Stress & Anxiety

  • Ask the Practitioner: How Can I Calm Stage Fright?

    Q. I’ve been having some major anxiety recently when forced to speak in front of a group of people. I get mouth twitches and my heart begins to race. Do you have any herbal remedies or product suggestions?

    A. It’s fairly common to feel the situational anxiety you experience while speaking in public—I know from my own experience! Here are some natural products to try:

    L-theanine is an amino acid naturally found in green tea that promotes mental calmness and relaxation. L-theanine works by increasing GABA (an inhibitory neurotransmitter that protects from overexcitement of neurons) and dopamine (a feel-good neurotransmitter that can help with concentration). I like Natural Factors’ Suntheanine in fast-acting chewable wafers.

    GABA is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter that works to calm over-excitement in the nervous system that can lead to irritability, restlessness, sleeplessness and spasmodic movements. GABA increases the production of alpha waves (calming) and decreases beta waves (stress-related) in the brain. I like Natural Factors’ fast-acting, chewable Pharma GABA or Thorne Research Pharmagaba.

    Gelsemium sempervire is a homeopathic remedy that is known to help with stage fright. Gelsemium works best for those that experience emotional excitement and fear leading to trembling, dizziness or dullness. Try it in a 30c potency, 3-5 pellets under the tongue. You can take a dose every 15 minutes if needed leading up to the time of your speech if needed.

    WishGarden’s Emotional Ally is one of my favorite calming herbal formulations for temporary relief of anxiety, restlessness and irritability. The herbs in this formula such as passionflower and skullcap are anxiety soothing and emotionally calming. You can take several dropperfuls if needed.

    Bach’s Rescue Remedy is a very popular flower essence blend available in drops, spray, gum and candies, which help relieve an immediate edge. The five flower essences used in this formulation help ease fright, tension and irritability. Rescue Remedy is designed to help center your emotions until the crisis has past.

    Hawthorn is the herb that gives your heart a hug. It’s a loving, calming herb that can help counteract anxiety. Hawthorn is most commonly used for physical ailments of the heart such as heart palpitations can happen with anxiety and stage fright. Try Pharmaca brand or Gaia Herbs’ Hawthorn. 

  • Herbal Stress Relief

    WarmTEaDid you know? There are a variety of herbs that can help boost your body’s natural stress response. Start by keeping calm with herbs like lemon balm, skullcap and passionflower. And if stress becomes chronic and your adrenals become depleted, replenish them with adaptogens like eleuthero and rhodiola.

    When it comes to stress-fighting herbs, Cassy Dymond, ND at our Seattle – Wallingford location, says her go-tos are passionflower, lemon balm and milky oats. “WishGarden Herbs has some really nice formulas,” says Cassy. Deep Stress, for example, contains herbs like nettles, oat seed, thyme, bladder wrack and skullcap—“a really great herb for stress. This one is ideal when you have stress and anxiety with agitation and a hard time falling asleep,” says Cassy. She also likes their Emotional Ally, which can be helpful when you’re going through a difficult period in life, like a personal or professional change. That one also includes skullcap and St. John’s wort. Other calming formulas include Gaia Herbs’ Serenity.

    Adaptogenic Herbs

    “Cortisol is a stress hormone that’s part of the fight or flight response,” says Paul Clark, herbalist at our Sonoma store. The adrenal glands continue to produce cortisol while we’re in panic mode, so with elevated stress levels, the adrenals can quickly become depleted.

    Your body then needs help to calm the stress response and rejuvenate your adrenals. That’s where herbs called adaptogens come in. “Adaptogens are defined by their ability to help the body adapt to stress, whether environmental, physical or emotional,” says Paul. “Adrenals and adaptogens work hand in hand.” Here, more about some of the most powerful adaptogens.

