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How to Manage Mood during Crises: Naturopathic Perspectives

How to Manage Anxiety and Depression during COVID-19 Crisis?

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‑19) is a pandemic that has affected more than 200 countries all around the world, according to the World Health Organization. This disease outbreak, which started in January 2020, has shocked the world due to its uncontrollable spread and increasing death rate. Social isolation, reduced financial ability, and the lack of certainty about the future may cause symptoms of anxiety and depression in many individuals during this period. Amidst all this, many are worried about their own health status or the health of their loved ones.

How Does COVID‑19 Crisis Relate to Anxiety and Depression?

If you are a person who suffers from anxiety or depression, living in the midst of COVID‑19 crisis can increase your symptoms. For many others, this pandemic can lead to depression and anxiety. It is well known that crisis situations increase the incidence of anxiety and depression.

You may be constantly worried because you might feel that there is a possible threat to your health but you cannot fix it. You may not be able to concentrate on your day-to-day activities as you stay in a panicked state of constant nervousness, not knowing what to do and what your future will be. You may feel your heart racing frequently. If you notice these symptoms, you may suffer from an anxiety disorder. If you get constant depressive thoughts, find yourself withdrawing from your loved ones, are unable to sleep well, or notice changes in your appetite, you may be going into depression. If you develop such symptoms, it is best to seek medical help. However, in times like this where you are confined to your home, trying some of the natural home remedies will help immensely.

Use of Herbal Supplements

The use of medicinal plants and their products for various treatments has been ongoing throughout human history. Many plants are identified as being effective for managing mild to moderate depression and anxiety. There can be side effects due to herbal supplements, especially if you are on other medications. They can interact with certain medications that are taken for other illnesses and can give rise to serious side effects. Some side effects of herbal medications are drowsiness, headache, nausea, allergic reactions, and an increase in bleeding tendency.[1]

Therefore, if you consider using any plant products as a treatment for anxiety or depression, discuss it with your doctor first. Your doctor will help you to understand the benefits and risks better and assist you to choose a suitable herbal supplement.

Which Plant Products or Herbal Supplements Can Be Used to Treat Depression and Anxiety?

Chamomile

Chamomile can be used for managing anxiety and is generally considered safe. A cup a day of freshly brewed chamomile tea can relax you and let the stress out of your system. Stress is the main reason for depression and anxiety. Dried rose petals, spearmint, orange peel, and holy basil are some of the things you can combine when brewing your chamomile tea, which will enhance the effects of soothing chamomile.[2]

Lavender

Lavender is an evergreen plant. Out of many types of lavender, Lavendula angustifolia is the common type used for medicinal purposes. Lavender can be taken as an oral supplement, but it is commonly used as aromatherapy. Results from studies show that odours are capable of altering emotional states. Ambient odours of lavender and orange, for instance, have been shown to reduce anxiety and improve mood in dental patients.[3] In another study, lavender and rosemary essential oils have been showed to reduce test-taking anxiety among graduate nursing students.[4]

Lavender oil, which is an essential oil, can be applied on the wrists or hands. The relaxing scent of lavender keeps your anxiety in check. You can also use high-quality diffusers. Diffuse 6–8 drops of lavender oil and use every day for about an hour.

Studies have shown both inhaled lavender and oral lavender are good for reducing anxiety. Some studies suggest that oral lavender is effective in reducing symptoms of both anxiety and depression. Another study has shown that lavender fragrance has a beneficial effect on insomnia (sleep issues) and depression in female college students.[5]

Oral lavender also helps to improve insomnia, which is a common symptom of those suffering from depression. It helps to stabilize your mood and relieve stress in depression. Lavender can also be brewed as a tea. As it is an anxiolytic, it increases calm and relaxation and relieves anxiety. It helps you to sleep peacefully and reduces sleep disturbances which usually occur when you suffer from anxiety and depression.

When you suffer from anxiety, you will experience frequent anger, agitation, and restlessness. Lavender is known to interact with the neurotransmitter gamma‑aminobutyric acid (GABA). This helps to calm your brain and the activity of your nervous system.[6]

Kava

Kava can be an effective herbal supplement to relieve your anxiety. A recent study has shown kava to be helpful in nonclinical populations (more “situational” anxiety as a short-term anxiolytic).[7] However, in a few rare cases, liver damage was observed in patients taking kava. The advice of a health-care practitioner might be necessary before actually using it.[8]

Kava is a herbal plant originating from Western and South Pacific regions. The root of kava is well known to cause relaxation and is a great remedy for anxiety, stress, insomnia, and even symptoms of depression. It can be as effective as benzodiazepine and tranquilizers, which are medications used in treating anxiety. Kava doesn’t cause dependence or tolerance, which is an advantage.

