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Stress and Anxiety

What causes anxiety to be so debilitating it becomes a disorder? Doctors aren’t sure, but speculate that it is an imbalance in neurotransmitters that sets the stage for most anxiety disorders.

Anxiety and StressSufferers of anxiety-related disorders are thought to have an imbalance or improperly working neurotransmitter system within the brain. Short or long-term stress, traumatic incidents, or a genetic predisposition creates conditions in which anxiety disorders thrive. Common neurotransmitters related to anxiety include serotonin, dopamine, noradrenalin and adrenaline.

Anxiety crops up during everyday stressors, such as waiting for a phone call about a job offer, anticipating a trip to the dentist, or waiting to hear the outcome of a loved one’s surgery. Sufferers of more serious forms, such as generalized anxiety disorder, often feel edgy and tired. Anxiety frequently accompanies depression, and many herbs used to alleviate depression also reduce anxiety.

Whether your anxiety stems from an easily identifiable and transient source or is more serious and long-lasting, herbs for anxiety can help.

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) provides long-term treatment of many anxiety disorders. Medicinal use of St.John’s Wort traces back to ancient Greece, where physicians recorded using the plant to treat anxiety, depression and nerve pain. Today, many people rave about its pleasing effects.

St. John’s Wort is taken as a tincture, or in pill or capsule form. Teas may also be brewed from the dried flowers. Users must be patient, as St. John’s Wort can take several weeks to have any effect.

St. John’s Wort treats minor depression and anxiety, but may not be able to alleviate severe depression. Always seek qualified medical or psychiatric advice if you suffer from sever depression; untreated depression may lead to severe illness.

St. John’s Wort causes photosensitivity, or sensitivity to sunlight, in some patients. If taking St. John’s Wort, be sure to use sun block or cover up with loose clothing when outdoors. Even people who normally tan may find themselves burning, and sunburned skin adds to one’s skin cancer risk.

The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine cautions users that St. Johns Wort interferes with many prescription medications, including: Antidepressants, Birth control pills, Cyclosporine (used by organ transplant patients to guard against rejection), Digoxin (heart medication), Wafarin and other anticoagulant drugs.

Always discuss herbal medicines with your Doctor and Naturopath, especially if you have a serious health condition.

Kava Kava

Kava Kava (Piper methysticum) reduces anxiety while promoting relaxation. South Pacific natives used Kava as a ceremonial beverage for many centuries, enjoying its relaxing properties. If your anxiety makes you feel jittery and causes insomnia, Kava provides relief.

Users consume Kava as a beverage, tea, tincture or pill. Never use Kava for long-term therapy.

Use Kava with caution. Kava Kava may cause side effects. The FDA issued warnings on Kava after some users exhibited signs of liver damage. Kava also interacts with many prescription medications, particularly those used to treat Parkinson’s disease. Since Kava induces sleepiness, do not take Kava before driving or operating machinery.


Valerian (Valerian officianalis) completes the list of major herbs to reduce anxiety. The shrubby perennial sports pink or white lacey flowers with a distinctive, sweet scent. Our ancestors grew Valerian as an ornamental flower, perfume, and medicinal herb. Hippocrates and Galen, two well-known ancient Greek physicians, wrote extensively about the powers of Valerian.

Valerian roots and rhizomes are dried and crushed into teas, tinctures, powders and pills. Valerian’s primary activity is as a sedative, causing sleepiness and reducing anxiety. Scientific research indicates that Valerian acts upon GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain associated with anxiety and depression. Users may feel Valerian’s sedative action immediately or need to take it for a week or more before experiencing relief.

Compared to other herbs for anxiety, Valerian appears have the fewest side effects. Few adverse reactions occur, the most common being excessive sleepiness. To be safe, follow general precautions as with all herbal medicines, and consult your Naturopath or Health expert before taking Valerian.

Author: Jeanne Grunert
Contributors: Kathleen Roberts

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