“Stress” is a widely used term, and has many different meanings associated with it. A standard definition is that it is a disruption of the body’s normal functioning (known as homeostasis) in response to a perceived or actual threat (1).
The threat is known as a “stressor”. When this is experienced, the body prepares to deal with it by producing several hormones, such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol.
These have lots of different effects on the body, including increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and perspiration. Some systems are also suppressed, such as the immune system and the pain response system.
Together these changes are known as the “fight or flight” response, which allows the body to cope with the stressor.
Why You Need Stress Relief
Everyone gets stressed from time to time, especially in challenging circumstances. It’s important to note that stress isn’t bad in itself.
The term “eustress” refers to a healthy amount of stress. In contrast, “distress” is when stress is severe and/or ongoing and begins to impact behavior, relationships, and physical health.
Fortunately, research has shown that there are several ways to reduce stress.
Mindfulness for Stress Relief
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is one of the most explored areas in the research on stress relief. This is a structured group program using mindful meditation techniques that can help reduce stress and anxiety (2).
MBSR was originally designed to be used in those with mental and physical health conditions, it has also been shown to be effective in healthy people (3). However, in healthy people, it does not seem to be more beneficial than standard relaxation techniques.
It is therefore likely that any type of mindfulness-based activity may be beneficial for stress relief in healthy people, such as mediation and breathing techniques.
Yoga for Stress Relief
Yoga is another heavily investigated activity for stress relief by researchers. It is thought that yoga works by downregulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which calm the mind and body (4).
There is a growing body of evidence for the effectiveness of yoga in decreasing stress and anxiety, but there are methodological issues with some of these studies, such as small sample size or lack of a control group (5).
Recent research has suggested that yoga may be beneficial for heart rate variability (HRV), which is thought to be a key physiological marker of stress (6). HRV, as the name suggests, is the beat-to-beat variability of the heart rate.
Teas for Stress Relief
In addition to specific stress-reduction activities, tea has been shown to have a beneficial effect on stress. Anecdotally, a lot of people have considered tea to provide benefits for mental health and wellbeing for many years, but more recently these findings have been supported by scientific studies.
Several elements are thought to play a role in tea’s ability to reduce stress. These include the hot temperature at which tea is consumed, its sensory properties (smell, color, and mouth-feel), and its active ingredients, which of course vary between beverages (7). This results in benefits for stress both during and after the consumption of tea.
These Are the Best Teas for Stress-Relief
Peppermint is an aromatic herb in the mint family and is a cross between watermint and spearmint. It is native to Europe and Asia and has been used for thousands of years, both for its taste properties and health benefits.
Peppermint leaves contain several different essential oils including menthol, menthone, and limonene (8). Menthol is what gives peppermint its distinctive taste and cooling effects.
How does peppermint tea help with stress relief?
Peppermint has been shown to reduce both depression and anxiety. A randomized-controlled clinical trial found that inhaling peppermint oil continuously for five days significantly reduced depression and anxiety compared with the control group (9). These results are particularly impressive given that the participants were currently in intensive care in the hospital.
Other research has shown peppermint can be helpful for anxiety and pain relief. A randomized-controlled clinical trial found that a single inhalation of peppermint was able to significantly reduce pain and anxiety compared with placebo (10). This demonstrates that peppermint can work quickly to alleviate stress.
Peppermint has also been shown to have a positive effect on memory and alertness. A randomized-controlled study found that peppermint significantly improved memory and alertness compared with ylang-ylang or a control group (11).
How do I take peppermint tea?
Peppermint tea can be consumed by using a teabag, dried leaves, or crushed fresh leaves. The water used should be hot but not boiling and the tea should be steeped for 5-7 minutes. Peppermint tea can be drunk every day and at any time of the day.
Chamomile is a member of the Asteraceae/Compositae family. There are two common varieties: German Chamomile (Chamomilla Recutita) and Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum Nobile) (12).
