What are natural health practitioners and manufacturers seeing now related to stress and relaxation in the U.S.?
Stress. The word means many different things to different people. Among its many definitions, stress is defined in Merriam-Webster as, “to cause or experience physical or emotional tension.” That clearly sums up how many around the world are feeling in this, nearly the third year of a global pandemic.
While certain aspects of the “new normal” won’t be going away anytime soon, more and more Americans are looking for healthy ways to deal with stress and relax more. Still, there are a lot of worries to be dealt with. Just what is causing the most stress now? What holistic practices do experts recommend most for stressed-out patients? Are there specific natural health products and/or ingredients that are currently most promising? These and other forms of self-care will be explored as well as the key thing that natural health experts wish more people knew about stress and relaxation.
What’s Causing the Most Stress Now?
The annual “Stress in America” poll by the American Psychological Association (APA) showed that stress levels are, unsurprisingly, at an all-time high in the country now. Inflation, money issues, the war between Ukraine and Russia, supply chain issues and gaps in the workforce coupled with the global pandemic have wreaked havoc on many individuals living in the U.S. today. In fact, close to two-thirds of the individuals surveyed indicated that their lives have been “…forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Of course, stress can never be completely avoided. Some stress is even healthy—think of strengthening muscles with weights, or the adrenaline rush that helps to propel a professional through a big presentation at work. Too much stress, however, and on an ongoing basis can be a serious health detractor. Untreated, stress can negatively affect all areas of the body. The musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous and reproductive systems are all in danger, according to an article titled, “Stress Effects on the Body” by the APA.
Physical symptoms of stress can show up in a myriad of ways. Aches and pains, increased heart rate, a weakened immune system, headaches, clenching of the jaw or muscles, digestive problems and even high blood pressure are among the many symptoms, according to the Cleveland Health Clinic. Emotionally, stress may show up as anxiety or depression, irritability, sadness and even panic attacks. Left untreated, stress may result in overeating, drinking too much alcohol, drug use, gambling or other less-than-helpful behaviors. Thankfully, there are many healthy behaviors and practices that offset stress. And lots of natural health supplements that help combat the negative feelings associated with stress may also help to increase relaxation.
Holistic Practices That Help Reduce Stress: What Do Experts Recommend?
What are some of the best things that individuals who are experiencing stress routinely can do to help themselves relax? Teri Rada, NMD, MSN-Ed, RN is the director of curriculum and instruction at Arizona College of Nursing. Providing care and consultation for health care workers is one of Dr. Rada’s focuses as a naturopathic physician. She recommends common stress-reduction practices such as aromatherapy, botanical medicine and acupuncture. “Of course, a healthy diet, regular exercise and quality sleep should be pillars of any self-care regimen,” said Dr. Rada. Another helpful practice to incorporate, noted Dr. Rada, is guided meditation. “Guided meditations are a good choice for people who want to meditate but have difficulty calming their minds,” she explained. “I encourage my clients to try out apps like Calm, Audible or Headspace to see what type of guided meditations they like.”
Theresa DeLorenzo, DCN, RD, is the program director for Logan University’s Master of Science in Nutrition and Human Performance and Master of Science in Applied Nutrition and Dietetics at Nutrition for Optimal Performance located in New York. She concurs with Dr. Rada on the importance of movement to help individuals effectively deal with stress. Yoga, in particular, is one form of exercise that Dr. DeLorenzo recommends, as she believes it’s helpful for anxiety, body image issues, pain, weight management and more. If anxious about attending a studio or gym, online classes are convenient and offer privacy that some individuals want. “I’ve been offering a virtual yoga class at my practice since 2020 and have received positive feedback from a lot of patients who appreciate the convenience,” said Dr. DeLorenzo.
“I also suggest regular exercise such as walking or running to help my patients stay active and spend more time outside.” She recommends going slowly and building up time and intensity gradually over time. “It’s important to remember that any time you are starting something new, whether it be yoga, walking or running, to set realistic expectations and goals for yourself,” said Dr. DeLorenzo. Massage therapy is another powerful way to reduce stress, she added, and may help increase both physical and mental well-being too.
For Vicky Campbell, light ambassador at LumiCeuticals based in Utah, light therapy is her go-to recommendation for potentially improving sleep, mood, hormones, memory and more. “Our bodies are designed to heal themselves,” said Campbell. “Light is a primary nutrient for life, and light has been found to be the steering mechanism behind all biochemical reactions.” She stated that a 20-minute LumiCueticals harmonic light session could help shift an individual’s body into parasympathetic dominance, making it easier for people to rest, digest and heal.
