Anxiety… Something most of us, if not all of us, have felt before, at varying levels of extremity. It is easy to get caught up and overwhelmed in this crazy world; some of us can spot the triggers while others just face that dreaded feeling day after day, for no apparent reason.
I’d like to talk about how to address anxiety form a more holistic point of view. There are many alternative therapies available, including our reliable plant allies, that can be a viable remedy leading to a happier and healthier day-to-day life. However, lifestyle factors also play a huge role, and may be overlooked when trying to address anxiety or other mental health issues.
THE CULPRITS: CAFFEINE, ALCOHOL & CIGARETTES
Many people have contaced me over the years regarding anxiety, only to admit they’re drinking more than 2 cups of coffee a day! I simply suggest they replace coffee with damiana, and their anxiety often disappears!
As simple as it may sound, in order to sustainably help your anxiety, and in fact for any natural medications to work their magic, you must first limit unhelpful habits such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol consumption. Ironically the legal drugs in our society…
A CUP OF ANXIETY ANYONE?
Think of the last time you had one cup of coffee too many and found your palms sweating, your heart beating faster, and a nervous energy pulsing through you.
The stimulating effects of coffee that we so often crave, are proven to go hand in hand with an increased risk of anxiety, and even panic attacks.
According to psychiatrist Dr. Richa Bhatia, “Caffeine acts in the brain via various mechanisms. Some of these mechanisms have been implicated in triggering, exacerbating or maintaining anxiety…Caffeine can influence the neuroendocrine stress response system via its effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and stress hormones in the body.”
This means that those jitters are actually the release of cortisol, the stress hormone responsible for the flight-or-fight response we often experience as anxiety.
Makes you think differently about that self-induced overstimulation doesn’t it?
THE DRUG PARADOX: WHY ALCOHOL & NICOTINE ARE NOT ACTUALLY CALMING YOU DOWN
Turning to a drink or a smoke in times of stress is considered pretty normal behaviour. We all have our little crutches that we turn to, and society accepts that we deal with emotional dis-ease with the numbing or sedating effects of alcohol or cigarettes. So, it’s often hard to regonise that we’re stuck in a cycle of addiction.
Alcohol can seem calming in the moment, but in the long term it results in increased anxiety due to the withdrawal symptoms it provokes. Nicotine interacts with recpetors that release dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical associated with the pleasure response, providing a bit of short-term stress relief.
However, where normal activities increase dopamine by 50-100% over baseline levels, addictive substances such as nicotine increase dopamine by 200%, and amphetamines increase dopamine by 1,000%! When they’re bombarded with too much dopamine like this, your receptors shut down in a process called ‘downregulation,’ causing your brain to become less responsive in order to protect themselves from overstimulation.
So around and around you go, stuck in a cycle of addiction– needing more dopamine to feel relatively normal, yet feeling more anxious than ever!
But there is a solution! Stop using the substances, and over time your brain will return to its normal state. For example, neuroscientist Dr. Robert Lustig reports that as long as dopamine receptors are still alive they can regenerate, although it can take as long as 12 months for them to return to normal.
Do a simple Google search and you will find tons of available research showing how caffeine, alcohol and nicotine are strongly linked to anxiety and stress. So take back your power and try to swap them out with natural, drug-free alternatives!
HERBAL ALTERNATIVES & SOLUTIONS
- Matcha: It is a fabulous alternative to your cup of coffee in the morning. It still has caffeine, but it is processed in your body differently than the caffeine from coffee. The L-Theanine not only calms anxiety, but it keeps you focused and alert by extending the slow release of caffeine over 4-6 hours. So no coffee jitters, and instead a clear & calm mind.
- Brain-Stimulating Herbs: If you want to avoid caffeine all together, try brain-stimulating herbs such as Tulsi, Brahmi and Lion’s Mane. Combine with Damiana for ultimate anxiety relief and well-being. Learn more about the powers of nervine herbs in our herbalist’s recent blog.
Instead of a drink before bed, wind down with a cup of relaxing herbal tea!
Quit the nic and smoke some herbs instead! What I recommend is to use Damiana or one of our other smoking blends. Mix it with tobacco to start with then slowly use more herbs until you phase out the tobacco completely! A good way to ease yourself off of the habit.
While you’re quitting the bad habits, it is helpful to consume anxiety relieving herbs regularly. My favourites are:
- Damiana: Surprisngly any research I do on anxiety never really mentions this herb. But damiana is really good…our favourite happy herb…and you only need a quarter of a teaspon in a cup of hot water any time you are feeling anxious.
- Ashwagandha: A powerful Aryuvedic herb, this adaptogenic plant is amazing for anxiety. Take some in powdered form every day before bed.
- Passionflower: A beautiful calming herb that is very gentle and can be consumed regularly by anyone, including children. Great before bed or in your afternoon tea after a stressful day.
- Kava: This plant can instantly relieve anxiety within seconds. Kava has been used as an unregulated treatment for anxiety and inomnia for generations, but recently has gained attention in the medical community due to research proving that its active ingredient, kavain, affects mood receptors and helps people with anxiety. It is available in pill form and in the Love Bubble tincture but unfortunately in Australia it is prohibited in its natural form..contrary to our human rights…but that’s another topic I won’t get too anxious about now.
Before you start on any of the natural remedies to help alleviate the symptoms, you’ve got to clean up your act with alcohol, cigarettes and coffee. Otherwise it will be just like painting over rust. Until you give up those three substances you’ll not only be wasting your time, health and money, but also worsening your anxiety instead of alleviating it.