Dried chamomile flowers contain many terpenoids and flavonoids, which provide health benefits. This includes Apigenin, which is a bioflavonoid and has anxiety-reducing effects. At very high doses, apigenin acts as a sedative.
How does chamomile tea help with stress relief?
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that taking chamomile extract daily for eight weeks significantly reduced anxiety compared to placebo (13). There were also positive effects of chamomile on psychological wellbeing throughout the study.
Another randomized clinical trial sought to study the long-term effects of chamomile on anxiety (14). Participants were initially provided with 1500mg of open-label chamomile daily for 12 weeks in phase 1 of the trial.
In phase 2, treatment responders to chamomile were randomized to either 26 weeks of continuation chamomile therapy or placebo in a double-blinded, placebo-substitution design. It was found that long-term consumption of chamomile significantly reduced anxiety symptoms. Interestingly, body weight and mean arterial blood pressure were also significantly reduced in the study.
Chamomile appears to reduce stress via its influence on gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) metabolism (15). GABA is an amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers. GABA is considered an inhibitory neurotransmitter because it inhibits certain brain signals and decreases activity in the nervous system.
How do I take chamomile tea?
Chamomile tea can be consumed by using a tea bag or dried flowers. The water used should be hot but not boiling and the tea should be steeped for 5-10 minutes. Chamomile tea can be drunk every day and at any time of the day. However, because it can have sedative effects when consumed in higher amounts it is best to drink it later in the day.
Lavender (Lavandula), is a genus of around 50 flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. It is native to the Old World. Lavender is used for gardening and landscaping, culinary activities, and commercially for the extraction of essential oils.
The two key effective ingredients in lavender are linalool and linalyl acetate. Linalool acts as a tranquilizer by influencing aminobutyric acid receptors in the central nervous system (16).
How does lavender tea help with stress relief?
A multi-center, double-blind, randomized study found that 80 mg silexan (an essential oil produced from Lavandula angustifolia flowers by steam distillation) taken daily for 6 weeks significantly reduced anxiety comparable with lorazepam (an anti-anxiety medication that acts on the GABA/benzodiazepine receptor complex in the brain (17).
Sleep quality was also positively affected following lavender supplementation, including reduced time taken to fall asleep and less time spent awake during the night.
Lavender has also been shown to improve mood. A study found that ambient odors of lavender significantly reduced anxiety and improved mood in patients waiting for dental treatment compared with placebo (18). This suggests that lavender may be particularly effective for those experiencing anxiety ahead of a stressful event.
In addition to alleviating stress, lavender can help stress, anxiety, and depression. A clinical trial found that inhaling lavender daily for 4 weeks significantly reduced markers of stress, anxiety, and depression compared to a control group (19).
Lavender can also help to reduce the body’s stress response. A randomized, double-blind study found that consuming lavender capsules before viewing stressful film clips improved markers of heart rate variability (HRV) compared to the control group (20).
How do I take lavender tea?
Lavender tea is made using dried or fresh lavender buds. It can be made with hot water by steeping it for 5 minutes or with cold water by steeping it for 12 hours. Although lavender can help with sleep it does not have sedative effects so it can be consumed at any time of the day. It can be drunk every day.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a plant native to Europe and Asia. The root can be brewed for tea or eaten for relaxation or sedative purposes. However, it’s not entirely clear whether it improves the quality of sleep or just the amount.
Valerian is also a spasmodic, which means that it can help ease pain such as menstrual cramps. It is thought to exert its effects by enhancing GABA signaling in the brain (21). This is the same mechanism of action as anti-anxiety medications such as Valium and Xanax.
How does valerian tea help with stress relief?
A study found that valerian can help to mitigate the body’s stress response within a challenging situation (22). Participants initially completed a mentally stressful task set by researchers and then took either valerian, kava, or no supplement daily for a week before completing the task again.
