Natural Methods for Dealing with Stress and Anxiety
By Jad Patrick
BHsc Naturopathy | Grad. Dip. Counselling | ANTA Member 12680
Jad Patrick is a qualified Naturopath and Counsellor who practices at Prahran Health Foods. Jad was recently interviewed on a podcast about the damaging effects of stress in our modern lives. The interview explores possible evolutionary basis of why we tend to focus on the negatives, the fight-flight stress response and how we can harness the mind-body connection.
You can listen to Jad on The Primal Shift Podcast. Jad has prepared an article below regarding natural methods for dealing with stress and anxiety.
Do you suffer from any of these symptoms?
• Headaches, other aches and pains
• Sleep disturbance, insomnia
• Upset stomach, indigestion, diarrhea
• Anger, irritability
• Feeling overwhelmed and out of control
• Feeling moody, tearful
• Difficulty concentrating
• Low self-esteem, lack of confidence
• Weakened immune system
• Blood sugar imbalances
• Weight loss and gain
Many of these symptoms can be signs of chronic stress, anxiety and worry. More and more these days science is uncovering the damaging role stress has to play in the development of disease.
So what exactly is ‘stress’?
Stress is the uncomfortable strain or pressure we feel when we perceive we are unable to cope with the demands of a situation or experience. Stress is an uncomfortable emotional reaction to that pressure or to perceived threat.
Is all stress bad for us?
Short periods of stress can actually be beneficial as it motivates us to change our situation for the better. Longer periods of stress, especially when accompanied by a perception that we do not have the resources or support necessary to cope, is the form of stress that has been linked to poor health outcomes, both physically and mentally.
How is anxiety different to stress?
Anxiety is a bit different to chronic stress. Anxiety is the persistent feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. This persistent worry has to have been going for a long time for it to be described as chronic anxiety rather than just worry or stress. Chronic anxiety can be very debilitating and can affect people’s relationships, and ability to function normally. This level of anxiety must be managed with professional help, however mild stress and anxiety can often be treated naturally with lifestyle measures, nutrition and herbal medicines.
Why is ongoing stress damaging to our health?
Stress and anxiety is associated with hormonal changes such as elevated cortisol and adrenalin. In short bursts these hormones prepare us for a fight or flight response. In days gone by our ancestors had to be prepared to flee from a predator or duck from a falling tree. These days however people experience ongoing periods of chronic stress that they cannot escape from. This leads to persistent elevations in cortisol and adrenalin. Long term elevations in cortisol suppress the immune system, break down muscle tissue, increase fat mass (especially in the midsection), and raise our blood sugar. This persistent elevation can lead to burn out, fatigue, and health problems.
How can I reduce excess cortisol?
There are many herbs and lifestyle interventions that can help with cortisol excess. Lifestyle measures and herbs are suggested below that may help. For more detailed information come in store to speak to our qualified staff for further advice or book in to see one of our practitioners for a more in depth assessment of your stress levels at theorchardprahran.com.au
Empower yourself against stress and anxiety
How can herbs and supplements quieten the anxious mind and reduce the damaging impact of cortisol?
There are many gentle herbs and nutrients that can help calm an overactive stressed out system, and reduce anxiety. Many of these have considerable scientific evidence now that supports their traditional use. If you are also taking medication for stress or anxiety, please be aware that herbs can sometimes interact with the medication you are taking, so always check with our qualified staff before adding any supplements into your regime.
Useful supplements to consider using when under stress or suffering from anxiety include:
Kava: Studies in Melbourne have demonstrated clearly that the herb Kava when compared to placebo substantially reduces anxiety in those suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Kava has sedative and muscle relaxant properties that make it ideal for those suffering from muscle tension or insomnia due to stress. Kava appears to be much less habit forming than conventional medical treatments for anxiety, however people using kava should seek medical advice if they have any pre-existing liver disease.
Ginseng, Rhodiola and Withania: These are known in herbal medicine as adaptogens, that is, herbs that help us to adapt to stressful demands. They have been researched to improve energy levels, endurance and concentration during stressful periods. They can be useful for short periods such as exams, or busy periods at work, when you need to perform at your peak and avoid fatigue without the downsides of stronger stimulants such as coffee.
Fusion Stress and Anxiety: Is a herbal preparation that contains the herbs Withania, Magnolia and Holy Basil. These herbs have independently been shown to assist with anxiety, improve stress tolerance and reduce the stress hormone cortisol. The synergistic combination of these herbs provides a potent antidote to some of the symptoms of stress and anxiety, with the added benefit of not making you drowsy.
B-complex Vitamins: Stress can increase the bodies need for vitamins in the B group which are needed for energy production, nervous system health and production of neurotransmitters. In addition studies have shown that people who are taking anti-depressants will have better results with their medication if they have sufficient levels of B6, B12 and Folate – all of which are found in most good quality B-complex vitamin formulas.
Magnesium: Needed for normal relaxation response in muscle cells, magnesium is a critical mineral needed for healthy nervous system function. It is often indicated for use with nervous tension, restless legs, difficulty falling asleep and sensitivity to pain. Powdered formulations often have other co-factors that support magnesium’s use in assisting with muscle tension or sleep.
Fish Oil: Our brains are literally made out of fats, and the omega 3 fats in particular found in oily fish have had huge amounts of research supporting their importance in nervous system health. Supplementation with fish oil has been found to help with our response to stress and even with depression. Be sure to select a high quality fish oil tested and filtered for heavy metals, and assessed for rancidity and oxidation.
