Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives. Some feel anxious once in a while, when they have to visit the dentist or present a project at school. Others may feel tense on a daily basis, if they get stuck in rush hour traffic or have to run around to meetings all day.

So what’s the best way to unwind and catch a break from a jam-packed schedule, barring a tropical vacation?

Add kava to your diet

Kava comes from the dried roots of a shrub called Piper methysticum. It’s often added to beverages and has been used for social and ceremonial purposes in Europe and the South Pacific for centuries. Kava has a Natural Standard evidence grade of A for anxiety, indicating that there is strong scientific evidence backing its use for this purpose.

Several human studies have shown that kava can help treat anxiety and produce results with as few as one to two doses. What’s more, many people who have taken kava continue to experience improvements in their symptoms for up to four weeks. Preliminary evidence suggests that kava may be as effective as benzodiazepines.

Listen to soothing music

There’s a reason why so many cab drivers in the city often play calming music while weaving in and out of traffic.

Music has been used as a healing tool of healing since ancient times. Some scholars believe that "modern" music therapy began in the mid-1700s. Music has been used to influence physical, emotional, cognitive, and social well-being , and improve quality of life for healthy people as well as those who are disabled or ill. Therapy may involve either listening to or performing music, with or without the presence of a music therapist.

Music therapists are professionally trained to design specialized applications of music according to an individual's needs using improvisation, receptive listening, song writing, lyric discussion, imagery, performance, and learning through music. Sessions can be designed for individuals or groups based on the specific needs of the participants.

Because of the strong scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of music therapy for promoting relaxation and relieving stress, it has earned a Natural Standard evidence grade of A.

Meditate and do yoga

Both meditation and yoga have been given a Natural Standard grade B, as both practices are backed by good scientific evidence for use in alleviating anxiety.

Various forms of meditation, including mindfulness, transcendental meditation®, and "meditation-based stress reduction programs" have been studied for their effects on anxiety. Meditation is generally practiced in a quiet environment and in a comfortable position. Sessions vary in length and in number of times practiced daily. It is often recommended to meditate at the same time(s) each day.

Yoga is an ancient system of relaxation, exercise, and healing with origins in Indian philosophy. Yoga has been described as "the union of mind, body, and spirit," which addresses physical, mental, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual dimensions towards an overall harmonious state of being. Yoga is often practiced by healthy individuals with the aim to achieve relaxation, fitness, and a healthy lifestyle.

Yoga has also been recommended and used for a variety of medical conditions. Yoga techniques can be learned in classes or through videotape instruction. Classes last from 30 to 90 minutes and are offered at various skill levels. There is no widely accepted credentialing for yoga instructors.

Acupressure eases pressure

The practice of applying finger pressure to specific acupoints throughout the body has been used in China since 2000 BC, prior to the use of acupuncture. Acupressure techniques are widely practiced internationally for relaxation, wellness promotion, and the treatment of various health conditions. Multiple human studies suggest the effectiveness of wrist-point (P6) acupressure for treating nausea.

It is proposed that acupressure may reduce muscle pain and tension, improve blood circulation, release endorphins, and release/eliminate toxins. The mechanism of action may be similar to other techniques such as acupuncture (stimulation of acupoints with needles), moxa (burning with a stick including dried mugwort leaves), or other forms of manual stimulation. Techniques that involve soft tissue manipulation may have similar effects on the body as therapeutic massage.

Acupressure has been given a Natural Standard grade of B for its effectiveness in reducing anxiety and stress.

As always, remember to consult your doctor or pharmacist before engaging in any new alternative treatments or taking new herbs and supplements.

Finding the therapy that works best for you and your lifestyle can help you stay calm, focused, and centered, and fight off stress and tension.

About the Author

Catherine Ulbricht, Pharm.D.

Catherine Ulbricht, Pharm.D., co-founder of Natural Standard Research Collaboration, is the Senior Attending Pharmacist at Massachussetts General Hospital.

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