Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Your health: Treating stress and anxiety naturally

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Thousands of thoughts pop into our heads every day of which we have little control over, but with time and practice we can learn to choose the thoughts we wish to pursue. Photo / iStock
Thousands of thoughts pop into our heads every day of which we have little control over, but with time and practice we can learn to choose the thoughts we wish to pursue. Photo / iStock

Hi Sandra, I feel anxious a lot and worry over every small detail. My doctor says its normal to feel anxiety and stress and doesn't believe I need antidepressants. Is there anything I can take naturally that might help?

Stress and anxiety are common states for many people, but not necessarily normal or natural, especially when they become excessive and interfere with our quality of life. Stressful events can produce short-term anxiety in almost everyone, which disappears after the event. However for others a low-grade worry, triggered by the smallest of things, can become a daily reality.

Thankfully, plant medicine excels in assisting with nervous tension and anxiety. Because plants are non-habit forming, they can be used for short or long periods, without the risk of rebound anxiety when use is ceased. They also offer an excellent alternative for people who have encountered side effects with pharmaceutical medication.

St John's Wort is one of the best medicinal plants for stabilising and nourishing the nervous system, relaxing tension and mild anxiety and generally uplifting the spirit. It is also clinically proven to help in mild to moderate depression. It should not be taken as a highly concentrated, standardised extract that is high in hyperforin alongside medications such as Digoxin, Indinavir, Cyclosporin or anticoagulants (e.g. Warfarin).

However MedSafe New Zealand stated in 2014 that when taken as a traditional, low hyperforin preparation, such as a tea, the risk of interaction is not clinically relevant.

READ MORE: The safety of St John's Wort

Other excellent plants for anxiety include lemon balm, chamomile, passionflower, lavender and licorice root. Many of these have mild sedative properties that help to calm an overworked nervous system and support relaxation. Along with restoring the nervous system, their anti-spasmodic actions also support the relaxation of tight muscles, tension headaches and digestive cramps that can accompany the state of worry. Many people are surprised to learn that modern scientific trials support the use of passionflower, chamomile and lavender for anxiety disorders.

To uplift and ease stress and tension I recommend consuming certified organic preparations of these plants in a bioavailable form as a medicinal tea, at a dose of three cups (one gram each) daily for three to six months.

All these plants can be safely taken for longer periods if you require continued support to manage stress and mood. The effects will build up gradually over a period of 10 to 14 days and keep building as time goes on.

You may also benefit from seeking out a qualified counsellor or psychologist who has experience with treating anxiety. Anxiety responds very well and relatively fast to treatment. There are many different techniques that can be utilised, from mindfulness to cognitive behavioral therapy.

If talking to someone doesn't appeal, there are a variety of self-care options including meditation or yoga classes, both of which have found to be effective for anxiety. There are even online apps that you can use in the privacy of your own home. The key is to shop around until you find something that you are comfortable with.

Thousands of thoughts pop into our heads every day of which we have little control over, but with time and practice we can learn to choose the thoughts we wish to pursue, and slowly free ourselves from those which bring us fear and negativity.

Hi Sandra, my teenagers think being sun smart is applying sunscreen once a day. I nag and nag but they don't listen. Then they complain about sore, itchy skin. Have you got any tips for sunburn?

Lavender essential oil can also ease the pain and damage of burned skin, and accelerate healing. Photo / iStock
Lavender essential oil can also ease the pain and damage of burned skin, and accelerate healing. Photo / iStock

There are several plants that can come to the rescue of painful, burned skin at this time of the year.

At the top of my list for the family first aid kit is St John's Wort oil. Many people are aware of this plant's anti-depressive action as discussed above, when taken internally, but far fewer know about its impressive ability to treat burns, pain, inflammation and nerve injuries when applied topically. In European countries it is officially approved to treat burns from a variety of heat sources, sun or radiation treatments. This is supported by clinical trials.

Make sure you source the best quality St John's Wort oil you can - it should be made with certified organic olive oil and wild harvested plants. In New Zealand we are lucky that we have top quality St. John's Wort growing in the alpine areas of Central Otago that produce a medicinal grade preparation. Apply to sunburned skin two to five times daily until the skin returns to normal. Be careful not to apply prior to sun exposure, as it is known that oils on skin can accelerate sunburn.

Lavender essential oil can also ease the pain and damage of burned skin, and accelerate healing. Essential oil preparations are extremely potent so just a few drops of good quality, preferably organic oil should be applied. This works best on smaller areas of sunburn, such as the shoulders or nose.

Remedial creams containing cooling chickweed, itch relieving nettle, and skin healing calendula are great to have in your first aid cabinet as they provide quick relief from sore and itchy skin. Additionally, they help to heal the burnt skin quickly. Aloe vera also deserves mention, with its cooling and soothing gel providing instant relief upon application. If you have access to a well-grown plant, cut or break off an end section and apply the gel directly to the skin. Alternatively, opt for a good commercial preparation. Enjoy the summer and I hope your teenagers learn quickly what it means to be truly sun smart!

- NZ Herald

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Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Sandra Clair is the founder of Artemis (artemis.co.nz) offering New Zealanders a premium range of traditional plant medicine products. She is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified health professionals in her field, as a Swiss trained medical herbalist and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). Sandra is currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

Read more by Sandra Clair

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