Anxiety is often a response to stressful and traumatic experiences – the COVID-19 pandemic that has engulfed this country over the last couple of months definitely falls into this category. In fact, a recent survey by Healthspan this month found that the average adult has seen their stress and anxiety levels rise by almost 50 per cent in recent weeks – with the over 60s actually seeing the biggest increase, according to Dr Meg Arroll, a chartered psychologist at Healthspan. Although some aspects of the lockdown are lifting, we are still in a state of limbo.
- Brits have been more stressed and anxious than usual in recent weeks
As Dr Arroll points out: “Not knowing what the future holds, grappling with altered daily patterns, and for many, increased demands at home where the lines between work and family life have blurred, can all lead to heightened anxiety.”
Anxiety can be all-consuming and it can be difficult to see a way out.
However, an encouraging body of evidence shows that simple dietary tweaks can improve your mood.
In this arena, herbal remedies can provide significant benefit.
According to Dr Chris Etheridge, chair of the British Herbal Medicine Association, specific herbs seem to work on the central nervous system by modulating the various neurotransmitters that affect stress and anxiety.
As Dr Etheridge points out, the effects may not be as potent, but neither are the side effects.
“These herbs do not have the addictive or withdrawal problems which can sometimes be associated with long-term use of prescribed benzodiazepine drugs,” he said.
Dr Etheridge adds: “Always look for herbal medicines that display traditional herbal registration (THR) on their pack when buying over the counter or on-line to ensure you are buying high quality, safe products.”
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So, what does he recommend?
If your anxiety is linked with menopause, black cohosh, a perennial herb of the buttercup family, is one of the most widely used herbal alternatives to hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
HRT is a treatment to relieve symptoms of the menopause.
Several comparison studies show that standardised extracts are more effective in relieving hot flushes, depression and anxiety compared to standard oestrogen HRT, he reports.
Another proven solution is Rhodiola rose extract, derived from an herb that grows in the cold, mountainous regions of Europe and Asia.
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According to Dr Etheridge, the herbal extract has been shown to combat anxiety and alleviate associated symptoms of fatigue and exhaustion.
“This makes Rhodiola a great choice when you feel both anxious and drained of energy,” he said.
As he explained, Rhodiola root extracts help to reduce anxiety while enhancing alertness, concentration, memory, stamina and sleep quality.
What else does Dr Etheridge recommend?
“Lavender oil is one of the latest herbal medicines to gain a license for the treatment of symptoms of anxiety, stress and nervousness,” he said.
Several clinical trials show it produces significant effects within two weeks.
“It appears to be as effective as medications (e.g. lorazepam) prescribed to treat generalised anxiety disorder (GAD),” he added.
GAD is a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event.
People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed.
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