According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI),(1) it is estimated that right now Over 40 million adults in the U.S. (19.1%)(2)are living with some form of an anxiety disorder. Studies over the last couple years have shown that generalized anxiety is on the rise worldwide.
Anxiety is a fairly common feeling that plagues almost all of us at some point in our lives. However, if our anxiety starts to run past logical "worry" (like the feeling you get before a test or a blind date) and extends into more disordered thinking, its time to get professional help.
Herbalists have used various forms of plant medicine known to help support conditions such as anxiety, depression and sleep disorders with a high level of success (3). The two most popular types of classes of herbs used for anxiety are Adaptogens and Nervines.
Adaptogens are herbs that help to restore overall balance to our bodies in a multi-directional and non-specific way. Adaptogens strengthen the functioning of the body as a whole so that we can better adapt to stress and feel less anxious. Adaptogens can take awhile to build up in our body, so it is beneficial to use over a longer period of time. Adaptogens can make us more resilient to the stresses that life throws at us.
Top Adaptogens we like for Anxiety:
Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) - It is a calming herb that helps normalize the stress response, restore vitality and promotes overall health. Studies have shown that Holy Basil has the potential to counter metabolic stress(6) by stabilizing blood sugar levels. New research is showing that fluctuations in blood sugar can cause anxious feelings.
Nervines are the second class of herbs used to promote well being. Nervines are types of herbs that calm, quiet, strengthen, nourish and support our central nervous system. Nervines tend to work more quickly to restore balance and restfulness in the body.
Top Nervines we like for Anxiety:
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) - This herb can help when experiencing nervous exhaustion, feeling down, and restlessness.(9)
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)- Relieves general tension, occasional nervous restlessness, and supports restful sleep. Studies have shown passionflower to be effective on generalized anxiety disorder. (10)
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) - Is a Nervine with adaptogenic abilities. It calms the nervous system and promotes relaxation. Reishi also supports adrenal gland function. (11)
We all feel the detrimental effects of modern stresses from time to time. Collectively there is growing anxiety around climate change, political & social issues and even dealing with technological advancements. A recent study shows 74% of UK citizens polled were overwhelmed or unable to cope at some point in the past year because of stress. (12)
When we are stressed we experience both mental and physical symptoms, like anger, pain, fatigue, impaired sleep and even digestive issues. Anxiety can arise from stress, but anxiety tends to be defined by excessive worrying and persistent feelings of doom that don't go away - even when there isn't really a stressor.
It's time we consider behavioural, nutritional and lifestyle changes that help support our body and our long term wellbeing. Reducing stress, behaviour modifications and clinical support is our best bet in dealing with anxiety. Herbal support is just one of the many ways we can help our body better adapt while increasing our resilience to modern life.