    Holy Basil
    Holy basil has been found to directly inhibit the formation of COX-2 inflammatory enzymes, the proteins responsible for maintaining inflammation and the resulting perpetual production of cortisol in the body. One of the active chemical components of holy basil—called triterpenoic acids—assists in the rapid breakdown of excess cortisol, reducing oxidation of bodily tissues, preserving memory and balancing blood sugar (often leading to significant weight loss, especially in the abdominal area).

    As the presence of cortisol in the body decreases, the physical and psychological experience of stress declines significantly, though without any kind of sedative or “foggy” sensations. In fact, holy basil brings a sense of profound clarity and awareness, allowing you to (hopefully) reframe the situation that was causing you stress, and create a new reaction and experience of it. In this way holy basil is not a temporary fix, but rather a partner in long-term healing, helping to create more effective responses to life challenges, and to increase overall life enjoyment.

    Cordyceps, a medicinal mushroom that’s been part of traditional Tibetan medicine since the 15th century, directly influences how our cells make ATP, the body’s energy currency, and enhances oxygen utilization. Where stress depletes overall vitality—and specifically can take a toll on sex drive and physical exertion—cordyceps acts as a stimulant and phenomenal aphrodisiac, reinvigorating the neuro-endocrine system.

    As long-term stress also diminishes the activity and balance of the immune system, cordyceps has been found to be extremely effective at reducing infection and enhancing defense mechanisms in the body, specifically the T lymphocyte activity involved in cell-mediated immunity.

    Rhodiola rosea (also called Arctic or Golden Root) is an adaptogen that hails from the highlands of Siberia and northern Europe. Rhodiola has a profound effect on neurotransmitter balance. In laboratory studies, it has been found to increase the sensitivity of neurons to the presence of dopamine and serotonin, two prominent neurotransmitters involved in motivation, focus, enjoyment and mood. Because of this, rhodiola has been used as a successful alternative to antidepressants in Europe, and may offer benefit to those suffering from attention issues or memory loss.

    These and other adaptogens are found on nearly every continent and have been used for thousands of years. They help the body resist chemical, physical and psycho-emotional stressors by balancing neurotransmitters, increasing cellular energy production and supporting neuro-endocrine functions.

    Talk to a Pharmaca practitioner about stress-relieving herbs and adaptogens that may be helpful for you.

  • A Holistic Approach to Stress

    Whether you need just a few extra minutes of calm in your day or more long-term stress relief, Pharmaca offers a variety of different approaches to beating anxiety. And don’t forget—helping your body better cope with stress can go a long way toward optimal health and reducing your risk for chronic conditions like cancer, obesity and heart disease.

    The Herbal Approach
    When it comes to stress-fighting herbs, Cassy Dymond, ND at our Seattle - Wallingford location, says her go-tos are passionflower, lemon balm and milky oats. “WishGarden Herbs has some really nice formulas,” says Cassy. Deep Stress, for example, contains herbs like nettles, oat seed, thyme, bladder wrack and skullcap—“a really great herb for stress. This one is ideal when you have stress and anxiety with agitation and a hard time falling asleep,” says Cassy. She also likes their Emotional Ally, which can be helpful when you’re going through a difficult period in life, like a personal or professional change. That one also includes skullcap and St. John’s wort.

    In addition to calm-inducing herbs, says Cassy, “My tendency is to look for herbs that are supportive to the adrenals. If someone is stressed out it’s important to address the adrenal glands, too.” That’s when she turns to adaptogenic herbs like ashwaghanda, eleuthero and rhodiola, found in Gaia Herbs’ Adrenal Health and Vitanica’s Adrenal Assist.

    The Vitamins & Supplements Approach
    “B vitamins are also hugely important regarding stress,” says Cassy. “They are co-factors in so many different cellular processes, and when we’re stressed, we burn through B5 and B6 more quickly.” Look for B complexes from Thorne Research, MegaFood or New Chapter.

    Two more to add to the stress-fighting toolkit, according to Cassy: vitamin C, which offers good antioxidant support during times of stress, and magnesium, which can be help relaxing the muscles and offer physical calm.

