Natural Stress Relief 

May is Mental Health Month and a time to highlight the invisible distress those in our day-to-day lives may be facing, as well as a few non-perscription ways to help 

By Melissa Tucker

 
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According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older.”

The association reports anxiety disorders are treatable but only 36 percent of those suffering receive treatment. 

Of that number, even fewer choose to treat their symptoms with pharmaceuticals and turn to alternative forms of treatment such as ecotherapy, meditation, yoga, CBD oil or other supplements, and sensory deprivation tanks, just to name a few. Here’s a rundown of those treatments and how they work: 

Ecotherapy 

According to Harvard Health Publishing, research has shown time spent in nature, also known as ecotherapy, can reduce stress, anxiety and depression. 

“It's not clear exactly why outdoor excursions have such a positive mental effect. Yet, in a 2015 study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people after they walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one,” the article said. “They found that those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active during rumination—defined as repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions.”

 
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Mindfulness Meditation

With roots in Buddhism, mindfulness meditation has become more well-known over past decades as a secular activity. In a nutshell, participants learn to pay attention to when their minds wander off and then come back to the present moment by focusing on their breath. Sessions can last from 5 to 10 minutes for beginners, and many guided meditations are available on YouTube. In a study by the National Institutes of Health to determine the effects of mindfulness meditation on anxiety using meditation training and MRI scans to determine changes in the brain, “the present findings verify that brief mindfulness meditation training can reliably attenuate anxiety, even in the absence of a mood-inducing manipulation or a generalized anxiety disorder.”

 
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Sensory deprivation 

One of the latest local trends in addressing anxiety, depression, insomnia and other physical ailments such as fibromyalgia or arthritis is floatation therapy. The FLOATspa in Little Rock and Hot Springs offers this floatation tank treatment that temporarily removes the sensation of gravity. The shallow float tank is filled with a concentrated epsom salt solution, which is heated to the temperature of your skin. The result is a feeling of relaxation and weightlessness, which can help the body reset and recover from stress. 

“It’s amazing just for relaxation alone. An hour in the tank is worth four hours of rest,” said FLOATspa manager Lisa Mejia. “People fall asleep in there all the time. People say, ‘I can float in the bathtub at home’ but they will come out and be a totally different person with a smile on their face and so relaxed.”

The definitive benefits of float tanks in the treatment of anxiety are still being researched, but the stories Mejia hears from clients who are suffering give her hope. She had one client with fibromyalgia who would buy the three floats for $100 package.

“She said that was the only relief she ever got,” Mejia said. “She would try massages as well, but the biggest benefit she ever got was from floating.”

 

Supplements

Ann Birchard, the owner of Ann’s Health Food Store in Sherwood, has many recommendations for people who suffer from anxiety, depending on their symptoms and what their primary care physician or therapist might have suggested. 

She said sometimes it’s a matter of being deficient in B vitamins and magnesium. And sometimes people turn to adaptive herbs that, over time, help them adapt to stress. Some of these are ginseng, ashwagandha, rhodiola and passionflower, which she says can also help those addicted to opioids. 

“Rhodiola is one Dr. Oz talked about,” she said. “It’s an adaptive herb, but it won’t make you tired. So many of these anti-anxiety supplements make you tired.”

Another supplement she recommends that’s frequently used in Germany is called SAM-e. 

“It helps with pain and relaxation. Some people going to a psychiatrist don’t want to be on a medication, and the therapist will tell them to try SAM-e,” she said. 

Another popular supplement in her shop is CBD. Made from a compound in cannabis, the concentrated CBD can be turned into oil or tinctures and has no trace of the THC that causes a high.

“CBD is wonderful,” she said. “We’ve had so many people do so good on it, even kids that have Tourette’s. We have people that lower their blood pressure with CBD.”

According to a 2013 review published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, CBD can reduce nausea, suppress seizure activity, reduce inflammation, combat neurodegenerative disorders and also combat anxiety and schizophrenia.