Stress, Excerpt from Herbs for Health and Healing, a Rodale Book
If you look beyond the symptoms of many physical ailments to the core problem, you will find stress. Even when it is not the cause, stress often aggravates a condition.If you look beyond the symptoms of many physical ailments to the core problem, you will find stress. Even when it is not the cause, stress often aggravates a condition. Stress has such a powerful effect because of what it does to the body. When you sense danger, your body floods with adrenaline and other hormones, and nervous system reactions are heightened: Your heart pumps faster, blood rushes to your face, your eyes dilate and your muscles are primed to move—all in the matter of a few seconds. Your body even begins to sweat as a means of keeping cool during the crisis. Once vital for survival, these ancient responses are no longer always appropriate.
Date: 2/18/2008 4:39:10 PM ( 5 y ) ... viewed 1138 times
While you were born with reflexes that are more appropriate for a hunter or warrior, you don't really get to use them as nature intended. Instead, in these modern times your adrenal alarm goes off for much different reasons—you get caught in a traffic jam, your boss gets angry, your computer crashes, your washing machine overflows, a family squabble erupts. Responsible for pumping out adrenaline in response to stress, excitement or anxiety, your adrenal glands are controlled by your nervous system and they respond quickly to your emotions. After a while, constant stress overworks these glands and they become exhausted. The consequences of this can be far-reaching, since there is hardly a system in your body that is not influenced either directly or indirectly by adrenal activity. When your adrenal glands are exhausted, you and your body just do not respond to life the same way. You get sluggish and seem to be tired all the time. You may develop anemia and your blood sugar levels and blood pressure may be low, which will make you feel even more exhausted. Other typical symptoms include weight loss, digestive problems, skin discoloration and feeling overly emotional.
Researchers say that stress itself is not the villain—what matters is how we deal with it. Those lucky individuals who are able to handle stress creatively are far better off than those who carry the woes of the world on their shoulders. For those who cannot handle it, years of stress eventually take their toll, perhaps leading to heart disease, ulcers, allergies or mental confusion. People who have a tendency to be hostile find extra amounts of adrenaline pumped out every time they get upset. And once the crisis passes, they have more difficulty calming down. As a result, researchers say, these people are more prone to high blood pressure and heart attacks.
If stress is a way of life for you, stay as far away as you can from recreational drugs, coffee and tobacco. For many people, sugar can also be problematic. Make sure that you are getting a sufficient supply of the"antistress" B vitamins. Also consider nervous system sedatives such as valerian, skullcap, chamomile and California poppy to help keep you calm and to repair damage that may already have been done.
The versatile herb valerian calms people who are agitated, but stimulates those who feel fatigued, according to one Italian study. During World War II, the British usedvalerian tincture to treat nerves shattered during bombing raids on London. (To get the full picture of just what valerian can do, read Valerian: The Relaxing and Sleep Herb, by Christopher Hobbs.)
A survey conducted in 1985 showed that passionflower is the most popular herbal sedative in Great Britain. It is also well-liked in Romania, where there is even a sedative chewing gum made from passionflower to help ward off the nervous jitters and encourage relaxation. A German government commission designated the use of passionflower for "nervous unrest." One of the compounds it contains was originally called astelepathine, after "telepathic," because it made people mildly euphoric and more contemplative.
17085PG53 Ginseng and Siberian ginseng can help you handle stress by sedating or stimulating your central nervous system, according to your body's needs. Studies conducted in China showed that ginseng also increases your brain's utilization of amino acids, which is important because when you are under stress, your body uses more protein than usual. (Proteins are composed of amino acids.)
Another Chinese herb, shizandra, also has a regulating effect on the central nervous system. Studies show that this herb quickens responses and makes people more alert while actually stimulating the nervous system. A 1983 study conducted in China showed that shizandra relieves headaches, insomnia and dizziness and calms a racing heart. It has also been reported to control anger and aggression.
Since stress takes a big toll on your adrenal glands, consider using herbs such as licorice, bupleurum and ligustrum to support those glands. In China, all three of these herbs are commonly prescribed for people operating under a lot of stress. In China, in fact, herbal treatments are regularly incorporated with conventional methods. One report from that country details the herbal treatment of a woman suffering adrenal deficiency from extreme stress. She had undergone a lot of emotional stress in her life and had just had a very hard pregnancy and labor. Instead of following the usual medical method—cortisone and ACTH, a pituitary hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands—her doctor gave herlicorice to promote cortisone production and ginseng, which researchers believe stimulates ACTH. The combination worked. The signs of adrenal exhaustion disappeared: She had more energy, she gained weight and her blood pressure returned to normal. The researchers attributed this success mostly to thelicorice. Remember, though, that licorice should be used with care—it can raise blood pressure in sensitive individuals.
In Polynesia, kava tea is used to induce relaxation, restful sleep and a sense of mild euphoria. Even though it occurred about 20 years ago, I will never forget the complete sense of relaxation I experienced after a Fijian kava ceremony. I was in the middle of a very hectic trip, but the world seemed to stop after I drank some kava. Soon I was all smiles and so pleasantly relaxed that I actually fell asleep as soon as I got back to my hotel room.
It is often said that preparing kava fresh, the way it was done in that ceremony, makes it much more potent. Kava is available in natural food stores as a tincture or pills alone or in combination with other relaxing herbs, although I have to admit that I have never quite duplicated that experience by using kava in these forms. This herb is perfectly safe unless used in quantities you would never think of using—heavy kava users in the South Seas and Australia develop a scaly skin condition that remains until they cut down their dosage.
Strictly speaking, kava is not a true sedative. Instead, it is a muscle relaxant that reduces convulsions; one of its compounds stops muscles spasms up to ten times more effectively than a common anticonvulsant drug. Because of this, it is used to treat nervous tension, muscle spasms and tension headaches caused by a tight neck, as well as insomnia resulting fromstress or tight muscles. I have found that kava lives up to its reputation of promoting peace and harmony among people. This is a pretty amazing feat for an herb, but I have experienced similar reactions after taking it and am convinced that all the world's leaders should sit down to cups ofkava before their meetings.
1 teaspoon each tinctures of valerian rhizome, licorice root, Siberian ginseng root, kava root and California poppy plant (if available)
Combine ingredients. Take as needed during emergencies, up to 1 teaspoon per hour. Otherwise, take ½ or 1 dropperful a day as a general relaxing aid. I find that tinctures ofvalerian and skullcap made from the fresh root are stronger than those made from the dried root.
If the tincture doesn't work or if you're a person who enjoys hot baths, combining herbs with heat is one way to combine two stress-relieving methods. Simply add herbs or essential oils to warm compresses or baths. There is evidence that at least 20 minutes of heat in a sauna or hot tub or half an hour of deep massage changes brain chemistry for the better. If you have your own hot tub and you find that the heat relieves your stress, add a few drops of essential oil the next time you get in and see if that does not increase the relaxing effect. An aromatherapy massage is another ideal way to deal with stress. Some of the most relaxing essential oils to try includelavender, chamomile, sandalwood, orange, petitgrain and ylang-ylang.
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