    The Homeopathic Approach
    This subtle, gentle form of healing can work on very specific forms of stress.  Elizabeth Vassar, homeopath at our Brentwood store, tells us about some of her favorites.

    Ignatia amara: “This is one of my number ones for coping with sudden disappointment or loss, such as the ending of a relationship,” says Elizabeth.

    Natrum muriaticum: “This is good for people who have a tendency toward mild to moderate depression,” she says.

    Kali phosphoricum: Elizabeth commonly recommends this for overworked people. “I usually give it to people who are tired of their job! It helps calm the nerves.”

    Bryonia Alba: This is good for someone who has suffered big losses—like their job, a home, etc., and is experiencing depression because of it, says Elizabeth.

    Arsenicum album: “This is for the people who worry about everything!” says Elizabeth.

    Because homeopathy is so specialized to each person’s individual needs, it’s best to speak with a homeopathic practitioner at Pharmaca about proper strengths and dosages.

    The Flower Essence Approach
    Much like homeopathy, flower essences are made via multiple dilutions of flower, tree and bush extracts, and work on an energetic level. In the 1920s, British homeopath Edward Bach isolated 38 flower essences that he felt were especially helpful in balancing emotions—making them ideal for beating stress.

    Bach’s Rescue Remedy, a combination of five flower essences, is a best-selling stress-relief option. “Rescue Remedy is designed for immediate relief from stress or some kind of trauma,” says Lindsay Fontana, homeopath at our Santa Fe store.  “Sometimes when you can just get a little distance from things, you can find more peace. And that’s what Rescue Remedy really gives you.” Available in drops, as a spray and in tasty pastilles, the formula includes five flowers: rock rose, clematis, impatiens, cherry plum and star of Bethlehem.

    Lindsay cites a few other individual flower essences that can be helpful for different stressful scenarios:

    Aspen is good for stress—literally for fears and worries of unknown origin

    Cherry Plum is for fear of losing control

    Elm is for when you’re overwhelmed by responsibility

    Honeysuckle helps when you’re dwelling on the past

    Pine relieves self-reproach or guilt

    Again, because of the specialized nature of these essences, it’s best to work with a Pharmaca practitioner on choosing individual products.

  • Stress Modifiers (and my favorite "chill pills")

    Most of us know something about stress because we’ve experienced it. That tense feeling in the neck… agitation…jitters in your stomach…and that rush of adrenaline that comes when you step off the curb only to realize a bus is barreling toward you.

    These are all sensations of stress. The stress response is part of what is called the “general adaptation syndrome,” of which there are three phases: alarm, resistance and exhaustion. These phases are in large part regulated by our adrenal glands.

    The initial stress response is the alarm reaction, referred to as the fight-or-flight response. This phase is usually short and is designed to help us respond to danger… like stepping out of the way of that bus. Our heart rate goes up, our rate of breathing increases and blood sugar levels are increased in order to supply enough blood and oxygen to parts of the body that are needed for us to respond quickly.

    The next phase is the resistance reaction, which allows the body to continue dealing with a stressor after the effects of the fight-or-flight phase have worn off. Hormones secreted from the adrenal glands are largely responsible for the resistance reaction phase, which enables us to have a good supply of energy from proteins after those glucose supplies are depleted. These changes in our physiology during this phase of stress reactions help us to deal with the emotional fallout, as well as the physical demands and the immune impact of stress.

    If stress is prolonged or severe—or both—it overrides our ability to adapt, and exhaustion results. This is when our adrenal glands are depleted in their production of hormones, when our cells and tissues do not receive enough glucose and other nutrients, and the cells lose potassium. Everything becomes weakened—mentally, emotionally and physically.

    The good news is that we can do something about exhaustion! Many things can be done to help us adapt to stress, but the best way to start is in practicing good habits for calming the mind and body, such as relaxation techniques, yoga, meditation and prayer.

    Altering lifestyle habits is another important way to minimize the effects of stress. Examples include good time management, setting priorities, improving relationships, seeking counseling, eating a healthy whole food diet, abiding by regular meal times, getting regular exercise and sleep, being in nature, and reducing alcohol, caffeine and sugar.

