When looking at herbal approaches to stress relief, the adrenal glands and the nervous system are the primary systems to support.
The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys and produce some hormones, including the “fight or flight” hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and the stress hormone cortisol. The adrenal glands become overworked (this is a simplified explanation, of course) when we are under prolonged periods of stress because, evolutionarily speaking, these hormones are only supposed to be produced for short periods in response to a threat.
Adaptogens - a category of herbs that help with stress adaptation and recovery.
These herbs act to help the body "adapt to stress", of all kinds. They work generally in some way by supporting the adrenal glands and acting on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (H-P-A) pathway from the brain. They need to be taken over a period of time for the best effect, and can support energy levels, physical and mental stamina, athletic performance, and much more.
Here are some of my favorites and some unique features of each:
Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng)- used as a general "adaptogen" to help with stress, help with energy and stamina, and strengthen the immune system.
Schisandra - called the "five flavor herb" in Chinese medicine, this berry is used for helping the body adapt to stress, supporting thyroid, liver, and heart function, helping with increasing energy and stamina, and balancing the mood.
Ashwagandha- used as a general "adaptogen" to help with stress, relax the body, calm the nervous system, and also can help with energy, hormone balance, libido, and thyroid function.
Rhodiola- used to help uplift the mood, increase energy and stamina, and to help fight mental fatigue and increase focus and retention of information.
Licorice - helps "spare" cortisol in the body, so can be helpful for low cortisol levels and fatigue. Also is a good anti-inflammatory and liver protective.
Holy basil - helpful for mood balance, anxiety that effects the digestive tract, and overall supporting calm and well-being.
Reishi mushroom- used long-term for stress and a feeling of well-being, strengthening the immune system, acting as an antiviral and anti-tumor.
*There are many options of blends of these herbs, including our Stress Drops, Stress Adaptation Tea, Energy & Metabolism Drops, and capsule blends. We also have single herb powders of many of these to add to smoothies, food, chocolate, etc., as well as single cut herbs for tea, single tinctures or glycerites, and single capsules. Take whatever form you will take consistently!
These herbs are generally very safe to use and need to be taken consistently for 1-3 months to notice a lasting effect. I always remind people that it took months or years to get them to the fatigued, stressed, low-immune state they are in today, so to give these herbs some time to work.
Nervines - herb that support the nervous system.
These herbs are used to calm or uplift the nervous system. Stress often leaves us feeling depleted or anxious, so the nervous system needs strengthening and nourishing, and often calming or soothing. If you feel “on edge,” many herbs can help.
Nourishing nervines include lemon balm, skullcap, oat pods, chamomile, linden flowers, St. John’s wort, motherwort, and passionflower.
*Herban Wellness makes a Chill Out Tea and Chill Out Drops to calm and help with anxiety and tension.
Uplifting nervines include holy basil, lemon balm, damiana, St. John’s wort, and mimosa bark. Take one or a blend of herbs in a tea form to have the added benefit of enjoying a hot beverage to soothe your frayed nerves.
*Herban Wellness makes a Happy Tea and Happy Drops to help uplift the nervous system. We also make a blend called Heart Mender Drops for more situational depression and grief.
More sedative herbs for help with sleep include valerian root, hops, passionflower (in higher amounts), California poppy, nutmeg, and skullcap (in higher amounts).
*Herban Wellness makes a Get Sleepy Tea and a Sleep Well Drops with these herbs. We also carry a capsule blend called Sleep Thru that helps calm excess cortisol at night to help with deeper, longer sleep.
Because the tiny little volatile compounds from aromatic plants cross so easily into the brain, inhaling or applying them can have a profound impact on our nervous system – calming, uplifting, and balancing.
Oils such as Bergamot, Spruce, Frankincense, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Lavender, and Roman chamomile, can relax the body, calm the mind and nervous system, and generally lead to a greater sense of well-being, even if temporarily.
Bergamot – balancing to mood and the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Apply in the upper divet of your ear and inhale deeply for a stress-relieving and balancing effect (shen men point in Chinese medicine).
Vetiver – extremely grounding and earthy, so can help you feel more rooted and helps calm your nervous system. Apply to the bottoms/arch of your feet for helping relax and promote restful sleep.
Roman chamomile – very calming to your nervous system, this oil is also antispasmodic so is useful for headaches, muscle tension, and general stress.
Oils such as Spruce & Frankincense can also strengthen weakness in the body and heighten energy levels. In fact, many of the conifers, such as Black Spruce and Siberian Fir are considered adrenal support oils that balance the H-P-A axis and increase energy reserves.
*Blends we carry that can be helpful and incorporate these essential oils include Stress Release, Calm Spirit, Adrenal Support, and Meditation.
Because of how these energetic formulations are prepared intentionally from fresh flower buds, they capture the more subtle energies of the plant. These remedies are taken in drop doses under the tongue or in water to help support our more subtle systems – emotions and spirit. I have found these work best when you set an intention with them.
Five Flower Formula (also called Rescue Remedy by another brand) – acute stress or trauma
Pink Yarrow – for emotional boundaries when you’re overly absorbent of others’ energies and emotions
Aspen – fear of the unknown, vague anxiety and apprehension, nightmares
Mimulus – fear of known things, apprehension toward new experiences
White chestnut – overactive mind, circling thoughts, insomnia as a result
Mustard – depression or despair due to fluctuating life events; bouts of mania followed by depression.