After a remarkably challenging 2020, Jane Wolfe looks at the cumulative effect that concerns around COVID have had on the nation’s stress levels and what solutions health stores can offer to guard our future wellbeing
NPN’s last feature around stress and anxiety, published at the same time in 2020, focused on how the often unrealistic New Year’s resolutions we set ourselves can cause undue angst. Little did we know that a couple of months down the line a global pandemic would rear its ugly head, bringing untold anxiety and disquiet, and severely affecting people’s physical and psychological health.
Isolation, hypervigilance, redundancy, financial worries, fear of COVID, social distancing, hygiene, lack of normalcy, an unknowable future, lack of control – that’s just what the virus brings, then of course there’s all the uncertainty around Brexit.
According to a nationwide survey into the impact of lockdown carried out in July 2020 by healthtech company Forth, mental health issues rose by a whopping 110% compared with before lockdown, with over 50% of respondents feeling worried at least two to three times a week.
Anxiety levels increased by 60.2%, fear by 107.1% and loneliness by 63.9%, according to the survey, which also found that nearly 60% of people were worried about their own and/or someone else’s health and wellbeing, and almost 50% were sleeping less each night, resulting in a substantial 75.5% rise in stress felt every day.
This worry also had a negative effect on physical health, with 48.1% saying they ate more unhealthy snacks during lockdown, 28.7% consuming more alcohol and 40% reporting weight gain.
“This survey indicates that the current pandemic has many consequences on people’s wellbeing and lifestyle choices beyond the viral infection itself,” says Dr Nicky Keay, chief medical officer at Forth. “The uncertainty surrounding the current situation can lead to people looking to behaviours to relieve negative emotions such as anxiety, depression and fear … Feeling isolated and lonely are unfortunate consequences of ‘social distancing’ which have resulted in some feeling socially distant.”
“As we reopen society and try to find a new normal, physical and mental health needs to be a priority. This is something that we need to take into our own hands”
Forth CEO Sarah Bolt adds: “The results reveal that as we reopen society and try to find a new normal, physical and mental health needs to be a priority. This is something that we need to take into our own hands as public health resources continue to be stretched. It is well known that physical health and balanced nutrition has a marked positive impact on mental health.”
Nutritionist and author Marilyn Glenville has noticed a definite rise in people seeking solutions for stress this year as they feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. “The knock-on effects of continually feeling too stressed are enormous, physically and mentally. Stress can cause a number of symptoms including moods swings, anxiety, irritability, nervousness, aggressive outbursts, fatigue, palpitations, forgetfulness, anxiety, confusion, inability to concentrate, crying spells, insomnia, headaches, muscle cramps, digestive problems and food cravings.
“But the most important impact stress can have on our health now, and why it is important to look at how it can be reduced, is that it can weaken our immune function. This can leave people more vulnerable to getting an infection, and their body’s ability to recovery quickly may be compromised. We can’t control what is happening in the world at the moment, but it is possible to reduce how stressed someone feels and the impact it might be having on their health.”
Glenville stresses that eating regularly and cutting down or eliminating sugary foods are important to keep blood sugar in balance. “Every time blood sugar drops (low blood sugar or hypoglycemia), the stress hormones adrenal and cortisol will be released and this can make a person feel more stressed than they should be. Too much caffeine can also be a problem as this stimulant triggers the release of these stress hormones.
“Certain nutrients can be extremely helpful to reduce stress and its impact on health and immune function. When stressed, a person uses up a lot of the B vitamins – especially vitamin B2 and B5 – and vitamin C. These are all water-soluble, so need to be included in the diet on a day-to-day basis (or from supplements) because they aren’t stored in the body. One of the best sources of all the B vitamins are wholegrains, green leafy vegetables and nuts and seeds.
“The other nutrient that prolonged stress depletes is magnesium. Known as the calming mineral (‘nature’s tranquillizer’), it helps relieve anxiety and relax muscles. Deficiency is often reflected by waking in the early hours and not being able to sleep again. Magnesium again is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds.”
Glenville also recommends chromium to help balance blood sugar, l-theanine to reduce anxiety and assist the mind to ‘switch off’ at night, and Siberian ginseng, which acts like a tonic to the adrenal glands.
