Energy drinks have become incredibly popular in recent years, promising to fuel you up so that you can accomplish all of those daily tasks, but they often come with a host of side effects, including nervousness, insomnia, heart palpitations, depression and anxiety. Now, some companies have decided to go in a different direction, producing products aimed to relax, or “anti-energy” drinks. But counteracting the jitters with a beverage that often contains artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and other potentially harmful ingredients, isn’t the best idea either.
We all face at least some stress, whether it’s related to daily responsibilities like finances, work or school, it can influence our well-being and overall health. The body is designed to experience stress and react to it – it can be positive, like a job promotion or getting married, but it becomes negative when one is forced to face continuous challenges without getting to relax in between. That distress can not only worsen certain symptoms or diseases, it can lead to physical problems like headaches, high blood pressure, chest pain, insomnia, stomach upset and more.
Naturally, our first reaction is to look for an easy cure – many turn to alcohol or medications, but overtime, they can make problems worse then they were in the first place.
So, what’s the best thing to do? Turn to healthy stress and anxiety relief practices like getting regular exercise, meditation, eating right and consuming certain beverages that are proven to help.
1. Tart Cherry Juice
While you won’t immediately feel more relaxed just by drinking tart cherry juice, it does offer a multitude of health benefits. Some of those benefits include reducing inflammation that’s been linked to heart disease and arthritis, lowering cholesterol, supporting healthy joints and improving the duration and quality of sleep, which in turn, helps one to remain calm and manage stress better throughout the day.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food showed that consuming tart cherry juice helped to significantly reduce insomnia. That’s likely because tart cherries are packed with melatonin, which helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles, so it certainly makes sense that the fruit can help one to enjoy a better night’s sleep.
2. Kava Tea
Kava, also known as kava-kava, has been used by Pacific Island cultures for centuries for its relaxing properties, as well as a part of religious rites and ceremonies. The root of the Piper methysticum plant is chewed, ground, or pulverized to make drinks or teas that can ease a person’s mind while maintaining clarity, offering temporary relief from anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
Kava root is considered to be one of the most effective herbal treatments for moderate and severe anxiety, helping one to relax and release fears. And, kava tea is the best of the best when it comes to sipping herbal teas aimed to relieve anxiety. Kavalactones are the active chemical ingredients of the kava root, and have been shown to affect brain chemistry in ways similar to prescription antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs.
The effects have even be compared to those of Busbar, a common anxiety medication, but unlike Buspar, kava is non-addictive, totally natural, and can be enjoyed whenever needed. Science has confirmed it too – a 2013 study out of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne in Australia was the first clinical trial to support the use of the plant. Researchers found that it could be as effective as current drug treatments, noting that unlike traditional options, it has less risk of dependency and less potential for side effects. Their findings also showed there were no negative effects to the liver, which had previously been a concern for kava’s medicinal use.
Do keep in mind that the FDA has warned that people with liver disease or liver problems should consult their doctor before taking kava.
3. Warm Milk
There’s a reason you’ve probably been told to drink a glass of warm milk when your nerves are frazzled and you need to sleep. This tried-and-true advice has been given for generations now. The warm temperature is said to be calming, exerting a soothing effect like sipping hot tea, but milk’s tryptophan content may be the primary reason that it’s so effective. Tryptophan, that well-known substance in turkey responsible for lulling you into a nap after a big meal, is an amino acid that’s converted into the feel-good neurotransmitter known as serotonin. Having higher levels of serotonin not only help to improve your mood, can help you feel calm and collected too.
How can a simple drink like water make you feel less anxious and stressed? While dehydration rarely causes anxiety on its own, if you don’t drink enough water, it can cause anxiety, or worsen any anxiety symptoms you might be feeling now. That’s because when the body is dehydrated, it doesn’t function properly. Hormones can’t reach their destinations due to poor blood flow, muscles begin to tense and the brain often starts to lose focus, making it difficult to think. It can also prevent endorphins that improve mood and the sense of well-being from being released, and without those, it can contribute to stress and anxiety.
Mild dehydration can alter a person’s mood, energy level and the ability to think clearly, according to research conducted in 2012 out of the University of Connecticut. “Even mild dehydration – 1.5 per cent loss in normal water volume in the body – that can occur in the course of our ordinary daily activities can degrade how we are feeling,” the experts say.
5. Decaf Green Tea
Green tea is renowned for its numerous health benefits. There are more than 700 compounds that have been identified in it, but the health benefits are believed to be due to two substances found almost exclusively in green tea: EGCG and L-theanine.
L-theanine, an amino acid found in tea plants, is responsible for the unique flavor of green tea, and it’s also the substance believed to promote relaxation. One study, published in the June 1999 issue of Trends in Food Science & Technology, showed that L-theanine offers calming effects. Participants were given either water, 50 milligrams of L-theanine, or 200 milligrams of L-theanine once per week. After measuring their brainwaves, those who took the highest dose of the amino acid were found to have more alpha waves, which indicates increased relaxation.
