What is stress and how does it affect us?
Our Western Herbal Medicine practitioner Marion shares her knowledge with us and offers a few tips on how to manage stress naturally...
The word stress is these days used in many contexts and there are several ways to define stress. A very simplified definition is this: “Stress is the response of the body to any demand.” This suggests correctly, that a certain amount of stress is a good thing and in fact it is healthy to have some amount of stress in our lives. However, more and more in these times of fast living and constant availability, the ‘stress bucket’ fills up too quickly and overflows, meaning we find it hard to cope. Whether it is a stressful job, money worries, social anxieties, family issues, the list is endless… And because we are so busy we forget to take care of ourselves until stress starts to affect our physical and mental health.
The effects of stress on the body can take many forms. The immediate stress response is controlled by the adrenal gland’s central medulla and involves increased nervous system activity and the release of different chemicals and hormones in the body. More general, stress has an effect on mental health as well as the immune system, digestive system, nervous system, skin, muscle aches and pains, and it can contribute to inflammation in the body.
How can Herbal Medicine help?
Most people will have heard of Chamomile which is probably the most widely used relaxing herb in the Western world and is safe to use for all types of anxiety and stress-related disorders. It is a particularly useful herbs for anxiety that is accompanied with digestive problems. Chamomile makes a wonderful late night tea to prepare for a restful sleep and is very safe to use even for anxious children or teething infants. But this is only one of many herbs we can choose from...
My patients come to see me for a variety of health issues but in many cases we also end up assessing the person’s stress factors and stress management. This is vital in any healing process, because the more energy the body uses on dealing with stress, the less there is for the recovery from other conditions. Stress management usually includes the prescription of herbs as well as some lifestyle and dietary advice, relaxation techniques and possibly other therapies. Herbal Medicine can play a fundamental role in any stress management programme. Herbs will be targeted specifically at each person’s needs, depending on what effect stress is having on them and what other conditions they present with. It also depends whether the person is experiencing daily mild stress, long-term mild stress, long-term severe stress etc.
The herbs used for managing stress can be divided into two categories:
The treatment aims with this group of herbs is to reduce the severity of stress reactions in the body, to help prevent a state of exhaustion, to provide a certain level of protection against the effects of long-term stress. Examples of adaptogenic herbs are Siberian ginseng, Korean ginseng, Ashwaganda and Schizandra.
- Relaxing Nerviness
The treatment aims with these herbs is to calm the body by relaxing the nervous system. This is particularly useful for people with sleeping problems, indigestion and anxiety as a result of ongoing stress. Examples of relaxing nerviness include Chamomile, Lemon balm, Valerian, Lavender, Linden and Skullcap.
This is only a brief overview but I hope this gives an idea of how useful herbs can be; If you would like a personalised herbal prescription to help you manage stress it's best to book a full consultation. The initial consultation takes approximately 60 minutes and includes a detailed medical history as well as lifestyle and general well-being questions. From this an individual treatment plan and herbal prescription can then be formulated.
Kerry Bone, Simon Mills: Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy, 2nd ed, 2013
David Hoffmann: Medical Herbalism, 2003
Michael Thomsen, Hanni Genat: Phytotherapy desk reference, 2009