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Can Herbal Tea Help With Managing Anxiety?

Craving a cozy chair with your favorite mug and a hot cup of tea? That calming moment might stem from more than just the break from your daily stressors. Research keeps coming out on the potential effects of herbal tea on stress and anxiety. While more evidence is needed, there seems to be potential for certain blends to help regulate your mood.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural stress response, helping you to prepare for or manage a perceived threat. It’s kind of like your brain’s alarm system, alerting us of dangers and helping you prepare for something scary, such as an exam or a medical test.

It can feel different for everyone, but in general, you might notice your heart speeding up, palms getting sweaty, muscles tensing up, or your stomach becoming queasy. It’s normal to feel afraid, dread, or just plain uncomfortable. These feelings are just a sign that your body is producing the hormones and neurotransmitters it needs to manage the threat, like adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline pumps more blood to your muscles, while cortisol releases sugar in your bloodstream so your brain can use glucose for energy. These hormones, however, also suppress other functions that aren’t needed in fight or flight, like your digestive and immune systems. So that queasy feeling in your stomach can just be your body diverting its energy away from digestion to prep you for action.

When does anxiety turn into a disorder?

While anxiety responses are key for survival, they’re not always helpful when they pop up in everyday life, like if you’re creeping on a certain someone’s socials and accidentally like an old photo. It crosses into disorder territory when the symptoms get in the way of your daily life. If you’re constantly worrying so much that you can’t get work done or even relax, it might be a sign to see a professional. In the end, the anxiety should be proportional to the actual threat.

Here are some signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder to look out for:

  • Constant or excessive worry or fear
  • Restlessness and tension that don't go away
  • Frequent irritability or mood swings
  • Avoiding everyday activities you used to do
  • Physical symptoms like unexplained aches and pains or a rapid heartbeat

What is herbal tea?

Herbal tea, well-known for its many perceived health benefits, isn’t actually true tea. It’s not like black, green, or oolong, which stems from the same plant. Instead, it can be any mix of dried flowers, spices, herbs, or fruits. For example, there’s ginger, peppermint, chamomile, and lavender.

Research is revealing the many benefits they might offer, like a hit of antioxidants that might potentially help to reduce the risks of chronic diseases. Each blend has something unique, like a cup of chamomiles for sleep, peppermint for digestion, or lavender for relaxation.

Can herbal tea help with anxiety?

If you think of a British movie or TV show, you might have seen a common scene where someone is upset, and a friend or family member says, “I’ll fix you up a nice cup of tea.” Well, there might be more to that than just culture.

While the simple act of brewing something warm and tasty for yourself can feel comforting, science says herbal teas may interact with your body’s system and help with anxiety. However, like any mental health struggle, anxiety benefits from a holistic approach. That includes a healthy lifestyle as well as social and professional support.

Research on herbal tea for anxiety still has a way to go to offer concrete evidence. Current research needs to be validated with more studies. However, from what we know, there is a possibility that certain herbal teas may affect your nervous system and interact with neurotransmitters, allowing you to feel calmer.

Top herbal teas for managing anxiety

While tea alone isn’t a cure, it can be part of a healthy lifestyle and coping mechanisms that move you in a calmer direction. Let’s dive into the science behind a few of the most research-backed teas and how they might promote relaxation:

Chamomile tea

Chamomile might be one of the most famous herbal remedies for sleep and anxiety. It has apigenin, a compound that binds to the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). Many herbal teas claimed to have calming effects impact GABA — the main inhibitory chemical in the brain. GABA’s main job is to reduce the activity of neurons, helping calm the brain by decreasing its excitability. Overall, it’s one of the most important chemicals involved in regulating stress, anxiety, and muscle tension.

The apigenin in chamomile tea works slightly similar to benzodiazepines, a medication prescribed for anxiety and insomnia. This compound induces an almost sedative effect by binding to GABA to enhance its effects. Essentially, apigenin can work to make GABA more efficient. For example, a 2016 study with 179 participants showed that the administration of chamomile extract had a positive effect in reducing moderate to severe symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Lemon balm tea

Like chamomile, lemon balm works with the neurotransmitter GABA. Thanks to its rosmarinic acid, it might work to increase the availability of GABA by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks it down. Research is still limited, but small studies have said that it may help reduce anxiety and potentially improve sleep quality and mood.

A more recent systematic review also suggested that current evidence shows lemon balm may improve anxiety and depression symptoms, particularly in acute settings. However, they do point out that the results should be interpreted with caution since there are only a small number of clinical trials, and further research is needed.

Lavender tea

Lavender is more well-researched for its anti-anxiety effects compared to other herbal remedies. Its chemical compounds impact the nervous system, promoting relaxation. Specifically, linalool, a key compound in lavender, may have a sedative effect.

Like other herbal teas, it can impact GABA and reduce the excitability of cells in the brain, helping to calm the nervous system. It’s also often used in aromatherapy since inhaling or absorbing linalool may reduce anxiety, although more research is needed to confirm its effectiveness.

Peppermint tea

The main compound in peppermint is menthol, which some animal studies showed that may have muscle-relaxing properties. However, it's unclear if the same effect could be seen in humans. It’s famous for its stomach-calming effects, which might ease anxiety-induced pain caused by the spasming muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.

Menthol may also reduce cortisol, which one animal study showed led to decreased anxious behavior — again, it's not known if humans would respond in the same manner. Studies show that the aroma may have a potential ability to help reduce pain and anxiety.

