Updated: Jan 3
Anxiety and stress are the body’s normal response to intense and dangerous situations. This response keeps us safe by activating our Sympathetic Nervous System. You experience a triggering scenario; this could be a car pulling out in front of you while driving, taking shelter in a natural disaster, or being physically threatened. We rely on our body to kick into fight, flight (or sometimes freeze) mode.
A quick overview of what happens on a physiological level when the SNS enters this mode of defense: Sympathetic nerve stimulation increases heart rate and force of contraction, blood pressure goes up, respiration increases, blood is diverted to the skeletal muscles and brain which decreases digestive and sexual activity. The pupils dilate to let in more light so you can see well. Adrenaline is released, which mobilizes the body’s stores of glucose and fat. Your body is telling you to act now, get out of danger, and avoid harm.
Some folks however experience anxiety on a more constant basis and it may manifest itself in a number of ways such as constant worry, panic, irritability, insomnia, headaches and social anxiety. The sympathetic nervous system is perpetually activated, even when you’re technically safe. This is referred to as “generalized anxiety disorder”. Anxiety doesn’t just affect us on an emotional and mental level, but physically it has the ability to raise blood pressure and produce more of the stress hormone cortisol.
I want to touch on trauma’s role in the constant activation of the sympathetic nervous system/anxiety. Early trauma has been linked to issues with emotional regulation, interoceptive processing (how much or how little attention one pays to sensory information within the body) and self-awareness. One example of interoceptive processing that I’ve personally had to be more conscious about is simply… breathing.
Experiencing long term stress and trauma has the ability to make it difficult for us to be aware of normal bodily functions such as breath. This can present as unconsciously holding the breath, feeling like you’re always trying to catch your breath or having trouble breathing deeply. Not having that awareness around breath can trigger anxiety and panic, sending the body into fight or flight. The take away- breath work can help ground you, bring more awareness to your emotions and calm the nervous system.
Herbs, nutrition and life style adjustments are super helpful in regulating the body’s response to stress, but they’re even more successful when paired with therapy and working to process these traumatic event’s and fears. As I’ve mentioned before, medication has helped a lot of folks and isn’t something to feel shame about if you choose to go that route. It takes time to figure out what works for you. I prefer start with harm reduction and natural approaches, paired with therapy, nutrition and life style changes but everybody is different.
Elevated cortisol levels are linked to many long term and acute health issues. Some include metabolic syndrome, hypertension, PCOS, obesity, insomnia, immune depletion (+autoimmune) and increase risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
I've developed an herbal formula which helps address the underlying cause of generalized anxiety disorder, which works wonderfully when used along side other health protocols.
Taken daily, Anxiety Ease tincture is formulated to deeply nourish and calm the nervous system while strengthening the Adrenal glands and regulating cortisol release. Many of the herbs in this formula have been studied to lower blood pressure, strengthen the cardiovascular system, calm the nervous system without a sedative effect, help ease PMS symptoms and mood swings.
Milky Oat (Avena sativa): Fresh Milky Oat seed calms and soothes frazzled and shattered nerves, relieves emotional instability, reduces the symptoms of drug withdrawal, and helps restore a sense of peace and tranquility to overstressed, overworked, angry, and chronically upset individuals. Avena Sativa is the ideal medicine for a depleted nervous system, accompanied by heart palpitations, irritability, mental and physical exhaustion, insomnia, nervous system irritation and loss of libido (especially due to stress). Oat has an affinity for “feeding” the nervous system. Read my full plant monograph on Milky Oat here.
Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata): Blue Vervain is a nervine, anxiolytic (relieves anxiety) and an antispasmodic (for nervous tics, & spasmodic disorders). This herb has been used to ease PMS, mood swings, cramps and menopausal anxiety, especially when combined with Milky Oat and Motherwort. Being bitter, this herb is useful for easing nervous headaches and “liver migraines”. Blue Vervain is said to be perfect for those who hold themselves and others to impossible standards, are rigid thinkers and too hard on themselves and others.
Bacopa (Bacopa monniera) Bacopa, aka Brahmi is very effective at relieving anxiety, is a nervine, cerebral tonic, and thyroid stimulant (avoid in use of hyperthyroid). It’s been used in ayurvedic medicine to treat anxiety, irritability, poor memory, ADD/ADHD, Alzheimers, and recovery from head trauma injuries. Since Bacopa’s primary therapeutic use is to enhance cognitive function, most research has focused on the mechanism behind these properties. Thetriterpenoid saponins and their bacosides are responsible for Bacopa’s ability to enhance nerve impulse transmission. The bacosides aid in repair of dam-aged neurons by enhancing kinase activity, neuronalsynthesis, and restoration of synaptic activity, and ultimately nerve impulse transmission.
Motherwort: Motherwort is specific for stress and anxiety induced high blood pressure and heart palpitations. It helps calm restlessness and disturbed sleep from emotional or physical ailments of the heart. It helps strengthen the heart and cardiovascular system. Like Blue Vervain, it’s an antispasmodic and helpful for PMS, dysmenorrhea and is an emmenagogue (stimulates the uterine muscles). The latin “cardiaca” indicates the plants benefits to the cardiovascular system. According to David Winston, motherwort can also give benefit to people with hypertension that is induced by stress. This type of hypertension is when the blood pressure rises due to stresses like, having an argument, sitting in traffic, failing a test, etc. Being an excellent heart tonic, motherwort can support and strengthen without putting strain on the heart. It is indicated for tachycardia (heart palpitations), blood stagnation, lowering cholesterol, and improving the elasticity of the blood vessels.
Tulsi: Tulsi aka Holy Basil has been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a tonic for the brain and nervous system. It lifts spirits while increasing clarity of thought and dispelling depression. This mild adaptogen reduces mental fog associated with drug use, menopause, chronic stress, relieves anxiety and can be useful for ADHD. Tulsi is fantastic for soothing the nervous system. Because of its high flavonoid content, it is beneficial as a healing agent to bodies that have undergone chronic stress. In animal studies, these anti-stress effects manifest as balancing cortisol levels and normalizing the size of the adrenal glands. Many also consider Tulsi a premier adaptogen, helping the mind and body to better cope with stress in the broadest sense of the word: including physical, emotional, and environmental.
Eleuthero: Eleuthero helps reduce fatigue due to elevated cortisol levels and depression. It’s a mils yet effective adaptogen. This herb is well researched and has been found to enhance endocrine activity, promote strength and energy, and improve work & athletic performance. It acts on the HPA Axis and SAS, recent studies have suggested that adaptogens also work n a cellular level preventing stress-induced mitochondrial dysfunction. More so then any other adaptogenic agent it displays a normalizing effect regardless of the physiological abnormalities (e.g, normalization of blood pressure in patients with both elevated or lowered blood pressure and normalization of blood sugar levels in hyper- or hypoglycemia). Eleuthero decreases adrenal hypertrophy, a common manifestation of prolonged stress response, and spares the loss of vitamin C from the adrenal glands.