    Supplementing the diet with herbs and nutrients can also be very helpful in achieving a calmer state and helping us to adapt and recover from stress.

    Adaptogens, for example, are a class of herbs that are important for improving our stress-adaptation mechanisms. These herbs help the body resist stress and help normalize, regulate and even produce a “tonic” kind of effect (rather than a stimulant effect). My favorite adaptogens are ashwagandha, rhodiola, maca and panax ginseng (aka Korean ginseng). These can be taken daily and long term. Since these are not quick-acting herbs, they should be part of a medium to long-term strategy for coping with stress.

    There are also herbs that can help you feel less anxiety and bring about a calmer state more immediately (usually within about 30 minutes). Herbs with this gentle mild effect are chamomile, passionflower and lemon balm. For herbs that pack more of a punch, turn to valerian, kava and skullcap.

    Several herbs can help with more entrenched anxiety states. My favorite is lavender oil extract in pill form, although even simply inhaling or diffusing lavender essential oil has been shown to have anxiety reducing effects. Supplements such as L-theanine and GABA are also used to reduce general anxiety.

    We all have stress—it’s a normal part of life. But as many of us try to adapt to faster paces, more stimuli, less down time, more pressure and more complicated lives, we often find there is indeed a limit.

    So let’s stop, pause, breathe, look at the sunset, walk amongst the beauty of nature, learn skills and adopt habits to better manage stress, and utilize these important supplements in order to feel better and prevent the long-term consequences of prolonged stress.

  • Your Everyday Stress-Relief Guide

    Whether we’re meeting deadlines at work or school or taking the kids to soccer practice, we could all use a little daily stress relief. Keep this helpful guide on hand to remind you of daily practices that can help reduce the stress in your life.

    Get on a regular sleep schedule. “Try and go to sleep and wake up at the same time,” says Brian Vaitkus, naturopathic doctor at our Portland store. He recommends having a nighttime ritual, like a warm bath, to relax you and induce sleep more readily.

    Why is sleep so important? “Your adrenal glands are the glands most affected by stress in your body because they function on a circadian rhythm,” says Brian. “As our sleep becomes less regular, our adrenal glands suffer more.”

    To nourish those adrenals, Brian likes Pure Encapsulations Daily Stress Formula. “It has all the active forms of your B vitamins, as well as an herbal adaptogenic blend.” (Read more about the connection between stress and your adrenal glands.)

    Breathe deeply. In the midst of a busy day, take a moment to escape the world around you and focus on you. We like Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise, as follows, because it can be done anywhere. (This one is meant for relaxation, but the Stimulating Breath exercise here, can be helpful in stressful times, too):

    • Exhale audibly through your mouth.
    • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose while counting to four.
    • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
    • Exhale completely through your mouth, audibly, to a count of eight.
    • Repeat the cycle three more times, for a total of four breaths.

    Try aromatherapy. “Aromatherapy is now recognized medically because we know it works on different energy centers in the brain,” says Shizandra Fox, herbalist at our Sonoma store.

    Lavender is the queen of stress-relief,” says Shizandra. She also recommends small amounts of clary sage, bergamot or rosemary to help create mental clarity during a stressful time.

    Even if you don’t have a diffuser in your car or on your desk, keep a small bottle of your favorite relaxing essential oil with you and take a whiff every once in awhile, or even apply to a tissue and keep it nearby. “If you want to apply it to your skin, combine it with a carrier oil like jojoba oil,” says Shizandra. “Jojoba binds to the oil and keeps it from dissipating.”

    Get rescued.
    There’s a reason Bach’s Rescue Remedy is one of our customers’ favorite things to have on hand when life and work get really stressful. A blend of Impatiens, Star of Bethlehem, Cherry Plum, Rock Rose and Clematis, Rescue Remedy naturally works to calm your nerves. “The flower essences help balance the body and bring out a more positive state of being,” says Shizandra. “When the body is working in a positive state, the negative influences are less challenging.” Rescue Remedy is available in pastilles, a spray and liquid drops—even a lip balm—to help you prep for everything from a big presentation to a longer-than-you’d-like to-do list.