Herbal Teas: If taking tablets does not appeal to you then there are many tea’s that are beneficial for stress and anxiety, and some even taste delicious. Passionflower tea is great for those experiencing restless overactive thoughts or who wake frequently during the night. Valerian root is well known for assisting sleep yet it is also a great anti-anxiety tea. Lemon Balm (Melissa) tea has a beautiful lemon grass flavor and has been found to reduce anxiety as well as enhance cognition. Chamomile is a very pleasant tasting tea that is excellent for calming the mind, and also good for those who experience digestive cramping or bloating when they are under stress.
For a more in depth look at what herbs or nutrients may help you to cope with stress and anxiety better why not book in and see one of the Naturopaths at The Orchard Prahran
*Herbal medicines are not recommended during pregnancy, lactation or infancy without further professional advice. If you are taking prescription medications please inform one of our qualified staff to assist you in choosing herbs to ensure there are no problematic interactions.
Yoga and Meditation
Numerous studies have now firmly established the benefit of yoga and meditation in reducing cortisol, adrenalin and the stress response. Regular practice of yoga and meditation is an excellent way to cope better with stress and reduce the negative impacts it has on our health. Our yoga classes upstairs are fantastic for anyone wanting to relax and unwind. Members get there first class free so come in and give it a try! We have no more than eight in a class so as to offer personalized, focused attention to adapt to YOUR needs. Learn how to slow down, breathe deeply, contemplate, meditate, be dynamic but at the same time remain tranquil and poised.
Write it down
The act of writing down or journaling what aspects of your life that are stressing you has been found in numerous studies to help reduce the symptoms of stress. The best way to approach this is to write down three main headings – Where do I have influence over the problem? Where am I unable to influence the problem? Where have I been avoiding the problem? After you have brainstormed a few ideas under each heading focus all your energy on the aspects of the problem you have some influence over, and break it down into baby steps. You may not have the full solution yet, but the act of approaching small pieces of the problem has a dramatic effect in reducing the symptoms of stress and enhancing a sense of self efficacy. Studies have even found that using this approach can improve immune function in the face of stress! Writing down the aspects of the problem that are beyond our control can help to ‘get it off our chest’ enabling better perspective and reducing our minds tendency towards rumination and worry.
Seek help and support
Often times when we feel overwhelmed it can be hard to get a clear perspective on the stress we face and how to deal with it. Qualified professional support can be very effective in these instances. If ongoing stress is effecting your health or ability to enjoy life then it is advisable to seek professional help.
What foods help with stress and anxiety?
The stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin are released whenever our blood sugar dips too low. Anything that helps to keep our blood sugar stable is good for reducing excess stress hormone production. Protein, fat and fibre in a meal all slow down the digestion of carbohydrate so include some in each meal. This is simpler than it sounds – choose a fist size serving of carbohydrate (e.g. a medium potato), a serve of protein the size and thickness of the palm of your hand (e.g. a small serve of salmon) and another fist size serve of vegetables (e.g. some steamed broccoli) and you have your meal covered. Anxiety and stress increase our bodies requirements for vitamin C, the vitamin B-Complex, magnesium and zinc. Important nutrients for healthy nervous system function also include Omega 3 fatty acids, Magnesium and Potassium. They are found in the following foods
Protein: Healthy sources include lean red meat, chicken breast, turkey, kangaroo and game meat, eggs, cottage cheese, ricotta, tofu, tempeh, fish and shellfish.
Slow release, low glycemic index carbohydrate: beans, fresh fruits (not juice), vegetables, legumes, whole grains (not processed whole grain foods though), most vegetables.
Vitamin C: Fresh raw fruits and vegetables in particular citrus fruits, tomatoes, capsicum, berries and guava.
B-Complex: Red meats, seafood, eggs, shellfish, mushrooms, oats, nuts, peanut butter, tahini/sesame paste, whole grains and milk
Magnesium: almonds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), artichokes, buckwheat flour, brazil nuts, cashews, spinach, peas, green leafy vegetables (especially bok choy and broccoli) and shellfish.
Zinc: Shellfish (especially oysters), seafood, beef, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), brazil nuts, peanuts, red meat.
Omega 3 fats: Salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, herring, free range or omega enriched eggs, beef, prawns and shellfish all contain the best form of omega 3 for brain health. The form found in plant sources is less well utilized by the body but can be found in walnuts, flax/linseeds, chia seeds, soya beans, raw leafy greens and canola oil.
Potassium: potatoes, bananas, dates, dried apricots, sultanas, raisins, figs, orange juice, carrot juice, avocado, prune juice, almonds, black-strap molasses, beans (especially baked beans and white beans), spinach and leafy greens.
Stress, worry and anxiety are inevitable aspects of our lives. This is not always a bad thing as stress and anxiety can trigger us to work harder and overcome obstacles. However problems start to occur when we either do not get a break from the stress in our lives or when we feel we have no control over our circumstances. It is in these instances that we need help in alleviating stress. This can take the form of lifestyle changes, herbal supplements, nutrition, medication and recognizing times when it is appropriate to seek professional help. Prahran Health Foods is proud to offer a variety of products and professional services to assist you in dealing with stress in your life. Please come in and have a chat to our friendly staff for further help and advice!