COVID Anxiety

By: Donna Easto, C.H., H.C., M.H.,
Certified Herbal Educator

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issues diagnosed in North America. There are several “types” of anxiety, including panic, obsessive-compulsive, post-traumatic, and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder).  In these days of social distancing and isolation, we can add COVID anxiety.  

Stress and anxiety are interrelated.  Kelly McGonigal, an expert in the new science of stress, offers this definition: “Stress is what arises when something we care about is at stake.”  This is COVID anxiety in a nutshell!  Most of us are feeling that the world s changing rapidly around us; things that matter are more uncertain, leading to an all-body stress response. 

Anxiety can occur on its own, as a response to stress, or as a trigger to stress. When anxiety is in reaction to stress, it intensifies the stress. It’s important to understand that this is something you cannot control. It’s your brain’s automatic survival mechanism (fight or flight). What matters is how we respond. Chronic emotional stress leads to changes to the immune system, blood sugar regulation, blood pressure, sleep patterns and digestion. 

In this extraordinarily difficult time, tried-and-true stress management strategies, such as eating healthy meals, getting plenty of sleep, deep breathing, spending time in quiet places outdoors, regulating television and computer time, and meditating, still apply. Here are some suggestions from a botanical perspective for herbal helpers to self-care during a time of coronavirus.

Calming Adaptogen:  My favourite is Ashwagandha root.  It has been used worldwide as a gentle tonic to provide relief from anxiety and mild depression, fatigue, cloudy thinking, insomnia and nervous exhaustion.  Ashwagandha has a high level of safety but is not for use in pregnancy. You will see some benefits almost immediately, but the full effect of adaptogenic herbs is not felt until 3 months after continual use. 

Nervines: reliable anti-anxiety nervine tonic herbs (when used as directed) include Motherwort*, Passionflower, Linden Flower, and Chamomile.  For anti-depressant effects: **Lavender, Lemon Balm, *Rosemary and St. John’s Wort (not for use in serve depression, if you are pregnant or taking any drugs metabolized through the CYP450 oxidase system and SSRIs, consult with your health care provider before taking St. John’s Wort)

Peter Rabbit’s mother had it right – there’s nothing like a soothing cup of Chamomile tea.  Make your own blend with Chamomile and two or three flowery or leafy herbs above, brew for 5-10 minutes, sweeten with local honey or Canadian maple syrup. 

*not for use in pregnancy

** don’t combine with CNS depressants, anti-seizure or lipid-lowering medications

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