    Get regular exercise
    . “Even walking for 15 minutes a day, with good deep breathing, can be helpful,” Brian says. And don’t forget, “Do your best to smile as often as possible.”

    To find out more about everyday stress relief, speak with a practitioner at your local Pharmaca.

  • Natural Solutions for Mild-to-Moderate Depression

    Depression is a common women's issue, and can result from a number of different health problems. Here, Dr. Tori Hudson, ND, talks about natural solutions to help you deal with mild-to-moderate depression.

    This video is part of a series of educational videos from members of our Integrative Health Advisory Board.

  • 5 Stress-Busting Strategies

    Stress. It’s a part of all of our lives, but when it gets out of control, it can wear us down physically, mentally and emotionally--and can have long-term effects on our health. Here are a few ways to help your body handle stress better.

    1) Calm your mind and body. Set aside at least 10 minutes a day to try and invoke a relaxation response (the opposite of a stress response) through breathing, progressive relaxation, meditation, self-hypnosis, biofeedback or even prayer. Close your eyes and breathe deep from your belly--in through the nose for 8 counts and out through the mouth for 8 counts.

    2) Exercise regularly. A consistent exercise program helps the body improve its response to stress, and releases calming, mood-boosting hormones. Studies have shown that those who exercise regularly are much less likely to suffer from fatigue and depression.

    3) Nourish your adrenals. Your adrenal glands produce stress hormones (such as cortisol), but can quickly become depleted when you’re experiencing chronic stress. Certain herbs called adaptogens can help to improve the function of your adrenal glands and boost your body’s natural stress response. Try adaptogenic formulas such as Vital Adapt by Natura, Cortisol Manager from Integrative Therapeutics or Adrenal Booster by Pharmaca.

    4) Watch your diet. Reduce the effects of stress with a few dietary changes:

    • Restrict or eliminate caffeine, alcohol and refined carbohydrates
    • Boost your potassium intake (avocado, bananas, potatoes and raw tomatoes)
    • Reduce your sodium intake, since too much sodium can put unnecessary stress on the body and play a role in cancer development and cardiovascular disease.
    • Support adrenal function with key nutrients such as vitamin C (citrus fruits, tomatoes, dark-green leafy vegetables), pantothenic acid (whole grains, legumes, salmon, broccoli), vitamin B6 (poultry, whole grains, soy), zinc and magnesium (whole grains, nuts, legumes)

    5) Get adequate sleep. If you have difficult sleeping, explore the herbs and natural substances that can help prepare the body for sleep. Ones to try: melatonin, which is your sleep/wake hormone, and 5-HTP and L-theanine that work to calm an active mind down for the day. In addition, herbs such as passionflower and valerian are soothing and relaxing to the nervous system. I recommend Natural Factors’ Tranquil Sleep (a blend of melatonin, 5-HTP and L-theanine), Deep Sleep by Herbs, Etc., WishGarden’s Sleepy Nights or Bach’s Rescue Sleep.

    Ask any Pharmaca practitioner if you need help coping with the stress in your life.

  • Boosting Your Body's Healthy Stress Response

    We all deal with stress—and could use some extra help coping with it. Learn more from Dr. Brad Jacobs about how a variety of lifestyle changes, breathing practices and supplements can boost your body’s stress response.

    This video is part of a series of educational videos we’ll be posting from members of our Integrative Health Advisory Board.

  • Adaptogens in Focus: Rhodiola

    On nearly every continent, there are plants that contain particular substances and chemicals capable of altering the human physiological and emotional reaction to stress. Known for thousands of years and utilized by cultures around the globe, these healing herbs and fungi—what we now call adaptogens—convey a resistance to chemical, physical and psycho-emotional stressors when consumed, providing resiliency to both our minds and bodies by balancing neurotransmitters, increasing cellular energy production, and supporting neuro-endocrine functions.