To promote a good night’s sleep – the lack of which has long-term consequences on health, increasing risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity and Alzheimer’s – Glenville highlights traditional herbs that have been used for centuries to help with sleep problems, including valerian, chamomile, hops, lemon balm, skullcap, dandelion leaf and passionflower. She recommends NHP’s Sleep Support supplement which contains all these nutrients as well as magnesium, l-theanine and Montmorency cherry (tart cherry).
“The amino acid l-theanine is really helpful if you feel ‘tired but wired’, where you are exhausted but as soon as your head hits the pillow your brain is very active and won’t allow you to sleep,” Glenville explains. “And there has also been good research on tart cherries increasing sleep time for people with insomnia by up to 84 minutes.”
Health store highlights
Andrea Parsons, manager of G Baldwin & Co health shop in Southwark, says that stress is one of the top reasons people go to health food stores. She advises customers on two levels: nutritional and herbal. “When the body is under any form of stress for any amount of time, the danger is that the adrenals will become fatigued,” she explains. “Through the production of adrenaline and cortisol, the body consumes vast amounts of magnesium, B complex and vitamin C, so from a nutritional point of view, I would suggest that people supplement with these or look for foods high in those nutrients so they don’t become depleted.
“On top of that I’d look at adaptogenic herbs to bring the body back into balance and nourish the nervous system. A favourite of mine is ashwagandha, which is energy-giving but can also aid in sleep management. Also, rhodiola, something like Viridian’s Enhanced Rhodiola Complex which has also got Siberian ginseng and a little bit of liquorice to help nourish the adrenal glands.
“One of the biggest sellers for us is the Terranova B-Complex with Vitamin C, which has adaptogenic herbs as well, so ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng and rhodiola – it’s essentially a stress formula. We also sell the Superfoodies raw and organic Ashwagandha Powder which is really good value and can be added to a warm evening drink.
“Viridian’s L-Theanine & Lemon Balm is a nice combination, as is A. Vogel’s Stress Relief Daytime with valerian and hops. And magnesium in all its various forms: Viridian does a High Potency Magnesium with 300mg magnesium per capsule.”
Parsons also highlights the importance of supporting the immune system during times of stress. “Once you’ve become stressed and run down you become more vulnerable to infection, so I would be looking at probiotics – ideally fermented foods and drinks like kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut to add a lot of good bacteria into the gut and aid your natural defences. And Source Naturals Wellness Formula, which is a largely herbal formula containing the main resistance herbs – garlic, propolis, elderberry, echinacea – together with a mini multivitamin and mineral, essentially the ones you need to heal, so high-dose vitamin C, D, zinc, selenium. We also sell Biona Elderberry Juice by the bucket load, because it’s a great antiviral and antibacterial.”
Even with vaccines now in sight to hopefully bring coronavirus under some kind of control, the mental health implications of the virus are likely to be long felt. Mick Cassell, an experienced therapist and founder of online ‘personal therapy toolbox’ Thinkwell-Livewell, is only too aware of the impact the pandemic is having on people’s psychological wellbeing.
“It is vital that we take proactive and preventative action at the first sign or suspicion of the onset of stress or anxiety
“It’s alarming enough to read statistics about the increase in demand for mental health services worldwide, but that’s only part of the story,” he says. “Stress and anxiety have their physical consequences in any individual, but societal or ‘herd’ levels of stress can result in their own epidemics of physical issues and illnesses, the effects of which may last long after the pandemic. Dietary habits can change for the worse, we can become sedentary, we can start to abuse alcohol and other substances, our energy levels can sink and our immune systems can become impaired – in effect, we can become prone to a form of mass chronic depression.
“The most noticeable common strain is definitely the feeling of a loss of faith in the future or a removal of lifetime certainties. Worry for themselves, their children and future generations. This is much more striking – and harder to deal with – than any specific reporting of ‘symptomatic behaviour’ such as panic attacks, weight issues, relationship problems, etc.”
Cassell explains that stress, anxiety and depression are most harmful when addressed retroactively, after they have started to have a significant effect. “At that point, sufferers usually feel they have a mountain to climb, and that increases the scale of their suffering. It is vital that we take proactive and preventive action at the first sign or suspicion of the onset of stress or anxiety.”
This is where ThinkWell-LiveWell can help. “Almost everything on the site can be thought of as ‘stress management’, because stress in it various guises is at the heart of most of our issues,” explains Cassell, who recently took the ‘very easy’ decision to provide its resources for free ‘to help people survive the crisis’. “Our offer falls into two broad categories: programmes that seek to reduce or prevent stress and anxiety by distracting and relaxing you; and therapy programmes that help you truly address your issues and change your perspective, responses and behaviour in the long term.
