Sometimes, the most harmful and damaging diseases are the ones that can’t be seen. For people living in a constant state of anxiety life can feel overwhelming, scary, and even debilitating. It is estimated that 14% to 29% of people living in developed countries experience anxiety, and nearly 30% in the United States. Anxiety. Is very familiar to me. It used to be something I was incredibly insecure about- a trait I considered one of my biggest flaws. Over the past few years, however, I’ve realized that anxiety isn’t all bad. In fact, it’s been my biggest teacher in taking care of myself. We all experience anxiety, maybe some more than others. Taking away the stigma of anxiety and discussing ways to deal with it is hugely important.
Anxiety

It is important to note that anxiety isn’t always a negative response. It is sometimes described as a heightened awareness of one’s surroundings and of potential danger that may be near. Obviously, this could be advantageous in terms of survival. Anxiety becomes a problem when it is pervasive and incapacitating. Anxiety is often accompanied by stress, which again can be beneficial, but long-term is very problematic. Prolonged stress can undermine mental and physical health, leading to depression, high blood pressure, cardiac disease, and metabolic disorders.

But I’m not here to give you anxiety about your anxiety! There are many ways to treat it, from prescription medications (such as benzodiazepines) and supplements to diet and lifestyle changes. For me, this is ditching coffee and picking up a cup of matcha instead.  One herbal supplement worth knowing about is ashwagandha.

So what is ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb that has been used as a broad-spectrum remedy in India for hundreds of years, valued as a tonic that gives energy and increases vitality. Ashwagandha has proven anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and is also classified as an adaptogen. Adaptogens regulate physiological processes and help the body respond to stress. Ideally, an adaptogen should:

1. decrease stress-induced damage in the body

2. be safe and effective

3. be devoid of any negative effects

4. not influence normal functions of the body any more than necessary. Ashwagandha does all of these.

What does it do?

Ashwagandha enhances brain, nervous, and reproductive system function, improves memory, enhances the body’s defenses against disease by improving cell-mediated immunity, protects against oxidative stress, and increases resilience and ability to manage stress (it reduces serum cortisol, which is often elevated in stressful and anxious situations). Ashwagandha’s ability to inhibit anxiety is comparable to the benzodiazepine drug lorazepam (Ativan), but without the harmful effects of benzos (addiction, cognitive impairment).

Tincture

How to use ashwagandha

For anxiety, the root of ashwagandha is most useful. Ashwagandha root is available as a tea or as extracts in liquid or capsule form. Dosage recommendations vary depending on age and health history. Before taking this herb, consult with your health professional, as ashwagandha can increase the effects of benzodiazepines and other sedatives. Pregnant women should not use ashwagandha.

I view ashwagandha as a tool in your anxiety toolbox. It can help you deal with stress and increase emotional and physical resiliency. There are many strategies to use when working with anxiety, and I find it’s best to use a little of everything. Find your triggers and avoid them. For me, that’s coffee, alcohol, and not exercising. Reach out to a friend when you’re struggling. I also find it’s helpful to journal when my brain is going a million miles an hour. Eat a healthy balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Use medication and supplements when appropriate.

What do you find useful when you’re feeling anxious? Let me know in the comments below!

Resources:

Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A prospective, randomized
double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration
full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in
adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 34(3), 255–262.
http://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7176.106022

Singh, N., Bhalla, M., de Jager, P., & Gilca, M. (2011). An overview on ashwagandha: A
rasayana (rejuvenator) of ayurveda. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary,
and Alternative Medicines, 8(5), 208–213. http://doi.org/10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9

Pratte, M. A., Nanavati, K. B., Young, V., & Morley, C. P. (2014). An alternative
treatment for anxiety: A systematic review of human trial results reported for the
ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (withania somnifera). Journal of Alternative and
Complementary Medicine, 20(12), 901–908. http://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2014.0177

Weil, A. (2016). Aswagandha. Retrieved from https://www.drweil.com/vitamins-
supplements-herbs/herbs/ashwagandha/