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Your boss is driving you crazy, you're in hot water with your honey, and the jerk in the little red car just cut you off. Wouldn't it be great if there were a stress buster as simple to use as a vitamin pill? Well, there are plenty of products out there that claim to reduce stress. The problem? There isn't a lot of rock-solid evidence that stress-busting herbal and nutritional supplements actually work.
"Kava kava, valerian, and chamomile tea have all been advocated for reducing anxiety, St. John's wort is used for mild depression, and a blend of natural herbs called adaptogens are very popular in Russia and Eastern Europe for relieving stress," says Dr. Paul Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress.
"The problem here is that such supplements do not have to provide evidence of efficacy or safety and can make any claims they wish to since the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission have no jurisdiction over them. In addition, few of these products have any double-blind clinical trials to back up their claims, much less a scientific rationale for support," Rosch explains.
So you may end up having to experiment to see if they work for you. And "all natural" doesn't necessarily mean "incapable of harm." Some herbs, such as St. John's wort, can interfere with prescription medications. And kava-containing supplements have been known to cause liver damage severe enough to require a transplant. If you want an alternative "all natural" stress buster, you may want to try these instead:1. Religion
Some studies have suggested that people who use "religious coping" -- seeking God's help, finding comfort in religion -- have lower blood pressure than those who use alternate stress relievers. The simple act of praying for stress relief might be enough to achieve your goal.
A recent study found that those people with a propensity to forgive others tended to have -- you guessed it: lower blood pressure than their less-forgiving peers. Isn't it time you gave up that grudge, if only to gain the health benefits?3. Sleep
About 60 percent of people who are stressed say they don't get enough sleep, according to a National Consumers League survey. If falling asleep is your trouble, it's time to start a calming bedtime routine. Start with a soothing shower and some lavender body wash. Then slip between the covers with a light novel and you'll be asleep in no time.4. Vacation
Can't find the time or money to plan a lounge on the beach for a week? A vacation can be as simple as a quick weekend trip, or a special event near home. All that's necessary is that you spend an extended period of time not thinking about those things -- work, money, relationships -- that are making you crazy.
Even one yoga class can cut levels of the stress hormone cortisol -- reason enough to get you down-dogging with the best of them. Taking a yoga class at a local gym is sure to offer you a rejuvenating workout. Or if simple relaxation is what you really need, find a yoga class that specializes in low-key hatha yoga.6. Bubble Bath
Lock the door, work up a lather, and forget the world exists. Add a few candles -- sage is a soothing scent, or try sandalwood incense -- and maybe a good book or some classical music, and you'll be well on your way to forgetting your horrific commute.7. Lighten Your Workload
Talk to your boss, delegate tasks, or start looking for a new job. If work is making you crazy, you're not alone. Work is the top source of stress in adults aged 18-54, according to the National Consumers League survey. Forty-six percent say it's a problem.
While you're searching for a less stressful job, find some ways to unwind after work. Sit quietly for 10 minutes before you start your evening. Play a favorite CD while fixing dinner. Or delegate your home chores so you can relax on weeknights instead of slaving over laundry.8. Cup of Tea
Whether it's chamomile or chai, try to take time, relax, and put your feet up when enjoying your favorite brew. In the warmer months you can chill a pot of freshly brewed green tea for a calming and cooling treat.9. Biofeedback
There are many different types of biofeedback, all aimed at turning you into a warm puddle of relaxed goo. Talk to a health professional about these techniques in which sensors are used to measure your temperature, muscle tension, or heart rate and translate them into lights or sounds. Or for a different sensation, ask your partner to give you a massage, or splurge on an appointment at your local spa.10. Sex
Is it the snuggling with your honey or the act itself? Either way, sex is a time-tested stress reliever, and it's well worth taking the time to do it.