How does it work? Campbell explained that light and frequency delivered through the eyes via light therapy and skin, move into the energy field providing safe, effective, science-based benefits. This results in oxygenation, improved circulation, production of ATP and nitric oxide, said Campbell. “People are looking for a sense of control when it comes to their health, and they now recognize that addressing the effects of stress is a key factor,” she stated. “When they can manage their stress with natural, in-home solutions such as daily light therapy, they feel empowered and renewed.”
Long walks, good sleep, yoga and other self-care practices are sought after by many looking to increase relaxation and wellness. Ed Donnelly, the founder of AmourCBD located in Illinois, believes that CBD products can amplify the positive effects experienced during self-care. “The great thing about CBD is that it can be taken before participating in all these stress-relieving activities to calm and reduce nervousness,” he said. He noted that all AmourCBD products are THC-free and made in the United States.
AmourCBD was born out of a personal pain story. Following a fall, Donnelly’s wife, Sue, suffered significant back pain. Because Sue was strongly opposed to opioids, the couple researched other alternatives and found CBD products. While these helped immensely, Sue found the products foul-smelling and greasy. Plus, all contained THC. This was the impetus to create a line of THC-free CBD products including the AmourCBD Pain Relief Cream, which is regulated by the FDA.
Barbara Apps, program manager at Boiron Inc. in Pennsylvania, noted that in addition to the self-care practices above, individuals are turning to ancient arts, such as forest bathing, a Japanese practice and being close to water. These practices and others like them, said Apps, “… give our brains a break from the intense, focused attention that much of daily life requires. The goal is to live in the present moment while immersing your senses in the sights and sounds of a natural setting.”
New Trends in Stress and Relaxation
With the additional stress that individuals have been experiencing, it’s no wonder that there are new trends in relaxation—both in mind/body practices and in natural health supplementation. Health Care Practitioner of Support and Education at AllergoSan USA in New York, Pam Conroy, noted some of the recent statistics. “According to SPINS, sales of stress and mood-related nutritional supplements have skyrocketed in 2022, with microbiome targeted products including pro- and pre-biotics surging after several years of relatively flat pre-COVID sales growth,” she said. AllegroSan USA has seen a dramatic increase in both interest and sales of its clinically studied, gut-brain focused “psychobiotic,” Omni-Biotic Stress Release, said Conway. The product was recognized by NutraIngredients as the Probiotic Product of the Year in 2021. It helps to manage stress and anxiety by strengthening the integrity of the intestinal barrier, explained Conroy, by producing healthful short-chain fatty acids, right-sizing inflammatory response, and balancing hormone and neurotransmitter production.
Along with probiotics, what other natural health products are individuals looking for now? Pamela Wirth, founder and CEO of Hello Health in Arizona, stated that plant-based ingredients continue to be a draw. “In addition to magnesium glycinate, there are a number of excellent plant-based ingredients for relaxation,” said Wirth. “We like delivery methods that allow for easy transport and don’t require measurement or have a strong taste.” Hello Health also steers away from ingredients that include sugar, as it believes this ingredient can interfere with neurotransmitters needed for sleep, mood and relaxation, Wirth noted.
The way that people seek treatment has also changed with the pandemic. Whether changes like telehealth will stay or not remains to be seen but it appears that this is one change that won’t go away anytime soon. Apps stated that many people are still hesitant to return to in-person health care visits and that the need for telehealth and digital mental health services remains strong.
What Ingredients or Delivery Methods are Most Popular in Natural Stress and Relaxation Products Now?
While life has plenty of stressors, thankfully more and more natural supplements and ingredients are showing up in the marketplace. Some of these are tried and true while some are newer to the playing field. One product, AnxioCalm, produced by EuroMedica in Wisconsin, uses a familiar ingredient, echinacea, in a new way. The type of herb is Echinacea angustifolia, however, not Echinacea purpurea, which is most often used for immune health support, said Lexi Loch, ND and medical educator for EuroPharma USA, Euromedica’s parent company. “Unlike echinacea species typically selected for immune health, this particular echinacea is harvested at a specific point in its growth cycle to maximize particular beneficial compounds that promote anxiolytic activity,” said Dr. Loch. Research in Hungary recognized that a variety of echinacea species contain compounds called alkamides that support the endocannabinoid system, she stated. “Interestingly, the researchers found that Echinacea angustifolia alkamides were the strongest, which led to the development of AnxioCalm,” Dr. Loch explained.
