Lately, people in the USA have dealt with anxiety from the recent election and political stress. This, compounded with fear from COVID and rising cases in some states adds to the mental stress for all Americans.
Are you feeling more stress than usual? One of the trending searches on Google is finding effective home remedies for anxiety and stress, so I thought this week would be a good time to write about some options. Anything that helps reduce daytime stress can help with nighttime issues like insomnia.
Herbal supplements and vitamins that create calm in the body are those that increase activity, or production of certain feel-good hormones in the body. Pharmaceuticals and herbal supplements target the same receptors and same hormones. For example, the benzodiazepines target GABA receptors in the body. So does magnolia herb, kava, California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and taurine.
Other relaxing drugs and botanicals target receptors that help you make more serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, progesterone or cannabinoid feel-good hormones. Yet another mechanism of action that we can take advantage of to relax ourselves is to reduce cortisol, or glutamate. The key to manipulating all these pathways is very important because some botanicals raise levels, while others reduce levels. You have to know what you’re doing with all of these and that’s where I can help you.
Some supplements will work faster than others too, so keep that in mind. Furthermore, taking one vitamin or mineral will impact the level of others so I do not recommend self-treatment. For example, magnesium and calcium compete with one another in the heart. Calcium makes the heart contract and may overstimulate your heart muscle, so when you take magnesium it counters that effect and relaxes the heart. It relaxes the body and mind for that matter! Magnesium is a chill pill, and it helps your heart cells to relax by countering the effects of calcium. These minerals compete with one another, that’s why people take calcium in the daytime and magnesium at night time. There is nothing is straightforward in human body!
Using the example of magnesium, certain absorbable forms of it (for instance “magnesium threonate” but not “magnesium oxide”) will bind immediately to GABA receptors which relaxes your nervous system and creates calm rather quickly, within an hour or so. Now, compare that to taking a fish oil each day, or probiotics or even ashwagandha at night… these things take weeks to months to effectively reduce cortisol and relax you. I hope that understanding all of these subtle nuances will help you decide what is best for you. Of course, have a discussion with your practitioner to make sure you can take any of the things in my list below because they do interact with medications. Before I get to the natural remedies, here are some non-supplement ways to calm down:
Play with your pup.
If you have a dog, this is a good time to tend to your pet because studies show it helps to reduce stress and ease loneliness. It encourages playfulness too.
Take deeper breaths.
We forget during the day and tend to hold our breath, especially while doing chores and listening to news, working and so forth. If you can catch yourself, or ask someone in the house to help you, try to take breath breaks. This can have instantly positive effects on the body. It’s better if you can lie down or find a special chair to sit in and focus on your breathing, but even if you cannot, just close your eyes, inhale deeply 5 to 10 times, and take note of your body. Are your shoulders hunched up? Relax them. Are your thighs holding tension? Let them relax. Are your frowning? Relax your eyes. Doing this simple maneuver a couple of times a day will feel nice and it gives your brain a vacay for a minute or two.
Turn on some music. It doesn’t even have to be soft music if you don’t want that, it could be any music, even the kind that makes you want to get up and dance! For that matter, get up and dance if you’d like! The songs you play will help you focus on something other than bad news. It takes your mind off things for a few minutes.
If you cannot go to your gym due to local shutdowns, or fear of contracting a germ, then do something physical at home. There are now classes online via Zoom. There are paths and parks that you can go to and take a walk on. There are home-based gyms, and weights that you can buy and use. You can jog outside for free, or take a walk with a neighbor around your community. Moving is natural to us, and lately, we have not been exercising as much as normal so you will feel much better after a good work out and a cool shower. Try it at the level that you are able to.
Go out into nature.
Put down the phone, and go outside. It’s impossible to stay worked up about problems if you’re among the flowers, or if you’re watching the snow fall, or photographing a squirrel or bunny in the yard. Plant some bulbs, this is the time to plant your tulips, iris bulbs and daffodil bulbs. If you can’t dig, you can toss wildflower seeds out into a garden bed and wait for spring. It gives you something lovely to look forward to in March. I’ve been doing a lot of this lately myself.
Right now, I would like to offer some health tips on natural vitamins, minerals and herbs that could help you with stress, anxiety and sleepless nights. Please look these up and ask your practitioner what is right for you because even though they are sold at any health food store or e-tailer, it’s good to have someone in-the-know supervising your protocols. Here are the 8 most effective natural approaches for stress:
1. Vitamin C – This helps everyone produce feel-good hormones. It also helps people who have a sluggish COMT “worry” gene SNP. Vitamin C is known to reduce both physical symptoms and psychological symptoms of stress. In fact, a study was done in the early 2000’s that showed those people with normal to high levels of C had better coping skills. As a perk, vitamin C is well-known for it’s profound benefits to all aspects of immune structure and function. Vitamin C comes as a synthetic form called “ascorbic acid” as well as the natural type that is extracted from fruits like oranges or cherries.