Valerian root tea

Like the other herbal teas, valerian root is known for its sedative qualities and GABA impact. Some research has shown it may help with insomnia and anxiety, but more studies are needed. It's thought to work by enhancing GABA, helping to calm the nerves. Unlike pharmaceutical sedatives, valerian root doesn’t seem to cause a dependency. Long-term, it may be a helpful part of your evening routine if you experience late-night stress and difficulty sleeping.

Passionflower tea

Research on passionflower tea is limited, but what’s available shows that it may potentially reduce moderate to severe anxiety symptoms. Its anxiolytic effects also come from increasing levels of GABA. It may also work well as a sleep aid since it may have a sedative effect.

Rose tea

Rose tea isn’t as common as other herbal teas, but it is thought to have properties similar to antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. However, a recent systematic review suggested that the studies to date have not been statistically significant enough to suggest rose tea can contribute to relaxation. However, like many herbal teas, rose tea also has flavonoids and anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory properties. By fighting oxidative stress, these antioxidants might potentially have an effect on overall well-being, however, direct evidence is currently lacking.

Holy basil tea

In Ayurvedic medicine, holy basil is popular for its stress-relieving properties. It's thought to lower the stress hormones, such as cortisol, helping to calm the nerves. It may also act as an adaptogen, a natural substance that can help the body adapt to stress. However, there isn’t enough research on this tea to say anything for certain.

St. John's wort tea

This tea is said to be famous for its antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects thanks to the compound hypericin, which may work to affect neurotransmitters in the brain, like serotonin and dopamine. This has the potential to help regulate mood, but more evidence is needed as it's still inconclusive.

If you’re taking any medication, it’s also best to speak to your doctor first, as it can interact and have negative effects. Using it with other antidepressants may cause life-threatening risks and induce serotonin syndrome, which can lead to tachycardia, fever, hallucinations, and agitation. It's also known to have numerous interactions with medications used to treat other diseases, as well as hormone-based contraceptives.

Ashwagandha tea

Research on this popular Ayurvedic tea is growing. It’s mostly used to alleviate stress. However, a recent meta-analysis showed that further studies are needed to confirm the certainty of evidence.

If you’re dealing with chronic stress and are interested in ashwagandha, speak to your doctor first. Like any herbal supplement, it might interact with some medications and have side effects. Also, the safety of using ashwagandha for more than three months is not yet known, so it's better to be cautious.

How to incorporate herbal tea into daily routine

Even if you’re not a fan of tea, you might be surprised by the variety and blends now available. While in the past, a strong brew of black or green tea might have been the norm, you can find plenty of milder-tasting and exotic blends that meet your tastes. Check with your doctor if you’re on any medication first since some of these herbs might have powerful drug-drug interactions, and if you’re given the go-ahead, here are some ways to introduce more (tasty) herbal teas into your daily routine.

Practices for brewing herbal tea

Whether you have a kettle or not, a pot, water, and a stove are all you need to begin. You can even become a tea connoisseur and get a kettle with manual temperatures and keep-warm settings (perfect if you don’t want to wait for a boiling cup to cool down before drinking it — just set it to 70 degrees or so).

Use filtered water if you don’t have access to quality tap water, and set your tea temperature. If you’re using loose-leaf tea, a general guideline is about one teaspoon of dried tea per cup of water. You can let it steep for 5–10 minutes, depending on the tea and how strong you like the blend. After steeping, it’s ready to enjoy.

Best time to consume herbal tea

There’s no specific time of the day that’s best to drink all types of herbal tea — it all depends on your lifestyle and needs. If you struggle with sleep, for example, having chamomile or lavender in the evening might help. Green tea, however, has caffeine and might be best for the morning. Digestive teas like peppermint or ginger can also work well after a meal.

Herbal teas and other anxiety management techniques

Managing anxiety can get easier if we take a 360 view. That includes nutrition, sleep, rest, stress-relieving activities, social support, and exercise. While changing all your habits overnight isn’t practical, you can take a moment to observe and see what area of your life could use some attention.

Start slow and choose something manageable to start with. That could mean a five-minute morning meditation before getting out of bed or listening to nature sounds with an herbal tea for a relaxing work break. Whatever would be most practical and easiest that offers you a bit of rest is a great way to start.

Potential risks and side effects

Herbal teas are generally safe for healthy people, but they may come with potential risks and side effects — especially if consumed in large amounts or with certain medications. Some people may also be more sensitive to certain herbs than others, making it important to check with your medical professional first.

St. John’s wort, for example, might interfere with the effectiveness of birth control pills and certain antidepressants, and ashwagandha may not be safe for people with thyroid problems, diabetes, or those regularly taking medications. Some herbal teas can also trigger allergic reactions or induce side effects like gastrointestinal discomfort, headaches, or drowsiness. If you’re trying a new tea, start with a smaller amount and notice if any side effects pop up before drinking more.

Who should avoid herbal teas?

People with certain health conditions should speak with their doctor before trying certain herbal teas. For instance:

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • People with autoimmune diseases
  • Individuals on any kind of medication
  • Those with allergies

While tea alone doesn’t necessarily solve everything, it can be a part of a healthy lifestyle that helps you feel better. Even the process of making a hot cup of tea can be a comforting coping tool when stressed or anxious. Just be cautious about amounts and the importance of talking with a healthcare professional about certain teas.

If you’re having a hard time managing stress and anxiety, it can also be a good idea to speak with a mental health professional. Persistent anxiety can improve, and a support system is a great first step toward management.


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