Complementary Medicines for Stress Reduction

Whilst it is easy to chalk almost any condition up to stress these days, stress is qualified by a particular physiological response experienced by your body due to the secretion of stress hormones in response to a traumatic situation. In fact, specific, pathological stress can be experienced in response to a traumatic event such as a death in the family or divorce, but is also commonly experienced by people in response to accidents, long term illness, or times of physiological change, such as menopause.

During a stressful event, our body’s respond physiologically by secreting a cocktail of stress  hormones designed to place our body in a state of high alert. Secreted by the adrenal gland, Adrenalin is one of the first hormones to affect the body during a time of stress. Aimed to protect the body from attack by supplying our brain and muscles with extra oxygen, Adrenalin allows our nervous system and heart to function at their absolute peak. This means that during the initial onset of stress, you are able to ‘fight’ an attacker using sheer force, or ‘flee’ (or take ‘flight’) from an attacker using your wile and wit.

Whilst beneficial if you are escaping a marauding mob or threat of harm, the problem with this stress mediated response is that in modern life, we are affected by stressors that cannot be out-run or out-punched. Financial pressures, home pressures, work pressures and emotional pressures mean many people are constantly secreting stress hormones leading to eventual exhaustion or dis-ease.

During times of stress, the body can be physiologically and emotionally affected in a number of differing ways -some people suffer fatigue, others insomnia and mood changes, some experience immune changes meaning they are more likely to catch a cold or flu, others yet experience digestive disturbances including nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhoea.

Complementary Medicines for Stress

During times of stress, a number of complementary medicines can be beneficial to moderate stress and reduce its impact on the nervous and digestive systems.

Withania somnifera (Withania, Ashwagandha)

The first of these is a class of herbal medicines known as adaptogens, which work to treat the cause of stress in order to correct or change the severity of symptoms. This class of remedies work to help the body adapt to stress and have a sparing affect of the adrenal glands, leading to a normalisation of other organs affected by stress, including the heart and digestive system. One of the most trusted and researched of these herbs is a traditional Ayurvedic herb Withania somnifera - known traditionally as ‘Ashwagandha’, this herb is identified in most modern western herbal medicine traditions as simply ‘Withania’. 

By working to normalise physiological processes during times of stress, Withania is an adaptogenic herb that has been used for centuries to help the body resist the psychological and physical effects of stress. Known to tone, normalise and revitalise bodily functions, Withania is traditionally used for exhausted states and as a specific tonic during times of convalescence from times of physiological change, illness or accident. It is also used to treat exhaustion in people of all ages, due to its calming, restorative action.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon Balm has been used in Western Herbal Medicine tradition for its calming effect on both the body and mind. Specifically indicated by its action in reducing digestive issues related to stress, Lemon Balm is a gentle, restorative herb used to reduce spasmodic tension and strain caused by nervous worry.

Written by Amber Foley - BNat

Amber is a degree qualified naturopath with 10 years experience working with clients, as a lecturer, writer and naturopathic trainer. Her professional aim is to educate and empower people to understand the benefits of natural health through wholefood nutrition and herbal medicines, with clients and the general public.

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