The heart rate reaction to the mental stress was found to have significantly declined in the valerian group. Participants also reported experiencing less pressure during the task.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, balanced cross-over experiment found that valerian might be even more effective when combined with lemon balm (23). Participants took 600 mg, 1200 mg or 1800 mg of a combination of lemon balm and valerian, plus a placebo, on separate days. They then took part in a variety of stressful tasks. Interestingly, the lowest dose was the most effective in reducing the anxiety associated with the task.
How do I take valerian tea?
Valerian tea is made using the root of the plant. Typically 2-3 grams of dried valerian root is used in one cup of hot (not boiling) water. It is then steeped for 10 to 15 minutes before drinking. Although valerian tea can be consumed at any time of the day, if taking it to improve sleep it is best to drink it 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime.
Lemon Balm Tea
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a herb from the mint family and is native to south-central Europe. It has traditionally been used for improving cognition as well as reducing stress. Similar to several other anti-anxiety herbs, it appears to work by influencing boosting the neurotransmitter GABA (24).
Lemon balm gets its name from its lemony scent. Its leaves are used as a medicinal herb, in teas, and as a flavoring.
How does lemon balm tea help with stress relief?
A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, balanced crossover trial found that lemon balm was able to significantly reduced stress induced by a challenging task (25).
Participants took 300 mg, 600 mg, or a placebo on separate days before completing the stressful activity. It was found that 600 mg made participants feel calmer and happier. However, 300 mg was not effective, suggesting that higher dosages of lemon balm are needed for effective stress relief.
Another randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that consuming a lozenge containing lemon balm correlated with increased activity in the areas that decrease anxiety levels (26).
A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial also found lemon balm can have other positive effects on mood (27). It was found that 3 g of lemon balm taken daily for 8 weeks significantly reduced markers of depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep disturbance compared with placebo.
How do I take lemon balm tea?
Lemon balm tea is made using fresh leaves. These need to be cut into small pieces and placed inside a tea diffuser. This should only be done at the time of consumption because they will blacken and dry out if cut ahead of time. Hot water can then be added to the leaves and the tea should be left to steep for around 5 minutes.
Passionflower (Passiflora) is/ a family of plants containing around 500 species. It is originally from Central Brazil. They are cultivated for their flowers, fruit, and medicinal properties.
They have a long history of use by Native Americans in North America. This includes consumption to treat boils, wounds, earaches, and liver issues. Because passionflower can cause contractions, it is not recommended to be consumed by pregnant women.
How does passionflower tea help with stress relief?
A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that passionflower was able to significantly reduce pre-surgery anxiety. Participants took 500 mg passionflower or a placebo 90 minutes before surgery. Passionflower significantly reduced pre-surgery anxiety compared to placebo (26). However, passionflower did not have a sedative effect.
Another randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover clinical trial found that passionflower could help with alleviating dental anxiety. It was found that passionflower was similarly effective as midazolam in reducing anxiety. However, unlike midazolam, passionflower did not cause any memory loss in participants (27).
Passionflower is also effective in improving sleep. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that consuming one cup of passionflower tea daily for 7 days significantly improved sleep quality compared with drinking a placebo tea (28). Participants took either 260 mg passionflower or 15 mg midazolam (an anti-anxiety medication) 30 minutes before surgery.
How do I take passionflower tea?
Passionflower tea is made using fresh or dried leaves and flowers of the plant. A teaspoon of this should be formed into a ball and added to a cup of hot water. It should then be left to steep for around 10 minutes. Passionflower tea can be consumed at any time of the day because it does not appear to have a sedative effect.
Green tea is made from Camellia sinensis leaves and buds. Unlike black and oolong teas, it does not go through the withering and oxidation process and therefore retains its green color.
Green tea originated in China but is now produced and manufactured more widely across East Asia. Several varieties of green tea exist, which differ based on the growing conditions, horticultural methods, production processing, time of harvest, and amount of Camellia sinensis used.
Green tea is particularly rich in the amino acid l-theanine, which is thought to provide its stress-relieving benefits.
How does green tea help with stress relief?
