There’s no doubt that the holiday season can be stressful, what with all that pressure to get the ideal gift and make the perfect pie. If seasonal stress is starting to catch up with you, these natural stress-busting remedies could be the ideal thing to help you relax, kick back and actually enjoy time with friends and family.
Most Brits know that a nice cup of tea solves everything, but few realise that there’s genuine science to back up the tradition. Black tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that increases levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain and enhances the production of alpha brain waves, associated with a calm, relaxed state of mind. This amino acid decreases beta brain waves (associated with feelings of stress and worry), but is non-drowsy, making it ideal for people looking for a way to lessen anxiety and stress during the day. It even helps increase attention, focus, and memory, meaning that you can get through that to-do list even more efficiently. In one review, researchers found that people who drank tea had improved attention, creativity, work performance and alertness (Einöther & Martens, 2013). In another study, students who took 200 mg of theanine twice daily for seven days before an examination reported much lower stress levels than students taking a placebo (Unno et al., 2013). What’s more, the theanine group also had significantly lower salivary a-amylase levels, demonstrating reduced sympathetic nervous system activity (a marker for stress).
L-theanine has some significant merits of its own, but it is also converted into gamma amino butyric acid (GABA), a powerful inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps to calm a racing mind to induce a feeling a relaxation without sleepiness (Abdou et al., 2006). GABA may even help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which gives it the potential to lessen the damaging physiological effects of stress (Kanehira et al., 2001).
Calcium, Magnesium and Vitamin B6
Studies show that taking magnesium alongside calcium helps to reduce anxiety, compared to placebo (Carroll et al., 2000). Our bodies need calcium and magnesium for proper muscle and nerve function and when dietary intake or absorption is low, this can lead to cramped and tense muscles, headaches, anxiety and problems with sleep. We also need B vitamins to help us release energy from food and for the synthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. During times of stress the body’s demand for B vitamins increases, and if that demand isn’t met through diet or supplements, symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue and even hormonal and skin disorders can arise. Supplementing with magnesium and vitamin B6 has been seen to decrease premenstrual-related anxiety and symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in women (De Souza et al., 2000; Hanus et al., 2004).
The anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 fatty acids has long been known, but did you know that long-chain omega-3 fatty acids docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) can also help lessen anxiety and improve mood? In one trial, medical students studying for exams who were given 2500 mg/day of omega-3 fatty acids had a 20% reduced rate of anxiety compared to those taking placebo (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2011). Other research suggests that omega-3 may help those inclined to misuse alcohol and other drugs to handle stress (something that often happens during the holidays). In one study, patients who had been substance abusers received omega-3 fatty acid supplements for three months and were found to have reduced anxiety and anger, compared to patients receiving a placebo (Buydens-Branchey et al., 2008).
Rhodiola rosea A powerful adaptogenic herb, Rhodiola rosea helps the body to better handle stress, enhancing resilience and helping to restore emotional balance. Rhodiola rosea also affects neurotransmitter levels in the brain, helping to improve memory, learning, and attention. This herbal remedy has even been shown in clinical trials to help tackle stress, anxiety and fatigue (Darbinyan et al., 2007; Bystritsky et al., 2008). Although non-drowsy, rhodiola can also help improve sleep by making it easier to relax and shut off a frantic, anxious mind. And, rhodiola has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, with some studies showing that it helps support immune function and stave off muscle fatigue after significant physical exertion! So, if Christmas makes you feel like you’re running a marathon, Rhodiola rosea may be just the thing.
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