“Stress comes in many forms and we’re all different, so one of the strengths of the site is that we offer numerous different approaches and users can personalize critical elements of their experience. We have programmes ranging in duration from five minutes (instant top-ups or boosters, such as a five-minute mini-massage) to a ten-module, in-depth, online and offline course entitled Postcard to Anxiety. In between we have 20-minute and half-hour programmes addressing typical stress or anxiety causes and behaviours, and we also have guided meditations.”
FSC Standardised Rhodiola Root
Rhodiola rosea, called Rhodiola, and known as “golden root” or “Arctic root” grows in cold climates, such as the Arctic and the mountains of Central Asia, and has long been employed in Eurasian traditional medicine. FSC Standardised Rhodiola Root Extract 500mg 90 Capsules is made in the UK with the finest ingredients and based on widely recognised scientific evidence of their health qualities. Suitable for Vegans with no artificial flavours or preservatives, it is recommended to take one capsule daily with food. Available in 90 capsule glass bottles.
BetterYou Magnesium Flakes
BetterYou’s award-winning Magnesium Flakes are a natural, easy and effective way of supplementing magnesium, delivering the feel-good mineral to your body where you need it most. Applied directly onto the skin, magnesium is quickly absorbed, completely bypassing primary processing by the digestive tract where many nutrients, including magnesium, are poorly absorbed. As a natural relaxant, magnesium is one of the body’s most important minerals, with low levels estimated to affect around 70 per cent of us. Housed within fully recyclable packaging and are suitable for all ages and during pregnancy. For more information visit www.betteryou.com
This relaxing soap is made using activated charcoal that magically absorbs toxins from your skin, leaving it cleaner and healthier. Friendly have added lime essential oil, known for its antiseptic, antiviral and antioxidant qualities, and rosemary essential oil to lift your spirits and enliven your mind. All ingredients are natural and every bar is is free from plastic, preservatives and sulfates.
All in all, a restorative soap that leaves you feeling renewed and ready for anything.
Friendly Soap are registered with The Vegan Society, Cruelty Free International and are a proud Living Wage Employer.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), is often referred to as Indian ginseng‚ because of its ability to boost energy, promote stamina and work as a natural stress reliever. It contains many phytochemicals, antioxidants and nutrients. The root of Ashwagandha has been known for its ability to support especially brain function and nervous system, adrenal and sexual function, helping relief stress and promoting feeling of calmness and relaxation. It is also valued for its neuroprotective, thyroid-modulating, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Ashwagandha retails at £14.99 for 60 tablets. Contact HealthAid Ltd on
020 8426 3400 for purchase and stockist information or visit
Helios Stress Relief
Award winning Helios Stress Relief combines three homeopathic remedies Aconite, Arg-nit and Arsenicum. These three remedies have a long history of traditional use to relieve symptoms of mild stress and anxiety so prevalent in today’s society. Being natural Helios Stress Relief has no known side effects and comes in organic, sucrose pill form in our easy to use single dose dispenser. Other combination remedies in the range cover childhood teething, fevers and earache, hay fever, injuries and first aid and sleep disturbances.
Nature’s Answer Ashwagandha Liquid Herbal Extract
Nature’s Answer Ashwagandha is unbeatable on purity and potency, with a super-concentrated dose of 2000mg per serving, not to be confused with less potent tinctures. The extract is alcohol and gluten free, and in liquid form for fast absorption into the body, whilst utilising the whole herbal extract offers maximum synergy. Ashwagandha is what is known as an adaptogen, a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress. There are over 200 documented clinical studies on the subject of Ashwagandha. Considered one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing, it has been used since ancient times for a wide variety of conditions.
Lamberts® Theanine & Lemon Balm Complex – with pantothenic acid for normal mental performance
L-Theanine is a fascinating amino acid that is present in normal tea and is believed to be responsible for that unique ‘nice cup of tea’ feeling. Indeed, L-Theanine is now widely recommended by practitioners for those during times of stress and anxiety.
Lamberts® Theanine & Lemon Balm Complex combines a full 200mg of L-Theanine alongside a significant 6000mg of lemon balm plus three relevant B vitamins. Folic acid and biotin are both included in view of the fact that they contribute to normal psychological functions and pantothenic acid as it contributes to normal mental performance.
For a good night’s sleep
A unique combination of herbs and magnesium formulated to help you sleep well through the night.
