Who doesn’t have stress? Occasionally I run into someone who says they don’t and I usually tell them that they must not be alive. With our active lifestyles, work, family, traffic and the “daily grind,” we all have stress. You can’t run and hide from it either. Even someone living on a desert island has stress. But what exactly is it, and does natural medicine offer any solutions?
Stress is the mental and physical response to the demands of our daily life. But how much can your body handle? We are not all created equal and therefore our symptoms and needs are different.
Let’s face it, stress, sleep and mood issues are all interconnected. Stress is probably the root of all three. My focus will be on what to do about your stress, but first we need to learn more about how stress affects us both long- and short-term.
• Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress
• Seventy five to ninety percent of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints
• Stress is linked to six of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide
The Symptoms & Side-Effects of Stress
There are many health issues that have been linked to stress such as asthma, chronic fatigue, erectile dysfunction, heart disease, high blood pressure, IBS, ulcers, skin diseases, anxiety, depression and alcohol abuse. This list could go on forever but hopefully you get the idea. It is important to acknowledge that you have stress and learn to deal with it. Chronic stress can wear down the body's natural defenses, leading to a variety of physical symptoms. Here are just a few:
• Weight gain
• Racing heart
• Upset stomach
• Sexual difficulties
• Stomach problems
• Increase in appetite
• General aches and pains
• Muscle tension in neck, face or shoulders
What can I do naturally to fight stress?
Here are a few suggestions:
• Take supplements: they work!
• Get enough rest: aim for 8-10 hours of sleep per night.
• Try meditation: meditation and controlled breathing can help calm you down.
• Avoid caffeine: caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants can make you jittery and keep you awake.
• Increase your activity level: brisk walking 30 minutes per day can help relieve tension and anxiety.
• Counseling: expressing and dealing with stressful issues can have significant impact on stress levels.
More on Supplements for Stress-Management
Supplements are the quickest way to get relief from your stress and anxiety. I always start with a good high-potency B-complex (like a B-100) and magnesium. Going back to my biochemistry from pharmacy school, we learned that certain B vitamins like B-6, folic acid and B-12, along with magnesium, play an important role in supporting the nervous system. Add in the phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylcholine (natural sources of serine and choline ) and you have an amazing mix to help support the manufacturing and balancing of your neurotransmitters.
Individual supplements like valerian, passion flower, chamomile and ginseng usually roll off the tongue of those who know a bit about herbal medicine, but there are a bunch of new players that work great and should not be overlooked. Here is a quick list and explanation of what they will do for you and your mood concerns:
5 HTP: helps with serotonin production
Kava Kava: for more severe cases of anxiety
Relora®: stress reduction – takes the “edge off”
Ashwaganda: an adaptogen (helps body adapt /recover from stress and anxiety); calming; helps you cope with physical and emotional stress
Rhodiola: an adaptogen (helps body adapt/recover from stress and anxiety); increased energy; helps you cope with both physical and emotional stress
Valerian: sleep and stress (depending on dose used)
GABA: stabilizes mood; improves sleep & mental sharpness
Chamomile: decreases feelings of stress and anxiety (chill pill)
L-Theanine: promotes deeper relaxation and improved mental alertness
DHA: look for this in a mood-targeted formula; excellent for mental function
Holy Basil: helps the body relax and adapt to stress, giving you a better mood
Passion Flower: sleep, stress and muscle relaxation (depending on dose used)
This is just a small list of what is available on the market. Each of these supplements has unique qualities that help your body to either deal with stress, or recover from it. It is best to consult with your store health enthusiast for the product that will be right for you. Instead of trying to find the needle in the haystack or trying to play mix master, I recommend that you look for combination-formulas that use multiple ingredients directed towards your stress/sleep/mood needs.
In most cases, these formulations will work within days. Formulas that focus more on nutritional components like B-vitamins will take longer to work, but be better for you over the long haul.
The Importance of Adrenal Support
Remember that stress negatively impacts your adrenals, which are important for helping the body adapt to, and deal with, stress (I suggest you read my past articles on energy to learn more). An adrenal support formula can provide the help you need. There are many to choose from at your local Vitamin Shoppe. Some of the nutrients listed above will be included in your adrenal formulas.
For some people, homeopathy or flower essences, rather than traditional supplements, can be a great solution. Rescue Remedy (one of the Bach Flower Remedies) is a rock star product that is safe for people of all ages. Want a quick fix? Give Rescue Remedy a try. I believe every household should have this available. It is safe for kids – great to use when they are crying hysterically over something traumatic such as a fall with cuts and scrapes.
The Sleep-Stress Link
Stress and sleep are often linked in a catch-22 situation: too much stress can adversely affect your sleep, and too little sleep can make you feel more stressed. Sleep issues that are related to stress will benefit greatly from using adrenal support formulas, adaptogens, and other stress supplements mentioned. Until you get your body in balance, some sleep aids will not work. You can learn more about sleep and other tricks I have from past newsletter articles on vitaminshoppe.com.
Here is a quick reference list of some great sleep supplements:
• Insomnia Tablets (Homeopathic): self-explanatory
• Melatonin: great for aging people or those who travel across time zones
• Valerian: sleep and stress
• Passion Flower: sleep, stress and muscle relaxation
• Teas: See my article on Herbal Teas in this newsletter
• Lavender Essential Oil: aromatherapy for sleep…use a drop or two on your pillow, and sleep tight
Finally, incorporating the 4 Pillars of Great Health will have a relatively quick impact on your body’s ability to deal with stress. As I mentioned earlier, stress is something that we all have and have to deal with. With these simple suggestions you can feel better and hopefully avoid some of the other health conditions linked to stress.