Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Herbs for Relieving Stress

Stress, anxiety, and tension seem to be common characteristics of our lives today. For many of us it seems as if our lives are constantly changing-painlessly at times and painfully at others. The skills demanded by our jobs are shifting, as are the goals and expectations of society itself. Sometimes nothing seems to have a solid foundation, whether it be family relationships, the workplace, the national economy, or international politics. It's almost as if society is going through its adolescence! It's a time of chaos and crisis, great stress, and yet, great opportunity.

Defining Stress There are several ways to define stress. Perhaps the most encompassing is: "Stress is the response of the body to any demand." Just staying alive creates demands on the body for life-maintaining energy; even while we sleep our bodies continue to function. So by this definition, stress is a fundamental part of being alive and shouldn't be avoided! The trick is to ensure that the degree of stress we experience is such that life is a joy, not a struggle.

However, when stress becomes distress it can result in health problems. Stressful events physically trigger the release of stress hormones (like adrenaline) which provide a quick supply of oxygen and energy. But if these hormone surges are sparked again and again, they can deplete our body's resources and result in health problems such as high blood pressure.

Ongoing stress can increase the risk of developing migraine headaches, depression, chronic fatigue, and digestive ailments. If stress is chronic it can lead to feelings of hopelessness and severe depression which can adversely affect our immune system, potentially increasing our vulnerability to disease.

Healthy lifestyle habits, relaxation practices, and other stress management techniques can help us cope with stress. Vigorous aerobic exercise can reduce the level of stress hormones and release endorphins that bring a sense of well-being. Eating a healthy low-fat diet and avoiding stimulating foods such as those containing caffeine can help your body cope. Learning relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, stretching exercises, or meditation, can also help.

Nature also has provided us with several safe and effective natural herbal remedies that can help us relax and deal with the symptoms associated with stress. These herbs are easy to use and have been used for centuries as effective stress-reducers.

Herbs and Their Proper Use in Stress Management

Herbs can play a fundamental role in any stress management program. When used within the context of a program that addresses a range of factors associated with the individual's stress problem, herbs can facilitate a dramatic change in the quality of life. A holistic and preventive approach should be used when treating an individual under stress. Simply using an herb, as one would use a synthetic drug, to treat the symptoms associated with stress does not address the cause of the problem. A well-balanced stress management program will address all the various aspects that contribute to stress. Herbal remedies will only fulfill some aspects, but not all. Herbs are best and most safely used in helping to treat daily mild stress and short term severe stress. Long standing or chronic stress can lead to very serious health conditions such as chronic insomnia, severe depression, immune related diseases, heart disease, and other conditions that may require medical attention or psychotherapy. It's then important to seek the help of a qualified health care practitioner.

The most important way to control stress is to practice preventive medicine. Find out what may be causing the stress in your life and make changes where changes can be made. Set reasonable goals for yourself and be forthright with others as to what you can and can't do. Get regular exercise. Eat a healthy plant-based diet. Learn effective relaxation techniques. Practice meditation. Spend time outdoors in nature. Take a true vacation. Pay attention to your spiritual well-being. Learn to turn your stress into strength. And use herbs when they can help.

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