Apps noted that homeopathic medicines are the only over-the-counter option available for occasional stress relief. “Other products include dietary supplements such as B-complex, magnesium and GABA, herbal supplements such as ashwagandha and L-theanine, aromatherapy and essential oils and dietary supplement blends that combine stress relief and sleep ingredients, usually melatonin, in the same formula,” said Apps. “Boiron StressCalm is formulated with a blend of plant-based active ingredients that work on both a physical and emotional level to relieve occasional stress symptoms from reducing nervous tension, fatigue and digestive symptoms caused by stress, to relieving irritability, uneasiness or hypersensitivity to stress or noise,” she stated. The product is also manufactured to pharmaceutical quality standards, she said.
It’s non-habit-forming, said Apps, and there are no known interactions with other medications or supplements. Additionally, the product doesn’t contain any artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors or preservatives. “The delivery form of the medicine is unique as it comes in unflavored meltaway tablets that easily dissolve in the mouth without water for discreet relief when needed. As a non-sedative homeopathic medicine, it helps you stay focused and relaxed without affecting alertness, so it can be taken before performing, public speaking, taking a test, or flying,” Apps said. “It can also be used up to two weeks for occasional stress from starting a new job, moving into a new house, or planning a wedding.”
What Is the Key Thing Natural Practitioners Wish People Knew About Stress and Relaxation?
As more natural practitioners see clients for stress-related illnesses and issues, certain themes appear. Here is a roundup of what health experts and manufacturers wish every individual knew about stress and relaxation.
Hello Health: “We wish everyone understood the need for maintaining a balanced gut to maintain stress and relaxation,” said Wirth. “Hello Health is dedicated to providing brain, gut and immune system as the three systems are closely connected and influence sleep, mood and relaxation.”
Boiron: “Homeopathic medicines, like StressCalm, are one of the safest classes of drugs for self-treatment,” said Apps. “The risk of side effects with homeopathic treatments is very low, they have no known interactions with other medications, and they do not create dependence.” Additionally, she stated, “Homeopathy also does not mask symptoms, so you can get to the root of the problem.”
Dr. DeLorenzo: “Chronic stress can lead to an increase in cortisol levels, which causes weight gain and inflammation. Inflammation can make people more susceptible to conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, joint pain or stiffness, and more.”
Dr. Rada: “Not every stress reduction method will work for everyone. It is important to try different approaches to see what works best for you. If aromatherapy gives you a headache, try a flower essence or guided meditation, for example. The focus should be on the process of doing something every day to help relieve stress and not so much on the choice of activity.
EuroPharma USA: “I never want to set people up for unrealistic expectations, but the right ingredients truly can improve the physical, emotional and mental aspects of stress and anxiety, much faster than practitioners and patients may expect—sometimes on the very first day,” said Dr. Loch. “As integrative practitioners who address the underlying causes of stress, this can often be a journey with patients rather than a one-time fix. Treatment strategies may involve many layers and I think plant medicines are a powerful ally in this process. My hope is that more people realize that safe and effective relief with natural products is available and can be a cornerstone of wellness.”
While the onslaught of stress brought on by recent events may not yet be declining, thankfully there are healthy alternatives in the form of both natural supplements, lifestyle changes, and self-care practices to combat stress and increase relaxation.
Healthy Take Aways
• According to a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), stress levels in America are higher than they’ve been in decades.
• Physical symptoms are common in individuals experiencing stress. Clenching of the jaw, headaches, digestive problems, fatigue, body aches and pains may be contributed to stress levels.
• Emotional symptoms may also be present in individual dealing with stress. These symptoms may include things such as anxiety or depression, irritability, sadness and panic attacks.
• Healthy lifestyle changes such as adding movement, meditation or prayer, aromatherapy, quality sleep and natural health products may all help to alleviate stress symptoms.
• Spending time in nature or using light or water therapy may also help stressed individuals to become more relaxed.
• Not all stress-reduction therapies are helpful for all individuals. It’s important to try multiple lifestyle changes and see what works best.
• Incorporating relaxation techniques into one’s day often prevents stress from getting to unmanageable levels and may offer significant health benefits.
For More Information:
Boiron Inc, https://boironUSA.com
Harmonic Light Therapy, https://vickycampbell.lumiceuticals.com/
Hello Health, https://hello.health/