• Contains valerian which has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep
• Hops have a natural sedative effect
• Chamomile, passion flower and lemon balm are known for their sleep inducing effects
• L-theanine to help your brain ‘switch off’
• Montmorency tart cherry has been shown to increase sleep time in people with insomnia
Vegan and Vegetarian Society registered. Kosher approved
[email protected] Tel: 01892 507 598
Tranquil Support from NHP supports everyone managing a busy lifestyle in today’s stressful world. Contains all the B vitamins, with extra B5 (for the reduction of tiredness and fatigue), chromium for the maintenance of normal blood glucose levels, vitamin B12 which contributes to normal functioning of the nervous system and normal psychological function. It also contains L-theanine to help both physically and emotionally, along with Siberian ginseng, aloe vera and curcumin. Vegan and Vegetarian Society registered. Kosher and Halal approved.
[email protected] 01892 507598
From our farm to your shelf…….De-stress with SOiL Organic Aromatherapy
The SOiL Organic Aromatherapy De-Stress blend is a calming complex of the purest 100% organic essential oils including grapefruit, clary sage, cypress and cedarwood, all expertly blended to help ease tension and anxiety while calming both the body and mind.
SOiL Organic Aromatherapy is grown on our own farms to bring you the purest essential oils for your store and your customers. The range includes essential oils, body and massage oils, carrier oils, shea butters and remedy rollers and are all certified organic by ECOCERT. If you are interested to stock the SOiL Organic Aromatherapy range, please get in touch with Pravera Ltd for your information pack.
Mood Food supports the ‘Feel Good Factor’ and is suitable for customers with stressful lifestyles. Designed by pioneer nutritionist Patrick Holford, this unique formulation has been created to support chemicals in the brain as well as nervous system activity. 5-HTP and Tyrosine are both effective in helping to improve mood. The combination of vitamins B6 and B12 as well as Folic Acid contribute to the normal functioning of the nervous system and help reduce tiredness and fatigue. Vitamin B12 also contributes to homocysteine metabolism as does the vitamin B3. Zinc is included for normal cognitive function.
[email protected] www.holfordirect.com
Bio-Kult Mind is an advanced multi-action formulation designed to target cognitive function, containing live bacteria Bacillus subtilis PXN® 21®, bioavailable flavonoids, grape and wild blueberry extracts, and zinc. Zinc contributes to normal cognitive function and the protection of cells from oxidative stress. Zinc also contributes to the normal function of the immune system. Bio-Kult Mind does not need to be refrigerated and is suitable for everyday use as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Adaptogens for Stress Relief
Adaptogenic herbs are now widely recognised as being an effective solution to the stresses and strains of modern living. At Raw Living, we have been promoting adaptogens for 15 years, and this experience means we can offer premier products at affordable prices. Here are just three of the most popular adaptogens: Reishi is the number one tonic herb in Chinese medicine, ours is a dual extract from China, retail £16.99/50g. Maca is from the Andes mountains of Peru, exceptionally good value at £5.99/250g. Ashwagandha is the favourite adaptogen of the Ayurvedic system, ours is fairly-traded from India and retails at £8.99/100g.
Save the day SAD Lamp
World Foods Brand Management
Tel: 01782 366080
Short grey days, long dark nights and lockdowns – it’s no wonder lots of us suffer from the winter blues or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Happily, the Save the Day SAD Lamp provides an effective remedy. Brilliantly simulating natural sunlight, it shines with a 10,000 Lux full-spectrum UV-free light at 10cms that helps relieve fatigue and sleep disorders – at the same time improving concentration, boosting energy, and lightening moods. Very user-friendly, it features multiple colour temperatures (daylight, natural and warm light), 5 brightness levels, 4 timer settings, a 100% to 10% dimmer function and an adjustable stand.
The NEW Liposomal GABA™ formula from Good Health Naturally utilises an advanced liposomal encapsulation process to protect and transport the nutrients safely through the digestive system into the cells where they are needed most. Contains 96mg GABA, 40mg L-Theanine, 20mg Ashwagandha, 260mg Phosphatidylcholine and 6mg Ascorbic Acid.
Research shows that GABA may play a key role in protecting against depression and anxiety, while L-Theanine has shown promising results for promoting relaxation and stress relief. Liposomal GABA™ is a must for anyone looking to manage a hectic, on-the-go lifestyle.
Suitable for vegetarians and vegans.