Stress and anxiety are a bit of a modern day affliction. In human history we were more prone to the sudden fight or flight response to a stressful situation, such as coming face to face with a wild animal. But in modern life we often have fairly consistent levels of low grade stress, or worse. This can also lead to anxiety.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, we generally focus on two acupuncture channels when it comes to stress and anxiety, which are the Liver and Heart channels. Liver Qi stagnation is our way of describing stress, tension, agitation, frustration etc. You might even notice they are accompanied by frontal headaches (pain in your forehead), a metallic taste in your mouth, and eye twitches or restless legs/leg cramps. These are all signs of a Liver imbalance in Chinese medicine theory.
When it comes to anxiety there tends to be more of a link to the Heart channel. You may also notice heart palpitations, restless dream disturbed sleep, and your tongue is likely to have a very red tip in comparison to the rest of it.
One of my favourite herbal formulas for stress is (Jia Wei) Xiao Yao San. In English, this formula translates as Free & Easy Wanderer. Don’t you just love Chinese translations!? The name evokes a feeling of moving that Liver Qi stagnation so your body feels free and fluid again, without all the tension. Think of Julie Andrews singing in that meadow in The Sound Of Music.
I often add a herb called Suan Zao Ren (Sour Jujube Seed) to the above formula if there is anxiety or insomnia in addition to stress. Here’s a study showing this herb in particular formulas that were found to be effective for insomnia and anxiety.
At this current time the reviews of the formula Jia Wei Xiao Yao San are not adequate to suggest definite therapeutic effect, however further higher quality studies may change this.
During a Pubmed search, I was able to find 3 recent studies in mice or rats (NB animal studies are not considered relevant to humans for the purposes of claimed outcomes) that showed positive effects in treating depression with Xiao Yao San. These animal studies suggest further high quality studies in humans would be warranted. (Study 1, Study 2, Study 3).