Mindfulness & Anxiety

Calming Herbs to Relieve Stress and Anxiety

By Heather Dileepan
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Stress, anxiety, and insomnia are closely related disorders that most of us experience at some point in our lifetime. In fact, an estimated 264 million people suffered from an anxiety disorder in 2017, while 1 in 4 Americans continue to develop insomnia each year.

Many experts agree that periods of high stress can trigger feelings of anxiety, which make it difficult to fall asleep at night. While not all sleep problems stem from anxiety, short term sleeplessness is often triggered by triggered by stress. In addition to insomnia, chronic stress has a profound effect on our physical and mental well being. It can lead to memory loss, dizziness, nausea, and chest pain, and can increase our risk of autoimmune and heart disease.

The good news is that natural calming herbs can help combat stress and anxiety, especially when paired with other healthy habits like diet, exercise, and appropriate amounts of sleep. Below are our favorite natural remedies that promote calm and relaxation.

The Best Calming Herbs to Try

Holy Basil

  • Best For—Stress
  • Suggested Use—Mix dry or fresh holy basil leaves into your favorite stir fry recipe or add them to tea.

Holy Basil or Tulsi is native to India and is a natural adaptogen used for centuries to combat stress and lower cholesterol. The seeds, leaves, and stems are used to produce oils for medicinal purposes, but the leaves can also be regularly found in Thai cooking as a spicy flavor enhancer. While more research is needed, a recent study found that regular use of holy basil for a period of 6 weeks helped reduce symptoms of stress in 39% of the participants.

Lavender

  • Best For—Sleep, anxiety
  • Suggested Use—Add a few drops of lavender oil to your favorite pillow, or rub it onto your wrists and feet before bed for pre-bedtime relaxation.

Lavender is not only popular for its fragrance but also because it’s a natural sedative and muscle relaxant. Its flowers and oil are useful remedies for anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness. Studies have also shown that lavender is an effective aid in the treatment of neurological diseases, with sedative, anti-anxiety, and mood stabilizing properties. Unlike many other herbal supplements, lavender is quickly absorbed topically. You can apply lavender oil directly to your skin or mix a few drops of it with carrier oils like coconut or almond oil for faster relief.

Chamomile

  • Best For—Sleep, stress
  • Suggested Use—Enjoy a cup of chamomile tea an hour before bed or after a stressful day.

Chamomile has long been recognized for its calming and sedative properties and was widely used in the middle ages to treat ailments like asthma and fevers. Today chamomile is still widespread and can be found in teas, tinctures, and essential oils, and is often paired with other herbs like hemp, ginger, or green tea.

Passionflower

  • Best For—Sleep, anxiety
  • Suggested Use—Take 10–20 drops of passionflower oil before bedtime or as needed to reduce anxiety.

Passionflower is a gentle sedative used as a sleep aid and in the reducing symptoms of anxiety. The herb has been widely used throughout South America for centuries to treat insomnia, alcoholism, migraines, and even bronchitis, although it was first documented in North America when early explorers tried the flower’s fruit and praised its flavor.

Hemp (CBD Oil)

  • Best For—Stress, anxiety, sleep
  • Suggested Use—Take CBD oil or capsules directly before bed, or add a CBD bath bomb to your nightly bath.

Hemp is a substrain of cannabis sativa that has many benefits, particularly thanks to it’s high levels of cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is a popular therapeutic alternative used to alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety, and it interacts with our central stress response system to promote hormone balance (without any of the psychoactive effects of marijuana). Hemp-derived CBD is versatile and is used to treat many ailments, including epilepsy and chronic pain. It’s also a natural relaxant that can be used as a sleep aid.

Kava

  • Best For—Stress
  • Suggested Use—Look for low dose kava teas or supplements

Pacific Islanders have used kava for generations for relaxation and stress relief, and in recent years, kava has gained popularity in the U.S. and Europe as a dietary supplement. It’s been shown by several studies to be effective in the treatment of stress and anxiety. In 2002, the food and drug administration linked kava use to some instances of liver damage associated with people who drank alcohol or  heavily used kava; while it’s still legal to use kava today, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before taking it to ensure it’s the right choice for you.

Valerian Root

  • Best For—Insomnia
  • Suggested Use—Take 300–600 milligrams an hour before bed.

Valerian root is taken from the Valeriana officinalis plant and was used as far back as ancient Greece for its therapeutic qualities. Today it’s recognized for its sedative properties and has been shown to help treat insomnia by reducing sleep onset latency. Valerian root is largely considered a safe supplement for those with insomnia, especially as part of a long-term treatment plan.

Lemon Balm

  • Best For—Sleep, anxiety
  • Suggested Use—Make a simple tincture from the leaves or buy in oil form to add to tea, take directly, or apply topically to your skin.

Lemon balm is a perennial plant found in gardens all over the world, and has been used since the middle ages to treat stomach aches, insomnia, and depression. Several studies have documented its sedative effect and usefulness in the treatment of insomnia and anxiety, especially when combined with other herbs like valerian root.

Additional Tips

Along with herbal remedies, cultivating healthy sleep and lifestyle habits can go a long way toward reducing anxiety and sleeplessness. Here are some additional tips for reducing stress and anxiety that complement the effects of herbal supplements:

  • Meditation—Spending at least 10 minutes a day clearing your mind and relaxing your thoughts and body can help slow racing, anxious thoughts.
  • Sleep Habits—Creating a bedtime routine, keeping a consistent sleep schedule, and avoiding electronics in bed are all examples of good sleep practices, which can help you get to sleep easier and give your body the rest that it needs.
  • Diet and Exercise—Regular exercise and healthy food choices regulate our bodies and can reduce feelings of anxiety, lift our mood, and help us better cope with life’s stressors.

As with any changes to your health, make sure to alert your doctor to any increases in anxiety, external stressors, or insomnia, and talk over the best treatment plan for you.

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