After dealing with stress for an extended period of time, you might be tempted to think to go the prescription route is your only option.
However, before you choose synthetic, we want to give an overview to the wide variety of plant “pills” mother nature has gifted that may help you manage stress (with some even working in a similar way to prescription medications like Valium) and also have thousands of years of history of soothing stressed nervous systems.
Below are the best plants to snuggle up to when you’re feeling stressed, as well as how to use them for maximum benefits.
7 of the Best Herbs to Help with Stress Management
Ashwagandha is one of the most highly revered herbs in Ayurveda, the ancient medicine system of India, for its ability to reduce stress levels and strengthen the body against the negative effects of stress. Even its name, “ashwagandha” is translated from Sanksrit into “smell of a horse,” which alludes to its unique smell and its ability to give one the strength of a horse.
Classified as an adaptogen herb, ashwagandha works holistically with several systems of your body to help it “adapt” to stress in a way that reduces its negative impact. Essentially it improves our resistance to stressors in our environment by boosting our immune system, increasing energy levels and cognitive function, and soothing anxiety. Studies also show it may be able to block stress pathways in the brain through the release of various chemicals that interact with our nervous system. [*]
In addition, ashwagandha can also help reduce cortisol, aka, the “stress hormone.” High cortisol levels are responsible for many of the side effects of stress, but can also have other odd consequences, such as raising blood sugar and even causing weight gain. [*]
How to take ashwagandha. The best way to take ashwagandha is to take an extract, either in capsule or tincture form. The typical dosage ranges from 450-500 mg twice daily. Keep in mind that the effects of ashwagandha and other adaptogens work overtime to make you more resilient to stress, so you may not notice an immediate effect.
- Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is another herb that can quite possibly act as a balm to your frayed nerves. Melissa officinalis (its official name) has been used for over 2,000 years for, as ancient medical texts described, “all complaints supposed to proceed from a disordered state of the nervous system”. [*]
Modern studies back up these claims, showing lemon balm interacts with GABA receptors to produce a calming effect. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps soothe nerve impulses, which may be one of the reasons for lemon balm’s mild sedative effect. [*]
Studies also show that lemon balm is capable of improving memory during semi-stressful tasks, such as multitasking, while also lowering cortisol levels. [*]
How to take lemon balm. Like ashwagandha, lemon balm is easiest to take as a capsule or tincture. Most studies dose between 600 to 1,600 mg a day. You can take lemon balm regularly for stress management, as well as an additional dose during high-stress times.
Chamomile is one of the oldest, most well-documented herbs in history. Aside from a long list of benefits that includes helping to ease inflammation and digestive woes, it’s particularly well known for its ability to help ease the nervous system, reduce anxiousness, and help treat hysteria, nightmares, and help improve sleep.
Research shows these effects are thanks to a flavonoid called apigenin, which binds to receptors in your brain to create a tranquilizing effect. [*] This makes chamomile excellent for taking when it’s time to wind down before bed, as even inhaling it as an essential oil has been reported to cause people to sleep more deeply.
How to take chamomile. You can take chamomile in capsule form, but it also works great as a tea (either loose-leaf, whole flowers, or in pre-made tea bags) and/or as an essential oil in a diffuser. As we mentioned, it does have a mild sedative effect, so try to take it on your downtime if you don’t want to feel totally relaxed.
CBD is all the rage at the moment when it comes to potential stress relief. If you’re not familiar, CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant. Unlike its cousin THC, it won’t get you high but could offer quite a few benefits when it comes to managing stress.
CBD works with your built-in endocannabinoid system to help regulate emotional responses, as well as possibly stimulating genes that help ease the stress response. In addition, studies have shown doses of CBD can reduce increases in heat rate and blood pressure in response to stress, as well as help reduce fear responses in animals. [*]
How to use CBD. There are many avenues to take CBD, with the most common being as an isolate tincture under your tongue, or as a vape. You can also try CBD supplements that contain a combination of stress-reducing herbs for a one-two punch against stress.
For a breakdown of all the ways to use CBD and which one may be most effective for you, check out Multiple Ways to Consume CBD.
- Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola is another popular adaptogen herb similar to ashwagandha. It grows in high altitude regions in Europe and has been used to enhance physical and mental performance and resistance to stress for centuries.
If you find you experience a lot of physical and mental fatigue during stress, Rhodiola may be your go-to. Research shows helps increase endurance and ward off fatigue, while also improving attention, performance, and possibly even boosting mood.
In addition, chronic stress can also create free radicals that harm our DNA, which could cause use to age faster. Rhodiola can help repair DNA, which could help combat aging and boost your immunity. [*]
How to take Rhodiola. Rhodiola is best taken as a capsule, dried powder, or tincture, and most studies dose based on rosavin content. This is the main compound that lends rhodiola’s beneficial effects. To get a general idea:
- 360-600 mg daily of an extract standardized for 1 percent rosavin
- 180-300 mg of an extract standardized for 2 percent rosavin
- 100-170 mg for an extract standardized for 3.6 percent rosavin
Lavender is a purple-flowering herb widely known for its calming properties. It contains compounds that act as mild sedatives, and research has shown it may also help stabilize mood. Interestingly, other studies show it may also inhibit the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our “fight-or-flight” response.
Lavender can also help improve sleep, ease restlessness, and even help improve feelings of well-being. [*]
How to use lavender. Lavender works great in essential oil form – either added to a diffuser and inhaled, or diluted with a carrier oil such as olive or jojoba and applied topically. You can also add a few drops to a hot bath.
- Valerian root
Valerian root’s nickname as “nature’s Valium” should give a hint as to the relaxing power it holds. Much of valerian’s stress-reducing effects stem from a compound called valerenic acid, which interacts with GABA, the neurotransmitter we spoke of earlier that helps regulate nerve impulses. Studies show valerenic acid helps inhibit the breakdown of GABA in your brain, which results in feelings of calmness and tranquility. This is similar to the way prescriptions like Valium (and now we see the connection) and Xanax work in your system. [*] [*] [*]
How to take valerian root. Valerian is best taken in capsule form. The recommended dose for nighttime before bed (if stress causes racing thoughts) is 400-900 mg, which the recommendation for anxious feelings during the day is 100-200 mg three times per day.
As you can see, many of these plants contain compounds that interact with our nervous system in a holistic way that not only reduces feelings of anxiety but also helps improve our body’s resilience to stress overall. We recommend sticking with a faster-acting stress-reliever like CBD or lavender, while also investing in a good adaptogen like Rhodiola. This will help you get the best of both worlds: short-term feelings of calmness, and long-term resistance against the negative effects of stress.