Surviving the Holiday Season With These 9 Herbs for Stress
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The holidays can be overwhelming for many people. With shopping lists to check off, holiday dinners to cook and visitors to make room for, it’s usually an eventful time of year. But in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, herbal supplements help you stay calm, cool and collected. Whether you’re trying to avoid the in-laws or learning how to make a new meal for the first time, you can stay prepared with the best herbs for stress.
Holiday Stress, Cortisol and You
While the holiday season is a cheerful time to spend with friends and family, it is also one of the most stressful times of the year. With all of the added pressure related to finances, traveling and family commitments, your health can suffer.
Ultimately, the body ends up produces too many stress hormones, which elevates blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. At the same time, glucose is released into the bloodstream, digestion slows and the immune system becomes suppressed. Over time, this can lead to increased anxiety, hormone imbalances, sickness and gut health issues.
In the end, many of these complications are linked to cortisol, whose job it is to regulate several essential functions, including:
- Keeping you alert
- Preventing brain fog
- Reducing inflammation
- Promoting healing
- Burning fat for energy
- Controlling blood pressure
- Supporting memory
With cortisol levels out of control, it’s easy to see how holiday stress can make you feel scattered, tired and overwhelmed. Luckily, the right herbs for stress may offer you some relief.
9 Herbs for Holiday Stress
Many of the best herbs for stress are adaptogens, which reduce cortisol, normalize bacteria levels and affect stress in a variety of ways. Others are familiar teas and essential oils that work to calm the mind and body.
The best herbs to reduce holiday stress are:
Ashwagandha has been widely studied for its effects on stress tolerance and cortisol production.
In one 2012 human study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 64 test adults with a history of chronic stress were treated with either ashwagandha extract or a placebo for 60 days. According to the study’s authors, “The findings of this study suggest that a high-concentration of full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.”
This herbal supplement can also help with chronic stress, which if left untreated can lead to hormone imbalances throughout the body, including the thyroid. A 2018 human study found that supplementing with ashwagandha for eight weeks can help regulate thyroid levels in patients with underactive thyroids.
To top it all off, animal studies show that ashwagandha can prevent weight gain due to chronic stress, as well as prevent stress-related gastric ulcers.
2. Astragalus Root
Astragalus is an adaptogenic herb that’s been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years to support the immune system and guard against stress. Now, modern research is beginning to support these claims.
A 2005 animal study found that astragalus root can decrease stress hormones and reduce inflammation in piglets. At the same time, a 2019 study published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that astragalus root can boost antioxidant levels and support immunity in sheep.
Nothing takes the edge off of holiday stress like a hot cup of tea, and chamomile is just the tea for the job.
For starters, it’s full of potent antioxidants like flavonoids and terpenes to help you fend off colds. Studies also show that chamomile tea can improve sleep quality and relieve depression in postpartum women. Quality sleep is important for reducing stress and chamomile is an ideal way to unwind and catch some Z’s. Chamomile essential oil can also have stress reducing benefits when used in aromatherapy diffusers.
Cordyceps is an adaptogenic medicinal mushroom with potent antioxidant properties. Not only can it calm the stress response and strengthen immunity, but it can also boost energy and improve exercise performance.
For example, a 2016 randomize, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that cordyceps can improve tolerance for high-intensity exercise after just 1-3 weeks of supplementation. At the same time, a separate human trial found that cordyceps can reduce cortisol and help you recover from stress faster.
5. Ginseng (Panax)
Ginseng is another adaptogen that has been shown to promote calmness, improve memory and reduce certain functions of the stress response. There are several strains of ginseng, but Panax ginseng contains the highest concentrations of therapeutic compounds.
In a 2010 human study published in the journal of Human Psychopharmacology, 30 healthy volunteers received either panax ginseng or a placebo for eight days. Researchers found that a 400 mg dose of ginseng improved calmness and enhanced mental arithmetic. A separate study also found that ginseng can reduce several indicators of chronic stress in rodents.
6. Holy Basil
Holy basil, also known as tulsi, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years as an anti-aging treatment, as well as for skin disease, infections and the common cold. More recently, researchers have conducted several studies on its ability to reduce stress and enhance cognition.
For example, a 2015 human study found that holy basil can improve reaction times, reduce error rate and decrease cortisol compared to a placebo.
Lavender is one of the most widely-studies herbs for reducing stress and anxiety. It’s also one of the most common essential oils worldwide. Most importantly, lavender aromatherapy can reduce stress fast because its phytochemicals are small enough to pass through the nasal cavity, enter the bloodstream, and immediately cross the blood-brain barrier.
One 2016 human study found that inhaling lavender can reduce stress, anxiety and depression in postpartum women. However, lavender oil can also be absorbed through the skin and taken orally as lavender tea or an herbal supplement. Lavender oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral that can boost immunity while reducing stress.
Passionflower can reduce stress and anxiety, and promote sleep by acting on GABA receptors in the brain. GABA is the primary neurotransmitter that’s responsible for calming overactive brain activity.
One comparative study in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics tested passionflower against the prescription anti-anxiety medication oxazepam. 36 patients diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) were treated with either passionflower, oxazepam, or a placebo. Researchers concluded that passionflower extract can be an effective treatment for GAD and exhibits fewer side effects than oxazepam.
Rhodiola rosea is another powerful adaptogen that boosts the body’s resistance to stress. A 2007 study published in the journal Drug Target Insights found that Rhodiola can improve mental performance under stress. A separate 2009 human trial found that rhodiola can decrease cortisol, improve mental performance and increase energy in patients with burnout syndrome and stress-related fatigue.
Other Ways to Avoid Holiday Stress
The holidays have a stressful side that many of us know all too well. When your head is spinning with family events, shopping and gift wrapping, plus your bank account is dwindling, stress can get the best of you. This can take a toll on your sleep quality, mental health, and general well being, but natural herbs can help combat holiday stress when it’s at its worst.
In addition to taking natural herbal supplements, other practices like mindful meditation, exercise and healthy eating (even though it may be hard to do during the holidays) can be great ways to stay stress-free during the holiday season.
Justin Fowler-Lindner, a former EMT turned freelance writer, spends his days popping supplements and soaking up the sun in tropical destinations around the world.