Transitioning from an office to your kitchen table this year would have been enough to skyrocket stress levels. Add that to your gym shutting down, your kid’s school moving online, and the ever-present fear that your loved ones are at risk of getting sick, and it seems the coronavirus pandemic would have been more accurately named the Global Stress Fest.
Indeed, our communal stress levels are so high that the researchers behind a 2020 review published in Stress Health warn that the negative health effects from COVID-19 chaos are likely to endure long after lockdown measures have been lifted. Thus, “developing an effective means to mitigate and manage the stress that blossoms during the pandemic and afterward should, therefore, be considered a priority,” the review authors wrote.
For most of us, getting a handle on stress takes a multi-pronged approach that includes everything from what we eat, to how we move, to how we relax. And while supplements cannot replace these important factors, “they can play an important role in helping return your stress levels to equilibrium,” says naturopathic doctor Erin Stokes N.D., medical director with MegaFood.
Of course, you have to choose the right supplements, though. That’s where this list comes in. Below, health experts share their top stress management supplements and break down which might be best for you.
CBD— that’s short for cannabidiol—is a non-psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant that shows a promising ability to support our mental health and well-being.
When ingested, CBD binds to endocannabinoid receptors in the body, explains Colorado-based naturopathic doctor and chiropractor Jo Nell Shaw, N.D., D.C. This limits the amount of the stress hormone cortisol that can bind to these receptors. The less cortisol that can bond to said receptors, the less stressed you feel.
While there is still much to learn about stress and CBD, the compound has been shown to promote an overall sense of balance and well-being. And, anecdotally speaking, “many of my patients find that taking CBD at night helps them feel more relaxed,” Shaw says.
The best dose of CBD for you varies on factors such as weight, your individual body chemistry, and your stress levels, which is why hormone expert and naturopath Jolene Brighten, N.D., author of Beyond the Pill, recommends consulting with a healthcare professional to figure out your individual needs. Different people may start out with anything from five to 40 milligrams.
Adequate magnesium intake is imperative for nerve and muscle function, blood sugar regulation, and healthy blood pressure, energy levels, and mood, says Stokes. Translation: It’s pretty darn important.
Problem is, when stress levels are high, our bodies use up more magnesium, potentially depleting us of the mineral. One of the main symptoms of magnesium deficiency? Increased feelings of stress, Brighten says. That’s why she recommends a magnesium supplement to anyone going through unprecedented levels of stress. (So, basically, everyone.)
There are a few different forms of magnesium, but magnesium glycinate is the most-celebrated for promoting calm, she says. Most magnesium glycinate supplements offer 200 to 400 milligrams per serving, which is right within the 310- to 420-milligram recommended daily allowance for magnesium for adult women and men, respectively.
This hard-to-spell but easy-to-love adaptogenic herb stole the spotlight a few years back—and has remained one of the most popular stress management supplements ever since. “Adaptogens are botanical herbs that have been shown to help the body manage stress,” says Stokes.
One 2019 study published in the journal Pharmaceuticals found that supplementing with ashwagandha, specifically, can help the body respond to stress, and even improve overall quality of life.
According to Stokes, the typical dose is 200 milligrams per day. However, because ashwagandha occasionally has a stimulating effect, she suggests starting with 100 milligrams. From there, as long as you don’t experience any issues, gradually increase the amount to the standard dose.
4. Holy Basil
The only thing cooler than this herb’s name is the way it will make you feel. Another adaptogen known for promoting a sense of calm, “holy basil eases stress while also gently uplifting your disposition,” says Stokes.
One review published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine went as far as to call the herb “liquid yoga.” Sign us up, right?
The standard dose for holy basil is also 200 milligrams per day. Again, though, Stokes recommends starting with 100 milligrams and working your way up to avoid unwanted side effects like diarrhea and nausea.
A new-ish trend in the world of stress management supplements, GABA is a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on the body. Research suggests it works by interrupting certain signals that can cause us to feel stressed or alert, and thus decrease instances of being ‘too on’.
“For some people who feel easily stressed and anxious, GABA supplementation can help promote a state of calm and relaxation,” says Brighten.
There’s no standard recommendation for GABA supplementation, and you’ll find supplements on shelves that provide anywhere from 100 to 750 milligrams per serving. Brighten suggests starting with a lower dosage and increasing as needed.
An amino acid found in green and black tea, l-theanine promotes relaxation by increasing levels of dopamine and GABA, both of which are essential for reducing stress and increasing pleasure, according to Stokes.
In fact, one 2019 study published in Nutrients found that supplementing with 200 milligrams of l-theanine per day promoted mental health in people with stress-related ailments. A second study found that just 50 milligrams promoted not only relaxation but mental alertness and attention, too.
Stokes recommends replacing your afternoon cup of coffee with a cup of green tea for a natural dose of l-theanine. If you’re not a tea drinker, though, opt for an l-theanine supplement like Vitamin Shoppe L-Theanine, which provides 200 milligrams.
7. B Vitamins
“The B vitamins are absolutely necessary during times of high stress,” says Brighten. In addition to promoting more restful sleep, they are essential for building the hormones and neurotransmitters you need to feel your best under stress, like dopamine and GABA, she explains.
Get this: Research out of Swinburne University found that stressed individuals who consumed high levels of B vitamins reported experiencing less stress than those who didn’t.
Prioritize vitamins B6 and B12, which play the most substantial roles in neurotransmitter production. Adults should get 1.3 milligrams of B6 daily, which you can find in chickpeas, tuna, salmon, and chicken, per day. Meanwhile, adults need 2.4 micrograms of B12, which is found in animal proteins, per day.
If you’re not currently consuming those foods or are concerned about your B levels, chat with your healthcare provider about taking a supplement like The Vitamin Shoppe brand B Complex 100.
Turns out, Grandma was onto something when she touted the relaxing benefits of a cup of chamomile tea. In fact, this pretty little flower is one of the oldest stress management supplements in the book.
One 2016 study published in the journal Phytomedicine found that long-term use of chamomile extract offered significant benefits for those dealing with moderate-to-severe feelings of anxiety.
While you can supplement with chamomile extract, Shaw recommends keeping it simple by sipping on a classic cup of chamomile tea. “Think of the last time you sat down to a warm cup of tea. It’s a nice feeling, right?” Right!