if you have diarrhoea.
Lavender (Lavandula officinalis)
Lavender flowers can be used in teas, but their aromatic essential oils can be used to relax muscles and ease the mind (McIntyre, 2006). Lavender is often used for aromatherapy baths, massage oils or temple balms to induce deep relaxation.
Limeflower (Tilia europaea)
Limeflower tea can reduce stress headaches, lower irritability and lower high blood pressure as well as decreasing the occurrence of palpitations (McIntyre, 2006). Do not use if you have low blood pressure or are taking blood pressure medication.
There are many herbs that have calmative effects and just a few are covered here. If you would like to research further you may wish to consider:
Vervain (Verbena officinalis)
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Oats (Avena sativa)
- If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, contact a medical professional immediately.
- You should check with your GP before commencing any herbal regime especially if you take medication, have long-term health issues, are pregnant, breastfeeding or elderly. Although herbs are generally considered safe, they can have contra-indications and react with other medications that you are taking. If you have any side effects discontinue use and contact a medical professional immediately.
- Do not self-diagnose, if you are experiencing symptoms that you think are related to stress such as headaches and palpitations, check with you GP that they are not due to any other underlying health issues.
Balch, P.A. 2012. Prescription for Herbal Healing, 2nd Edition, London: Penguin Books.
Bartram, T. 1998. Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, London: Constable and Robinson.
Glenville, M. 2010. The Natural Health Bible for Women, London: Duncan Baird Publishers.
McIntyre, A. 2006. The Top 100 Herbal Remedies, London: Duncan Baird Publishers.
NHS. 2015. Struggling with stress? [Online]. [Accessed 02 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/understanding-stress.aspx
Vukovic, L. 2003, 1001 Natural Remedies, London: Doring Kindersley.