The year 2020 has managed to become synonymous with all things chaotic, unfortunate, and dumpster fire-y. The once-in-a-generation pandemic and a massive election year has left our nerves frayed and frazzled. This unprecedented stress has been present for so long, in fact, that it’s managed to melt into the background of everyday life — it’s our “new normal,” so to speak.
Prolonged stress can manifest in a myriad of ways, including anxiety; depression; sleep and digestive disorders; weight gain; memory loss, and even more severe side effects like cancer and cardiovascular disease. So although it isn’t always easy, it’s incredibly important to not only give ourselves the grace to feel our feelings in their entirety but love ourselves enough to work on letting that stress go when and where we can.
If you’re looking for simple, holistic, and natural ways to soothe buzzing nerves and brain-tangling stress, there are several options to try from herbal supplements to aromatherapy to diet to physical movement. While none of these options is a miracle cure-all, and some experimenting might be necessary to find the right mix of treatment for you, these methods of natural stress and anxiety relief might get you on the path towards finding peace of mind.
Note: This is in no way refuting the importance of modern medicine in the treatment of diagnosed mental health disorders (Mother Earth is good, but she’s admittedly not that good). If you are on any medication, please consult with your doctor before adding new forms of treatment (natural or otherwise) to your normal regimen.
Herbal and Other Plant-Based Supplements
- L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea leaves, identified by Japanese scientists in 1949. The amino acid boosts GABA and other calming brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine; lowers levels of excitatory brain chemicals linked to stress and anxiety; and enhances alpha brain waves. This all results in better sleep, reduced stress and anxiety, and calm, attentive wakefulness.
- Valerian root was used in ancient Greece and Rome to ease insomnia, nervousness, trembling, and headaches. While the science is still hazy, researchers believe Valerian root increases the levels of a chemical known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which contributes to a calming effect on the body. Valerian root is typically taken in capsule or tea form.
- Lavender is another herbal remnant of the ancient world, having been used for centuries to soothe mental health issues like anxiety, insomnia, depression, headaches, and even hair loss. Whether through essential oils, tea, or dried flowers, lavender can promote feelings of calmness, more restful sleep, and alleviate ailments like headaches, menstrual cramps, and skin irritation.
- Lemon balm is a perennial herb from the mint family and has been used for the treatment of anxiety, stress, insomnia, indigestion, and dementia. Early research has shown taking lemon balm in either capsule, tea, tincture, essential oil, or topical form reduces anxiety and improves memory and alertness.
- Kava is a tropical-climate plant native to the Pacific Islands. Available in capsules, tinctures, and teas, Kava contains “kavain,” an active ingredient responsible for affecting mood receptors and providing feelings of relaxation and even euphoria.
Eat your veggies, whole grains, and don’t forget the probiotics.
Your mom was onto something when she demanded you eat your veggies. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants absorbed from our food help us regulate mood, digestion, and sleep. Make sure to include the following in your day-to-day diet:
- Healthy fats like avocados, eggs, walnuts, chia seeds, olives, and salmon
- Vitamin C from fruits, broccoli, and red peppers
- Complex carbs from whole grains, vegetables, and fruits
- Magnesium from spinach and other leafy greens, nuts, and seeds
- Drink kombucha or take a daily probiotic to keep your digestive system and your mood regular.
The New Kid on the Block: Cannabidiol, or CBD
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is often inaccurately associated with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. The former is a chemical found naturally in cannabis (both marijuana and hemp), but only the latter provides the feeling of intoxication (translation: THC gets you high, CBD does not). This isn’t the reefer you sneaked out to smoke as a teenager; this is medicine.
CBD is thought to interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain, and while this interaction is not fully understood yet, researchers believe CBD may alter serotonin signals. Low serotonin levels are commonly associated with people who have depression and anxiety. Conventional treatment for low serotonin is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), but some people suffering from anxiety and high stress levels have been able to manage their condition with CBD instead. CBD may also benefit people suffering from social anxiety disorder (SAD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
CBD has been infused just about anything these days: tinctures, teas, food, lotions, and even make-up. It’s important to take a few extra steps to research the company, its products’ CBD content, and their methods of harvesting. Health.com has compiled a list of their top ten recommended CBD oils and is a great place to start if you’re new to the world of cannabidiol.
Get Up and Moving!
This is probably one of my least favorite pieces of advice for combatting stress and anxiety, so I understand if you’re mid-eye-roll, but there’s a reason why it’s repeated time and time again. Scientists everywhere have been saying that exercise in almost any form acts as a natural stress reliever. And no, you don’t have to run ten miles just to get your feel-good endorphin fix.
As a non-athletic person with a jam-packed schedule (at least pre-pandemic #laughingthroughthepain), the idea of taking more time out of my airtight schedule only stressed me out more. But the great part about using physical movement to relieve stress is it can be whatever you want it to be. If you prefer traditional forms of exercise like running, swimming, or weight lifting, more power to you! But if you’ve often struggled with a disconnect between your frazzled mind and a stationary body, try one of these modes of non-strenuous and non-time-consuming physical movement to ease some of that stress.
- Slow flow yoga (we love Yoga with Kassandra and Five Parks Yoga with Erin Sampson on Youtube, both of whom offer relaxing, restorative yoga flows from 10 minutes to an hour and a half) — flexibility not required!
- Dancing around the house! Give yourself four minutes to be taken over by your favorite song that gets your toes tapping and hips shaking. Just ONE song, then see how you feel (we guarantee you’ll be going for a second or third).
- Hula hooping isn’t just for backyard kid parties, folks. Not only is hoop dancing a massive trend in the flow arts community, it’s also a wonderful form of self-expression and meditation. We recommend browsing Etsy for reputable hoop-makers (dollar store hoops are typically weighted with water or beads that make them tricky to use).
- Take a walk. Walking has been shown to boost moods, relieve depression, and keep your muscles limber and strong. If you’re WFH these days, consider taking a 15-minute break for a quick walk around the block or apartment complex before diving back into another work-related rabbit hole.
Practice gratitude and self-reflection.
As we age, our bodies naturally release less dopamine. This drop in our “reward” chemical makes time appear to move faster, which can prompt feelings of stress and anxiety due to a perceived lack of time that’s never fully regained. In a world as busy as ours, it’s easy to fly from one task to the next without taking a second to breathe. Try these simple exercises in gratitude and self-reflection to slow those pesky hands of time from zooming around the clock while you’re not looking.
- Journal as often as you can. Keeping a journal can be tricky — it’s hard to keep up the habit, and once you’ve reached a certain point, you feel like there’s too much to catch up on to continue writing. But keep. Writing. Using an app like Google Drive or an iCloud-synced Notepad can keep your journal accessible across all of your devices.
- Unplug already! Okay, it’s safe to say you’re probably reading this on a device right now, but at the risk of sounding a smidge hypocritical, make sure to unplug at least once a week. Doing so helps time slow down, improves mood and sleep, strengthens your immediate relationships, and gives your brain a chance to recover from the flashy, distracting, and FOMO-inducing world of social media.