We all experience stress at some point in our lives, and for some it's an ongoing issue.

Stress can be a contributing factor to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, so it is important to monitor. There has been a recent shift in our society to be more open about mental health, which is necessary and beneficial, since each and every one of us will experience suffering or sadness at some stage.

When looking at how to manage stress, it's important to look at yourself as an individual. We all feel and respond to stress differently, and how we approach our stress should differ, too.

I find there are two distinct camps we tend to sit in with regard to how we feel stress.

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On one end of the spectrum are those who feel "wired and tired". This is a very common situation in our fast-paced lives, where we feel addicted to being busy, and where being exhausted almost becomes a status symbol.

In this stage of stress, you may feel tense and agitated much of the time. You know you want to relax, but you feel restless as soon as you have any free time. You may fill this time up with other tasks from your "to do" list.

You are running at such a high stress level that you may over-react to small issues — your patience is worn thin. When night comes, you feel exhausted but still have difficulty winding down or falling asleep. In this stage of stress we commonly see people using caffeine during the day to keep them up and alcohol in the evening to help them wind down.

Traditional plant medicine is exceptional in helping to treat chronic stress. Many medicinal plants act to support and nourish the nervous system, and can modulate the stress response — calming it when it is overactive without being sedating. It nourishes your exhausted nervous system and relaxes your busy mind.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifola) can help to calm and nourish an overactive nervous system. Photo / 123RF
Lavender (Lavandula angustifola) can help to calm and nourish an overactive nervous system. Photo / 123RF

Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), lavender (Lavandula angustifola), and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) help to calm and nourish an overactive nervous system. These medicinal plants have been shown to reduce anxiety and are also soothing and settling to the digestive system, which can get out of sorts during stressful times.

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is another hero herb for this type of stress, as it acts directly on the adrenal glands. A 2009 research review by Head and Kelly found that licorice can help to modulate cortisol and the stress response enabling people to deal better with stress. Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is another well-researched medicinal plant that has been shown to ease anxiety and help the body switch into relaxing mode. This in turn can help calm repetitive thought patterns and encourage relaxation to enable restorative sleep.

On the other side of the stress spectrum are those who feel a lack of energy, low moods, a lack of concentration, and mentally exhaustion.

Rather than "wired and tired", you just feel tired. You may feel flat, sad, or so overwhelmed that you just can't be bothered with anything.

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In this instance, St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is the hero plant medicine. It has been used throughout the ages to lift the mood and energy levels of those who felt weighed down by daily stresses and strains. St. John's Wort acts like insulation around your nerves. It improves your body's resilience to stress and overwhelming situations. It helps to lift moods and energy, and can act as an energising tonic without being stimulating. Many people only think about St. John's Wort as an anti-depressant, but it can be used much earlier in the stress process before clinical depression arises. It also has anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties.

Both inflammation and infections can lead to low moods, therefore having these therapeutic properties concurrent to the antidepressant effects is a special feature that only plant medicine can offer.

St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is the hero plant medicine for those whose stress manifests itself in the form of a lack of energy. Photo / 123RF
St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is the hero plant medicine for those whose stress manifests itself in the form of a lack of energy. Photo / 123RF

Only you know what kind of response you have to stress. The good news is that no matter how you tend to respond, plant medicine can help to support you and lift you out of your stressed state.

If you need more help, contact a registered medical herbalist, or see your leading health care professional.