A single-blind group comparison study examined the effect of green tea with lower levels of caffeine (29). This is because the effect of l-theanine is thought to be blocked by caffeine. It was found that drinking 500 ml of green tea daily (equivalent to 15 mg) for one week before a stressful period of 10 days significantly mitigated the stress response of participants compared to placebo.
Green tea has also been shown to improve mood. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that taking 40 mg of ECGC (a component of green tea) twice daily for 8 weeks significantly boosted the sense of wellbeing in participants compared to placebo (30).
Other research has demonstrated that green tea can enhance cognition. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that taking 1,680 mg of a green tea-based supplement significantly improved recognition speed and selective attention compared to placebo (31).
There was also increased activity in brain theta waves, a key indicator of cognitive alertness, in the temporal, frontal, parietal, and occipital areas of the brain.
How do I take green tea?
Green tea can be made with either loose leaves or tea bags. If using loose leaves, these should be placed in a strainer and set aside. Water should then be heated until it’s just about to boil. The strainer should be placed over the cup or mug and the hot water poured over it. Whether using a bag or loose leaves, it should be left to steep for 3 minutes. As green tea contains a small amount of caffeine, it is best not to consume it too close to bedtime.
Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub that grows in India, the Middle East and parts of Africa. Ashwagandha is also known as Indian Ginseng or winter cherry.
It has a long history in Ayurvedic medicine, which uses herbs, special diets, and other practices for mental and physical health issues.
In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is a Rasayana, which means that it helps maintain youthfulness. The leaves, seeds, and fruit of the shrub have all been used to improve different aspects of health.
How does ashwagandha tea help with stress relief?
One of the key elements of the body’s stress response is the elevation of cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is released by the adrenal glands to respond to a particular stressor. This is beneficial for short periods but can cause health issues when cortisol levels remain high for an extended time.
A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that taking 300 mg of high-concentration full-spectrum extract from the root of the Ashwagandha plant daily for 60 days significantly reduced perceived stress levels and lowered serum cortisol levels compared to the placebo group (32).
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that 250 mg of ashwagandha taken daily for 6 weeks significantly lowered anxiety levels relative to a placebo (33). 88% of participants taking ashwagandha reported a reduction in anxiety, compared with only 50% of those taking a placebo.
How do I take ashwagandha tea?
Ashwagandha tea is made from the dried root. One teaspoon of dried ashwagandha root powder should be added to a cup of boiling water. This should then be placed onto the stove to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. It should be allowed to cool slightly and then using a strainer it can be transferred into a mug. Ashwagandha tea can be drunk at any time of the day.
Turmeric is a flowering plant of the ginger family. It is native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. The roots of the plant have a long history of use in Ayurvedic, Siddha, and Chines medicine.
These are rich in curcumin and other curcuminoids, which are the main bioactive components of the plant. It is also used to add flavor and color in Asian cooking, such as curries.
How does turmeric tea help with stress relief?
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that 500 mg curcumin taken twice daily for 8 weeks significantly improved both depression and anxiety compared with placebo (33).
Turmeric also seems to be effective in lowering cortisol levels. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study found that 1000mg curcumin taken daily for 6 weeks significantly salivary cortisol as well as other markers of inflammation, relative to placebo (34). Participants taking curcumin also experienced a significant decrease in depression scores compared with placebo.
It’s important to note that turmeric (or curcumin) is unlikely to provide these benefits if consumed alone (35). This is due to its lack of bioavailability arising from its poor absorption, and rapid metabolism and elimination. It should, therefore, be taken with an enhancing agent, such as black pepper, to increase the bioavailability.
How do I take turmeric tea?
Tumeric tea can be made from ground, grated, or powdered turmeric. A heaping teaspoon of turmeric should be placed into a cup of hot (not boiling) water and stirred to allow the turmeric to dissolve. Black pepper can then be added, along with milk if desired. It can be drunk at any time of the day.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a flowering plant from the carrot family. It is native to the Mediterranean but now grows in many parts of the world, particularly in dry soils near the coast and on riverbanks.
