These adrenal hormones are stimulated by hormonal signals from the brain which is responding to perceived external threats. They are also released as part of a stress response to physical illness such as a heart attacks or diabetes. If there is prolonged exposure to stress and the body does not get an opportunity to recover then anxiety can become chronic and leads to generalised anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is characterised by excessive worry and tension which creates negative feelings that interfere with the ability to carry out and take pleasure in daily life - keep calm and carry on, so to speak.
Worries are accompanied by physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, irritability, sleep disturbances, palpitations and digestive problems. Many people with anxiety also suffer from depression.
Herbal medicine provides an effective approach to treating the causes and symptoms of anxiety without the side effects of more conventional anxiolytics and antidepressant drugs. The choice of herbs depends on each individual patient's requirements.
A key group of herbs used for treatment of stress and anxiety are adaptogens, which act on the brain-adrenal axis to balance the release of adrenal hormones. Herbs shown to have this action include Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Ashwagandha (Withania somniferum), Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), and Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis).
Other herbs that may be part of the treatment include:
Sedative herbs such as valerian (Valeriana officinalis), passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) to reduce anxiety.
Nerve tonics which are calming and lift mood include St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Verbena (Verbena officinalis), Oats (Avena sativa) and Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora).
Herbs to alleviate spasm, particularly in the gut, include cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) and chamomile (Matricaria recutita).
Herbs to provide cardiovascular support such as Hawthorn (Crataegus lavigata) and Motherwort (Leonorus cardiaca).
Adrenal tonics that restore adrenal function when adrenal reserves are depleted include Rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa ) and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Herbal treatment is combined with advice on improving diet and lifestyle.