Thanks to L-theanine, drinking green tea can help sharpen focus and concentration, while reducing stress and enhancing overall well-being. While this compound is said to counteract the stimulant effects of the caffeine found in green tea, for the best results sip decaf green tea instead.
6. Fresh juice
Our bodies are designed to cope with pressure and stress and can do so effectively when given the right nutrients, we just need to feed it with the vitamins and minerals it needs. Fresh juice offers an easy way to do this effectively. Filling yourself with nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables instead of processed junk and things like alcohol or drugs, helps the body to heal from the damage stress can cause as well as help fight it to relieve problems like anxiety.
Making fresh juice out of produce floods your body with antioxidants and essential nutrients that can help reduce blood pressure as well as regulate the body’s response to stress. According to the University of Maryland, in one study, large doses of vitamin C (3,000 mg per day), were able to lessen both physical and mental responses to stress. Those who consume 1,000 mg daily or more, generally react more mildly to stressful situations than those who don’t. As cortisol levels tend to be higher in the morning, drinking fresh juice that contains lots of vitamin C from foods like mango, cantaloupe and berries after waking may be a great way to keep stress levels down and set yourself up for a much better day.
As B vitamins are also very important for stress management, playing an important role in anxiety, be sure to toss in some green leafy veggies like spinach or kale, as well as carrots or squash. A deficiency in these essential vitamins tends to add extra strain on the body, particularly when stressed.
7. Oat Straw
Oat straw comes from green oats, AKA Avena sativa. It’s been used to support brain health since the Middle Ages, and experts believe that it can also boost energy, lower the risk of heart disease, and reduce anxiety levels.
While the exact reason it’s so beneficial isn’t known just yet, studies have found that it’s able to increase brain waves known as alpha-2 waves, something that’s more prominent when one is awake. It can also increase nitric oxide and suppress inflammatory cytokines in artery walls, according to Dr. Oz, which can increase blood flow to the brain to help you feel more alert. 2012 research out of Australia showed that volunteers who consumed oat straw performed significantly better on cognitive tests.
This traditional remedy has long been used to treat nervous exhaustion and depression, but you’ll need to take it for at least 30 days or so before experiencing the effects, though, according to many who swear by it, it may be worth the wait.
8. Valerian Root Tea
Valerian root tea is popular for its ability to help one get a good night’s sleep, and while its aroma isn’t the most pleasing, it is also very effective for relieving stress and anxiety symptoms. In fact, many people use it to dispel anxiety in order to fight insomnia at bedtime.
Research has shown that valerian increases the amount of a compound known as GABA (gamma animobutyric acid) in the brain, which regulates nerve cells and calms anxiety. Common pharmaceutical medications like valium and xanax work by raising the amount of this chemical in the brain. Valerian contains valerenol and valerenic acids which acts in the same way as these anti-anxiety medications, all without the side effects that commonly come with prescription drugs.
An April 2000 study out of Germany that compared the sleep improvements of two groups of patients, one that took a valerian extract and one that took a prescription sedative, found that the group that used valerian experienced far fewer side effects, but gained as much relief.
While it’s best to take valerian root tea just before bed to aid sleep, you can try taking it during the day, but be sure to avoid driving or doing anything that could jeopardize your safety until knowing how fatigued it makes you feel. Otherwise, enjoy a cup each night to sleep soundly, and feel more calm and relaxed the next day.
9. Coconut Water
Coconut water has become famous for its ability to boost energy levels, but it can also help to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as help you sleep better as it’s an excellent source of B-complex vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pyridoxine, and folates, as well as potassium and magnesium, minerals that help the muscles to relax and improve blood circulation. Coconut water is also said to help balance electrolytes in the body, helping us to remain calm and stress-free. Of course, it also addresses the hydration issue as mentioned earlier, as dehydration can cause anxiety or make anxiety symptoms worse.
10. An Anti-stress Smoothie
What better way to start your day with an “anti-stress” smoothie that’s loaded with healthy ingredients aimed to minimize the effects of stress on the body? It contains avocados for creaminess, and stress-busting B-vitamins for healthy nerves and brain cells, along with chia seeds, a great source of magnesium, an essential mineral for mitigating depression and managing stress. Chia seeds also offer a high level of omega-3 fatty acids, bringing anti-inflammatory benefits to the brain to lower stress and anxiety. Almond butter provides zinc, another mineral crucial for modulating the way the body responds to stress, and, cacao, well known for boosting serotonin levels to make us feel happier. The polyphenols in cacao may also help to reduce the level of stress hormones in the body.
To make it, first start with a chia gel by pouring two cups of filtered water into a bowl. Add three tablespoons of chia seeds and stir well; allow to sit for at least 10 minutes and then pour the gel into a blender. Next add one-half of an avocado, two bananas, four dates, two tablespoons of cacao powder and two tablespoons of almond butter to the blender. Blend on high for 30 seconds or so – if the consistency is too thick, add a bit of water and blend again.