It is highly aromatic and is often used in cooking and aromatherapy. The bulb, foliage, and fruits of the fennel plant can all be consumed.
How does fennel tea help with stress relief?
A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that taking 100 mg fennel three times per day for 8 weeks significantly improved both anxiety and depression in those with depression or anxiety disorders compared with placebo (36).
A randomized, triple-blind clinical trial found that 100 mg fennel taken twice daily for 8 weeks significantly improved quality of life, including socio-psychological aspects, compared with placebo (37).
A review of studies reported that fennel can relax muscles, which can help with winding down and getting off to sleep more quickly (38). The relaxation of digestive muscles also makes fennel effective in improving digestion. The antioxidants in fennel can also be beneficial by helping to prevent the build-up of free radicals, which can be a consequence of stress (39).
How do I take fennel tea?
Fennel tea is made from seeds. It can be made using fresh seeds or a teabag. If using fresh seeds, these need to be dried for 2 to 3 days, and then crushed, before they can be used in tea.
Using either method, the fennel should be steeped for 5 to 10 minutes in boiling water before drinking. It can be consumed at any time of the day. However, because fennel impacts digestion, it is best to start with drinking 1 cup per day and increase as needed.
Ginseng comes from the root of several plant species in the Panax genus. There are several varieties, including Korean ginseng, American ginseng, and Panax ginseng. It has been used for centuries in traditional medicine.
Ginseng is mostly found in cooler climates, including the Korean Peninsula, Northeast China, and the Russian Far East, Canada, and the United States. Ginseng contains two significant compounds, ginsenosides and gintonin, which act synergistically to provide health benefits (40).
How does ginseng tea help with stress relief?
A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover trial found that 400 mg ginseng taken daily for 8 days improved calmness and memory compared to 200 mg ginseng or a placebo (41).
Another randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial found that 200 mg ginseng taken daily for 8 weeks significantly improved mental health and social functioning relative to a placebo (42).
How do I take ginseng tea?
Ginseng tea can be made using fresh roots or a teabag. If using the root, around 2 grams per cup is needed. The root or tea bag should be added to hot (not boiling) water and steeped for between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on the strength of tea desired. Ginseng tea can be drunk at any time of the day.
Rhodiola Rosea is a herb in the Rhodiola genera (Crassulaceae family). It is native to the wild Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. It has a long history of use in traditional medicine, particularly anxiety and depression. The key active ingredients providing health benefits are thought to be rosavin and salidroside.
How does Rhodiola tea help with stress relief?
A randomized, unblinded trial found that 200 mg Rhodiola taken twice daily for 14 days significantly improved anxiety, stress, anger, confusion, and depression, as well as overall mood (43). Although this was a non-placebo controlled study, researchers suggest that results are unlikely to be due to placebo effects because they were gradual and specific to certain psychological states.
Rhodiola also seems to be effective in reducing fatigue. A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study found that 144 mg Rhodiola taken for 7 days significantly lowered fatigue compared with placebo (44).
How do I take Rhodiola tea?
Rhodiola tea is made using the root of the plant or tea bags. If using the root, 2 g should be chopped and then added to boiling water. It should then be left to steep for around 12 minutes. Rhodiola tea can have a stimulating effect so it is best to drink it earlier in the day.
Experiencing stress is a natural part of life but it can feel very uncomfortable. Fortunately, several lifestyle changes can be made to alleviate stress, such as mindfulness-based activities and yoga. Many different teas can also help reduce stress if consumed daily.
Keep Reading: The Best Herbal Supplements for Overall Health
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Contents of this Article
- Why You Need Stress Relief
- These Are the Best Teas for Stress-Relief
- Wrapping Up
About the Author
Emma Green has a PhD, MSc and BSc in Psychology and is a certified personal trainer. She currently works as a freelance writer, producing on content on science, health and fitness for a number of online platforms. She also coaches clients online on a one-to-one basis to help them achieve their health and fitness goals. Contact Emma.