2. Chamomile – This ancient herb is easy to enjoy because you can buy tea bags and drink a cup of it for fairly immediate effects. It has anti-cancer benefits thanks to one of many compounds called “apigenin.” It is this apigenin in chamomile that immediately binds to your GABA receptors, creating instant tranquility.
3. Magnesium – This mineral comes in many forms and unfortunately people often buy the laxative form which goes right through you. It doesn’t get absorbed into your bloodstream to do anything… to build bones, strengthen teeth, support heart rhythm, reduce migraine frequency, improve attention, relax the nervous system…. So you must pick the type of magnesium that gets absorbed into your bloodstream and does all that good stuff. Again, most people are taking a cheap form of magnesium assuming it does all that when it does not. Magnesium relaxes the entire central nervous system, it works immediately and it can also be taken transdermally using a magnesium spray! This is useful for episodes of panic too.
4. Lavender – Lavender is considered as one of the world’s best-seller natural approaches for anxiety, stress and depression. This herb is available to you in many forms. Among my favorites, lavender tea or lavender essential oil. One of the active constituents of lavender (linalool) works along the NMDA receptor pathway and reduces glutamate’s affinity to receptors. When you do that, you induce immediate calm. It also slows down the serotonin transporter and when you do that, you feel more relaxed. Another constituent that you can research if you’d like is “linalyl acetate.”
5. Compounds that raise GABA.
Taurine is a very affordable, easy-to-find amino acid and it normal doses it can activate GABA receptors and encourage the release of GABA, much like a benzodiazepine would. But taurine doesn’t lead to addiction. There are many herbs that do this too, including valerian root, kava, California poppy, ashwagandha, magnolia, passionflower and others. These are affectionately dubbed Mother Nature’s benzos!
Just a word about ashwagandha because I put this in one of my dietary supplements for thyroid and adrenal health. It has been shown to significantly increase GABA levels in parts of the brain and therefore it has what’s called “GABA-mimetic activity” on both the GABA-a and GABA-b receptor sites. It’s pretty potent! In short, it often causes drowsiness, that’s why some people take supplements of ashwagandha at night. But that said, everyone is different, I can’t say how you will respond.
6. Green Tea – I don’t usually recommend this one at night time and I’m only mentioning it here because it does work for some. It just depends. There are all kinds of natural healing compounds in green tea. Some of them block melatonin which you need for sleep. So if you’ve tried to drink a cup at night, and found yourself up all night, you know what I mean. But other people swear by a small cup of green tea due to the L-theanine, a chemical that feels calming. My suggestion is to avoid green tea at night because the theanine might also increase alertness causing you to toss and turn. Now, it’s a totally different story during the day! If you want to drink green tea, or matcha tea during the day, that is a GREAT idea. It will cause you to feel better within an hour or two.
7. Glycine – This dietary supplement is an amino acid and also a neurotransmitter. It impacts various aspects of cognition and serves to stabilize some of the brain chemicals in your body. It is well known for its effects on sleep and tranquility. In fact, many people supplement with large doses (such as 2 – 3 grams) several hours before desired sleep, but you can take a micro dose during the day to help stay relaxed. It is found in meat, fish, cheese, yogurt and eggs. When glycine is used immediately post-stroke, there are benefits as well. And in fact, some doctors recommend glycine for people with schizophrenia. It increases serotonin, which then breaks down to melatonin. When you think of glycine, think of it as an inhibitory (blocking) compound. It inhibits activity in the body… it slows things down for the most part. Approximately half of the inhibitory pathway in your spinal cord need glycine to slow down.
8. Vitamin B6 – Take this in the daytime, because it can provide energy initially. It helps you make dopamine which is energizing. But B6 is also needed to break down glutamate which is stimulatory, and turn it into GABA which puts you to sleep. So a B6 deficiency in the human body could lead to slower breakdown of glutamate. When you have excessive glutamate, you will feel stressed and have difficulty coping.
And you’re mood is not always dependent on taking dietary supplements and vitamins. What you eat matters, and there are foods that raise dopamine levels and feel-good hormones. These include bananas, chocolate, eggs and others. See the picture below with other good-mood foods.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.