When you suffer from anxiety, you may have various phobias and panic attacks. Kava is known as “Nature’s Valium” due to its efficacy against these symptoms. As kava enhances the release of the hormone serotonin, it helps to manage depression.[9]

It is recommended to discuss the benefits and risks with your health-care practitioner before using kava supplements.

Valerian

Valerian root has been used for centuries and is a common ingredient in herbal supplements. It can alleviate insomnia and nervous tension caused by anxiety and depression. It can reduce tension headaches due to stress, and even trembling during a panic attack. Many researchers think that it increases GABA, which is a chemical in the brain that contributes to calming and relaxing your body. This is similar to the action of diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax), which are common medications used in anxiety. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labelled valerian root “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS), although side effects like headache, abdominal pain, and dizziness are possible.[10] Some clinical trials have suggested that valerian and passionflower, which is a perennial flowering plant with a sweet scent, have helped to manage stress and anxiety.[11]

Lemon Balm

Using lemon balm was shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety such as excitability and nervousness. It is well tolerated and considered a safe method of relieving anxiety.[12]

How Does Yoga Help in Relieving Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression?

Yoga has become increasingly popular in recent times. Yoga includes physical poses (asanas), controlled breathing practiced in conjunction with these asanas, and periods of deep relaxation.[13]

Yoga is known to reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses which occur in both anxiety and depression. The exercises and various postures in yoga help you to improve fitness and stretchability as well as improving your overall health. By modulating the stress response, yoga helps to decrease the physiological arousal which occurs in anxiety and depression. This helps to reduce your heart rate, ease your respiration, and lowers your blood pressure, thus relieving your symptoms.

Although most yoga practices are safe, some can be strenuous, especially for the elderly and those who suffer from mobility issues. It is best to have a discussion with your health-care practitioner before starting yoga as a treatment option for your anxiety and depression.[14]

How Does Meditation Help in Managing Anxiety and Depression?

Being socially isolated in a crisis situation like COVID‑19 can increase the symptoms of depression. Although antidepressants and psychotherapy are the first-line treatments, research suggests that regular meditation can help change how your brain responds to stress and anxiety.

Meditation has been found to change regions of your brain which are linked with depression such as the amygdala (fear centre). When you meditate, you are able to ignore negative sensations of stress and anxiety.

Meditation can be as simple as closing your eyes and counting breaths, or repeating a single phrase or word. It helps to reduce negative thoughts and stressful feelings. When you meditate deeper, you can identify the negative thoughts and understand them so well that you don’t have to act on them.[15]

Enjoy a Warm Bath: At the end of the day, enjoy a nice, warm bath, which will help you to have a good night’s sleep.

Read a Book Which You Enjoy: The reading should be light and enjoyable, and not a book with emotional toil. Books that enhance your self-esteem help to manage your depression and anxiety symptoms.

Having a balanced, nutritious diet; drinking plenty of water; engaging in regular exercise; and resting adequately will help you fight symptoms of depression and anxiety at a time of crisis situations such as COVID‑19 pandemic.

Dr. Farnoush Khodarahmi, MSc, MA, ND

A naturopathic doctor from North York in Ontario, her passion in life is to guide her patients as they grow on their journey to their optimal health and wellbeing, inspiring others around them to do the same for themselves.

ndmedic.com

References

[1] Bauer, B.A. “Herbal treatment for anxiety: Is it effective?” Mayo Clinic. 2018‑03‑02. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/expert-answers/herbal-treatment-for-anxiety/faq-20057945.

[2] Bauer, op. cit.

[3] Lehrher G., et al. “Ambient odors of orange and lavender reduce anxiety and improve mood in a dental office.” Physiology & Behavior, Vol. 86, No. 1–2 (2005): 92–95.

[4] McCaffrey, R., D.J. Thomas, and A. Kinzelman. “The effects of lavender and rosemary essential oils on test-taking anxiety among graduate nursing students.” Holistic Nursing Practice, Vol. 23, No. 2 (2009): 88–93.

[5] Lee, S., and G.J. Lee. “Effects of lavender aromatherapy on insomnia and depression in women college students.” Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing, Vol. 36, No. 1 (2006): 136–143.

[6] Lee and Lee, op. cit.

[7] Sarris, J., et al. “Kava for a generalized anxiety disorder: A 16‑week double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 54, No. 3 (2019): 288–297.

[8] Bauer, op. cit.

[9] Sarris et al, op. cit.

[10] Hadley, S., and J. Petry. “Valerian.” American Family Physicians, Vol. 67, No. 8 (2003): 1755–1758.

[11] Bauer, op. cit.

[12] Bauer, op. cit.

[13] “Yoga for anxiety and depression.” Harvard Mental Health Letter. 2009‑04, updated 2018‑05‑09. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression.

[14] “Yoga for anxiety…” op. cit.

[15] “How meditation helps with depression.” Harvard Mental Health Letter. 2018‑08. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/how-meditation-helps-with-depression.