Today I’m going to skip over the obvious suggestions: meditation, yoga, self hypnosis, biofeedback, relaxation recordings, and regular exercise. They’re all undeniably useful tools to alleviate the stress of your Cuisinart existence (picture yourself trying to avoid those spinning blades).
I’m also going to skip over psychotherapy, another extremely good approach to chronic stress. A skilled therapist can help you get a new perspective on things. But let’s say you’ve got no free time or minimal mental health benefits.
What’s really needed to deal with chronic stress is courage.
I was encouraged by a recent survey among 18-to-23 year olds in which they described themselves as very optimistic about their futures. They didn’t think they’d be particularly rich or even have their own homes or flashy cars, but happiness was within their grasp. The survey’s conclusion was that this might herald an attitude shift, triggered by the recession, away from decades of materialistic thinking. Young people may be observing that the material acquisition of their parents simply wasn’t worth all the stress and bother.
Remember that it was the 18-to-23-year-old Beat Generation in the 1950s that moved our grandparents out of the mind-numbing doldrums of grey flannel suit conformity. A decade later, changes wrought by the Beats triggered the 18-to-23-year-old Hippies into what became the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Maybe today’s group from this new survey will knock some sense into us the way previous generations did.
“So what?” you’re thinking. “Beats, Hippies, whatever–I’m still depressed, anxious, and fried. What is your point?”
The point is that you need the courage to initiate whatever major changes are needed to free you from whatever is chipping away at your chance for joy. Hate your two-hour commute in traffic? Move to an apartment within walking or bicycling distance from your workplace. Can’t stand the thought of another Chicago winter? Find a job somewhere warm, even if it means a salary drop. Detest your job? Get your resume in order and start looking.
Most of the stressed-out among us generally have one primary stressor, the elephant in the living room. Toxic job, toxic relationship–if you’re stressed you know what yours is. Once that’s been dealt with, you’ll need a new way to face future decisions, future forks in the road of your life. Use just one question to determine your route: “Will it cause more stress or less stress?”
If you want a chance at a reasonably happy life, all decisions must meet the less-stress priority. “Will marrying a chronic alcoholic with anger issues who makes a million a year lead to more stress or less stress?” If you actually need help answering questions like this, get out your Ouija Board, cheaper than a shrink with exactly the same answer.
And now, the three magic herbs for stress. Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?
1. First, an adaptogen. This is any of several herbs that help your body adapt or cope with stress. Acting mainly to fortify your adrenal glands, adaptogens increase your resistance to emotional, physical, and environmental stressors. They stabilize everything. You can take your pick among Panax (Asian) ginseng, Eleutherococcus (Siberian ginseng), Ashwagandha, or Rhodiola. Try a combination like Adreset, or a pure herb like Recovery Tonic. If you’re feeling indecisive, rotate them, depending on what happens to be on sale.
2. Add St. John’s wort, 450 mg twice a day, to raise your stress-buffering serotonin. The most frequent comment I hear from patients after a month of St. John’s wort is “All the stuff that made me anxious is still there. It just doesn’t bother me much any more.” Since St. John’s wort is essentially an herbal version of prescription antidepressants (such as Prozac, Zoloft, or Lexapro), don’t use it if you’re already taking one of these.
3. Something to calm yourself. You can think more clearly when you’re calm. The herb kava is excellent, and nutriceuticals like Theanine and GABA will relax you without sedation. If you need a sleep aid, consider valerian or melatonin.
Using these herbs can help get you back on track, fortifying you to make decisions about changing your life. You can discontinue them when things settle down, you’ve taken up painting, and you’re bicycling off to that really fulfilling new job.
David Edelberg, MD