Herbalism Echinacea

Ask the Herbalist: Stress & Anxiety

Question: I have been suffering with high levels of stress and anxiety for several years now; I seem to carry stress from events of the past which I can’t shake off. My doctor has offered me anti-depressants but I’m not sure if that’s the right choice. Is there anything I can do naturally to help?

Answer: Stress was described as the “20th Century Disease” in a 1992 United Nations report but what does that mean? We certainly had stress before so what’s changed? As we take on more and more responsibilities in life it stands to reason that the stress associated with them will increase, along with the many benefits of modern living it also gives us more reasons to worry. The problem with this is that the major stressful times in our lives such as bereavement are less tolerable because of the multitude of smaller issues we face on a daily basis.

Stress is a fundamental part of life and you will never be able to avoid it completely nor would it be beneficial to you to do so, but there are some things you can do to increase your tolerance to it and therefore cope with it better. Often it is managing the ‘little things’ that helps the most, this is because firstly they are easier to deal with and secondly when you don’t let the little things bother you as much it makes the bigger things all the more possible to recover from.

The first thing to do is understand your limitations, don’t be too hard on yourself when you struggle to cope. In the same way you would show compassion to one of your friends who was going through a difficult time you should also show the same compassion to yourself. If you feel you are being overwhelmed by anxiety it is important to give time to yourself to recover from it in much the same way you would from an illness. Care for yourself the same as you would for a loved one by doing things you know will help to alleviate stress; it is amazing how much taking the time to have a long bath or spend a few hours outside walking will help to instantly restore a sense of well-being.

While we’re on the subject of taking time for yourself, I would certainly recommend meditation. This doesn’t have to have any kind of religious or spiritual connotation; in fact all it really means it to spend 20 minutes each day, or however long you like, sitting quietly without any distractions. This helps in two ways; firstly it has an immediate calmative effect on the system and secondly it allows you to sit with and examine the issues that are affecting you as opposed to the often normal practice of trying to avoid them.

A reliable way to raise your tolerance to stress is to exercise; in addition to being healthy physically it will also very quickly make you feel calm and more at ease with yourself. This doesn’t require going to the gym or purchasing expensive equipment; make use of what nature has given you by enjoying the outdoors. Try going for a walk for as little as 30 minutes each day, you will feel better in yourself for having done it. If I had to offer one way to reduce the negative effect of stress this would be it.

Finally there are a whole host of herbs that can help, but it is important to remember that while we may be trying to reduce the stress of modern life we still have to be a part of it so knowing which herbs will genuinely help and which will simply sedate you is often troublesome. I tend to believe that a simpler, gentler approach is far better and is more likely to induce a permanent change in your life than some of the more immediate interventions. A daily cup of chamomile tea is a great start, it is gentle enough to not cause you any other problems associated with taking it and it has a pleasant calming effect that can last for hours without leaving you feeling sedated. Valerian also works very well, particularly as a tincture, and can help a lot if you’re having difficulty sleeping due to anxiety. The class of herbs called Adaptogens are useful in helping you to cope with new instances of stress and one of the best examples of this is Siberian Ginseng which has been shown to help particularly well with insomnia, neuroses and imbalances in blood pressure. There are many more than I can list here but the examples I have given are reliable and easy for you to acquire from any health food shop.

Ultimately stress has to be managed from within and often there is no single answer but instead a range of changes in your life need to be made. But these changes will always start with a first step and quite often that first step is the most important one you’ll take as it will show you that you are more than capable of overcoming the difficulties in your life without having to resort to medical intervention.

Best wishes,
Jake Bose S.A.C. Dip. (phyt)
Medical Herbalist

To book a Herbal Medicine appointment with Jake Bose, please call us on 01872 274774 or visit our new online booking calendar.

In addition, Jake Bose holds free weekly Meditation & Buddhism sessions at the clinic every Wednesday evening from 7pm – 8:30pm. There is no need to book, simply drop in – perfect if you would like to explore and discuss this ancient practice further.

N.B. For those with existing medical conditions and those already taking medications, it is strongly advised that advice is sought from a professional herbalist and your GP before any of the therapies are used. Please read The Mitchell Hill Clinic’s Disclaimer before acting on any information provided here.

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