With a majority of the global population experiencing an unprecedented amount of unrelenting stressors from living in a world of uncertainty, many are seeking remedies to soothe their spirit and combat these triggers. It is important to note that dealing with chronic stress and coping with anxiety and other mental health conditions are not mutually exclusive. Although chronic stress has been associated with, and is a risk factor for, anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric disorders, there is a distinction between the two and treatments often differ. (R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R) According to the American Psychological Association:
There’s a fine line between stress and anxiety. Both are emotional responses, but stress is typically caused by an external trigger. The trigger can be short-term, such as a work deadline or a fight with a loved one or long-term, such as being unable to work, discrimination, or chronic illness. People under stress experience mental and physical symptoms, such as irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle pain, digestive troubles, and difficulty sleeping.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor. Anxiety leads to a nearly identical set of symptoms as stress: insomnia, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, muscle tension, and irritability.
A major clinical distinction is that the brains of those with anxiety “neurologically fire” on an ongoing basis. These individuals can experience dread, panic, or fear in any situation, even in circumstances that that are supposed to be “enjoyable.” Those who do not have an anxious or depressed brain are able to get back to their set point after a stressful event is over, though some additional natural or conventional coping strategies during and after may be required. (R, R, R, R)
Previously I’ve discussed in detail, that there are brain processing patterns that are characteristic of individuals diagnosed with a mental health illness. For example, studies have demonstrated that those with psychiatric disorders have different neurotransmitter and neuroendocrine signaling, anatomical and neuroimaging findings on brain scans, and genetic variations than those without diagnoses. (R, R, R, R, R)
What is also pertinent is that there may be a virtual “line in the sand” where long-term stress responses can cause deregulation in brain physiology that can develop into a mental health disorder. This is often in extreme cases, when one is overwhelmed beyond the ability to cope, that psychological imbalances can result.
Why this is especially relevant this time of year is that, along with the current situation, holidays can prompt additional triggers on top of the overwhelming burdens of this year. Furthermore, what can serve as a means of coping with the traumas, social connection with loved ones, is not a viable option for many.
How Unrelenting Stress Can Lead to Mental Illness
Scientific evidence is now validating that long-term, chronic stress literally rewires the brain by downregulating neural pathways to the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and enhancing connections to the limbic, emotional brain (amygdala and hippocampus). Due to the concept of neuroplasticity, these patterns can become reinforced to the point that they set someone up to experience a mental health crisis, especially if they had a predisposition to one prior. For those already with a mental health diagnosis, unrelenting stress can exacerbate it. The good news is that neuroplasticity can also be applied to assist with reversing these patterns.
For example, essential oils have been clinically validated to mitigate stress and support mental and emotional health. Several essential oils, due to their holistic ability to modulate neurotransmitters, brain wave patterns, psychology, and biochemical responses, have been demonstrated to be effective for soothing anxiety in clinical trials.
This is why I have been promoting the use of essential oils as a modality to help calm the brain and mediate the negative physical, biochemical impacts of today’s stressors. Of course, essential oils aren’t a cure-all for mental health problems, but they can be a good adjuvant for conventional psychotherapy and appropriate medical intervention.
In a recent article from the Townsend Letter, the author outlines other natural products that can be used to “Protect Your Brain from Stress.” In the following excerpt, the author describes how natural health products (NHPs) can assist with alleviating a client’s allostatic load (AL) and/or allostatic overload (AO). Specifically, NHPs can assist with helping the body and mind’s ability to adapt when stressors have become too much for one to manage:
Similar to pharmaceutical interventions, natural health products (NHPs) can be used to attenuate AL and AO… Many NHPs can be safely integrated with standard approaches or can sometimes be used as an alternative. NHPs can be used to modulate the activity of the PFC and/or limbic system to presumably improve the functional connection of these brain circuits, thereby, assisting the PFC with improved top-down control and processing, and/or attenuating limbic activity to dampen bottom-up control. NHPs can also mitigate pathophysiological harms from AL and AO, such as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and other medical problems.
Information known about pharmaceutical interventions can be extremely helpful when postulating how NHPs assist with improving PFC and limbic functionality and connectivity. The essential aim of a modern treatment strategy is to deconstruct the psychiatric illness in question, then consider a treatment or set of treatments that hypothetically improves or attenuates malfunctioning neurocircuitry by targeting specific neurotransmitters in that circuit, which then relieves symptoms and improves overall functionality.9
A Summary on Stress and Anxiety
Many have the misconception that one with anxiety only needs to “calm down” or “relax.” However, when dealing with brain health, it is not that simple. There are many brain factors to consider. Essential oils are my go-to modality to assist with many of these factors, but additional naturopathic and functional medicine therapies are often needed for providing lasting changes in mental and emotional health.
My training in biochemical individuality, personalized medicine, and the naturopathic principles, including treating the root cause, makes me passionate to exquisitely match the individual with the right wellness protocol. This is based on an intimate knowledge of their health history, personality, lifestyle, and our therapeutic relationship, not just a lab value or chief complaint.
If you are struggling with overwhelming stress and/or a mental health crisis, please do seek professional health and also consider additional support with a naturopathic and functional medicine practitioner.
In upcoming posts, I’ll be providing additional tools and tips to help with getting through the holiday season of 2020 with more ease. Stay tuned!
Mental Health Resources
*If you are experiencing a mental health crisis and/or are suicidal, please seek professional mental health support:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) — Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor
- Lifeline Crisis Chat — Chat online with a specialist who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention services at www.crisischat.org
Other Helpful Resources
Below are some of the highlights of the many free resources on this website:
- Four Essential Oils Blends for Supporting the Mind-Body and Easing Tension
- VIDEO: How Your Brain and Body Suffer with Too Much Stress & Naturopathic Medicine Tips for Calming the Mind and Relieving Overwhelm
- Video Recap: Essential Oils to Ease the Stress & Anxiety of Back to School
- The Importance of Fun, Music, & Play for Mental Health
- Video Recap: Essential Oils for Brain and Mental Health & Soothing Stress
- 10 Natural Ways to Relieve Stress and Calm the Mind-Body During Trying Times
- Video: A Naturopathic Doctor’s Approach to Thyroid Health Using Essential Oils: Video Recap & Additional Resources
Additional Supportive Techniques & Tools
- The Tapping Solution, A Technique to Lower Cortisol and Reduce Stress- Podcast interview by Dr. Kara Fitzgerald with Nick Ortner.
- Stress management tips and resources
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
According to experts and the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no approved standard of care treatment, cure, or preventative for COVID-19. Supportive measures and containment are in full force as a result. Please see the CDC website and your state’s website for more information and updates. They also state when to contact your physician related to symptoms and travel history, exposures. Please read my more detailed article on this subject here.
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.