Grass Roots Remedies - December Update

Herbal medicine has much to offer in the treatment of anxiety which is useful as it is a commonly seen condition at our herbal clinic. According to the Scottish Executive, 1 in 4 people in Scotland will experience a diagnosable mental health condition each year and the most common diagnosis will be anxiety or depression. Also, those living in the most deprived areas in Scotland are 3 times more likely to commit suicide or spend time in hospital with a mental illness than those in a more affluent area, (BBC News, 2016).

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, unease, uncertainty or fear that can range from mild to severe. Some thoughts may be accompanied by a feeling of impending doom, a perceived threat and an experience of bodily discomfort and actual bodily disturbance. Some level of anxiety, for example about a job interview or exam is normal, however it can become problematic and disabling if it escalates to feeling out of control of these thoughts. Anxiety is the main symptom of several conditions; panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, phobias and social anxiety disorder. It often goes hand in hand with depression. Stressful and difficult life events can trigger episodes of anxiety and it can continue long after the event has finished or manifest out of the blue at other times.

Signs and symptoms of anxiety psychologically include difficulty concentrating or sleeping, feeling irritable, racing thoughts, feeling depressed or tearful and losing self-confidence. Physical symptoms like sweating, feeling dizzy, rapid heartbeat, fast breathing, tense or weak muscles, churning stomach, loose bowels and dry mouth are also common.

Herbal Management

Herbs which we use to treat anxiety are known as nervines. They have a direct effect on the nervous system which can often be calming or uplifting. There is a direct link between our body and mind so any issue effecting the mind will manifest itself in the body in some way, hence why anxiety is both a mental and physical condition. The link between mind and body is through the nervous system however some nervine herbs have affinities for different physical body systems. This can be a really useful means to supporting a patient with anxiety with herbs as when we look at their whole system picture we can choose the right herb for what they need.

As mentioned before anxiety can affect the digestive system so choosing a herb which is calming and eases the digestion can be really helpful. Such herbs are Chamomile, Lemon balm, Rosemary, Mugwort, Mint, Hops and Valerian.

If there was an element of palpitation or racing heartbeat to the anxiety we could use Motherwort, Limeflowers, Lavender, Hawthorn, Crampbark and Valerian.

Some of the more bitter herbs such as Vervain, Dandelion, Mugwort, and Bearberry, Wormwood and Chamomile (to name a few), can ease anxiety in an indirect way by supporting the liver to process and detoxify more efficiently which can have a tonifying effect on other body systems and cellular processes. The result of this can improve energy levels, motivation and mood.

All of the nervine herbs mentioned so far are also antispasmodics so they can reduce the muscular tension associated with anxiety and encourage relaxation. When tension is affecting sleep, we have some more sedating herbs which can be useful such as Wild lettuce, Californian Poppy, Hops, Passionflower, Skullcap and Valerian.

Of course, herbal medicine is not a magic bullet for treating anxiety. Changes to diet and lifestyle can be beneficial. I often encourage patients to try and reduce their intake of sugar and caffeine as both can cause highs and lows whilst providing their body with little nutrition. Cutting them out can stabilise the mood. Exercise can release endorphins which can improve mood and getting outside into nature can really help change perspective if that feels safe for the patient. Treatment can often take time and can require a person to explore elements of their feelings in talking therapy or with those they trust and feel safe with which can be invaluable in getting to the root cause of their anxiety. Learning coping mechanisms alongside this can make a real long-term difference.