    As most health practitioners will attest, stress and the resulting physical effects of stress are at the core of many health conditions; our societies are just moving and working at a pace that our bodies and minds struggle to keep up with, and it’s taking a huge toll on our health. Because of this, I feel these herbs are an invaluable addition to a healing protocol or supplement regimen, and are needed like never before.

    In this series on adaptogens, I’ll be exploring some of the most potent and effective of these adaptogens, outlining their incredible history, physiological and psycho-emotional effects, and appropriate usage guidelines.

    So let’s jump right in and start at the top with my absolute favorite, rhodiola.

    Siberian strength

    Rhodiola rosea (also called Arctic or Golden Root) is an adaptogen that hails from the highlands of Siberia and northern Europe. A staple healer for centuries in the Russian and Arctic cultures, rhodiola has been classically used to increase physical resistance to the cold and stress of such an inhospitable climate. This effect has been consistently proven in laboratory studies, along with seemingly countless other beneficial effects.

    Rhodiola has a profound effect on neurotransmitter balance. In laboratory studies, it has been found to increase the sensitivity of neurons to the presence of dopamine and serotonin, two prominent neurotransmitters involved in motivation, focus, enjoyment and mood. Because of this, rhodiola has been used as a successful alternative to antidepressants in Europe, and may offer benefit to those suffering from attention issues or memory loss.

    To prevent fatigue, especially at high altitudes, rhodiola is second-to-none. The herb appears to increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of our red blood cells, and has been used by Olympic athletes and Russian cosmonauts for endurance and strength. This effect is also due to the ability of rhodiola to reduce cortisol in our blood, a hormone released in times of stress, and one responsible for various detrimental effects when chronically present.

    One of those detrimental effects, as you may know, is stress-related weight gain. Our bodies preferentially store excess weight around the midsection during times of excess and perpetual stress, anticipating that we may be in some kind of physical danger and so must protect the internal organs. By reducing cortisol, rhodiola may help to calm the body and reduce this effect, while at the same time turning on an enzyme, hormone-sensitive lipase, which stimulates the body to break down and utilize the fat stored in abdominal cells. And as extra weight support for those of us who are challenged by stress-related eating behaviors, rhodiola can also help to adjust satiation through increasing dopamine sensitivity, reducing carbohydrate cravings and potentially increasing the pleasure response we get from eating.

    This is just a tiny sampling of this plant’s incredible potential benefits, and I encourage you to research and read more on it if you’re interested. Personally, I have been taking rhodiola on and off for about six years, and have never found an herbal supplement to be more powerful or multifaceted in its healing abilities.

    Note: Look for a rhodiola supplement that is guaranteed Siberian-grown, as other plants grown in more temperate regions of the world don’t develop the same stress-balancing compounds. New Chapter’s Rhodiola Force is a personal favorite.

    Ideal dose has been set at between 100-600 mg per day, depending on your physiology and the effects you’re looking for, taken once a day in the morning. Side effects are minimal to none, though those with high blood pressure conditions are advised to avoid rhodiola. Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner to learn more about appropriate dosage levels.

    Ciel is a certified Wellness Coach and Holistic Health Practitioner in Berkeley, Calif., and works at the Rockridge Pharmaca in Oakland. She employs her background in herbs, nutrition, psychoneuroimmunology and Shamanic practices (and a few hundred other modalities) to guide people to a greater understanding of their life processes, leading to vibrant health and much more laughter.

  • Yoga's Proven Health Benefits

    Here's some great news about yoga to take with you for the weekend--turns out it's been clinically shown to be effective in treating a variety of health issues, from stress and depression to back pain.

    This is the first in a series of educational videos we'll be posting from members of our Integrative Health Advisory Board. Here's Dr. Brad Jacobs, MD, talking about all the reasons yoga should be a part of your life.

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