Tea is the affordable wellness drink millions around the world have grown to know and love. It’s been promoted for many benefits, including being hydrating (contrary to popular belief), a weight loss aid, and having cancer-fighting antioxidants. In this article, we will explore another one of the widely touted benefits of tea – the ability to support mental health and cognitive functioning.
Does drinking tea relieve stress and anxiety?
Anxiety is an emotion depicted by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased heart rate, tightness in the chest, increases in the stress hormone cortisol, and increased blood pressure.
Stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure. Many different situations or life events can cause stress. It is often triggered when we experience something new, unexpected, or that threatens our self-awareness, or when we feel we have a lack of control over a situation.
Stress and anxiety are common experiences for most of us. Many people feel stressed and/or anxious at some points throughout the day or week when they’re trying to meet a deadline, manage their responsibilities, making important decisions, etc., which is completely normal. In fact, approximately 70% of adults in the United States say they feel stress or anxiety daily.
When someone experiences consistent and chronic ongoing stress, it can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems, including depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and more. For this reason, it is very important to try different approaches to managing chronic stress – including talking to your doctor if needed.
One of the most beneficial aspects of being a regular tea drinker may be its ability to help relieve stress and anxiety, which can lead to improvements in many aspects of life.
How can tea help you keep calm?
Brain-boosting Compounds in Tea
For centuries, people across the globe have attested to the relaxing and revitalizing qualities of tea. Even just the ritual of making and consuming a warm cup of tea can be soothing on its own, however, research has been ongoing for decades on the ability of certain compounds in tea to be able to improve both focus and mood, as well as overall mental health.
The plant that the tea is derived from itself is called Camellia sinensis (C. Sinensis), and although the mental-health benefits of C. Sinensis have been common knowledge among tea drinkers for centuries, scientists have been examining how this, and other compounds in tea, exert their effects on mood and cognition.
For instance, studies have found that drinking tea made from the C. Sinensis plant can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Tea catechins, which include antioxidants such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), account for up to 42% of the dry weight of brewed green tea. EGCG is thought to make people feel calmer and improve memory, mood, and cognition when consumed on its own as well as in combination with other beneficial compounds in tea.
In this comprehensive study, researchers used electroencephalography to compare the brain activity of people consuming either an EGCG-containing nutrient drink or a placebo. The EGCG drinkers experienced an increase in the type of brain activity associated with quiet wakefulness; as well as the type of activity linked to increased focus and attention.
The Magic of Tea Compounds on Mental Health
Many studies have suggested positive psychological effects because of consuming tea. For example, daily tea consumption seems to lower the risk of developing depression and dementia. This is likely due to the amino acid found in tea called L-theanine, in combination with the catechin (antioxidant) EGCG in combination with caffeine.
The L-theanine in tea promotes mental wellbeing by increasing the levels of the calming neurotransmitters serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a naturally occurring amino acid that reduces activity in the central nervous system. GABA neurotransmitters are all over the brain and stimulate nerve cells involved in anxiety inhibition as well as those that help to induce sleep.
In one study, researchers reported that volunteers who consumed a nutrient drink containing 200 milligrams of L-theanine, around the amount found in eight cups of tea, had lower cortisol levels and reported feeling more relaxed after performing stress-inducing tasks than did those who consumed a placebo.
7 Best Teas for Anxiety & Stress
With a delicious flavor that makes it easy to sip on for even the pickiest palates, chamomile tea – derived from the herb Matricaria chamomilla L. – is one of the most popular tea varieties. It is also widely thought to have self-soothing benefits that include its ability to help with relaxation and reducing anxiety.
Many researchers believe that chamomile tea may function like a benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs that can reduce anxiety and induce sleep. Some research suggests that chamomile binds to benzodiazepine receptors. One study also found that long-term use of chamomile extracts significantly reduced moderate to severe symptoms of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Peppermint tea is also delicious, refreshing, and can be consumed hot or cold. When you’re stressed out or anxious, you tend to feel very tense and irritable. Menthol and methyl salicylate, the main ingredients in peppermint and peppermint tea, have been shown to act as a natural antispasmodic and sedative to help relax both your mind and body. Plus, peppermint has shown to be great for your digestive system, which can be helpful if your stress or anxiety levels tend to bring on tummy troubles.
Because it helps to relax muscles, peppermint tea can also help to soothe tension headaches brought on by stress and anxiety, even just by inhaling the scent of a warm mug of peppermint tea. Plus, if you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed by all you must get done, peppermint tea can be a great option to give you a natural energy boost while also leaving you feeling calm and balanced.
It is well known that green tea is very high in antioxidants, which are known to promote physical health and wellbeing, but green tea is one of the top contenders to support mental health as well.
Green tea is one of the best sources of L-theanine, which was mentioned above and has shown to be helpful (especially in higher doses) in improving stress levels, reducing fatigue, and promoting better sleep.
One of the many antioxidants it contains, a flavonoid called epicatechin, may help to protect the brain from oxidative damage, helping to combat the negative effects that stress has on your body and can also be helpful for improving memory.
Lemon balm is derived from the herb Melissa officinalis, a relative of mint with a lemony fragrance, and is another great tea for relieving stress and anxiety. Lemon balm tea contains rosmarinic acid, which helps to activate GABA receptors in the brain.
Plus, it has been shown to be helpful in improving concentration levels by boosting memory and brainpower. Similar to its use in aromatherapy, lemon balm taken as a tea also helps to reduce tension and relaxes muscles, relieving headaches and muscle cramps while soothing the digestive system.
A small 2004 study found that taking lemon balm eased the negative mood effects of laboratory-induced psychological stress. Participants who took lemon balm self-reported an increased sense of calmness and reduced feelings of alertness.
In another study, participants were asked to do cognitive tasks involving memory, mathematics, and concentration. The results of these computerized tasks suggest that participants who ingested lemon balm performed better than those who didn’t.
Lavender is well-known in the aromatherapy space for soothing anxiety and stress just from inhaling the scent – and ingesting it in the form of a tea has the same calming benefits.
The lavender flowers brew into a light lilac-colored tea that is known for its soothing effects as well as many studies indicate its ability to help reduce anxiety. The tea emits a floral scent and features a flavor that is mildly sweet. The tea can be brewed using fresh lavender, dried lavender, or tea bags.
Researchers in this study found that siloxane, an oral lavender capsule preparation, was as effective as lorazepam in adults with GAD.
Researchers believe lavender works directly on the nervous system to inhibit GABA receptors. Compounds in lavender work to mimic the role of neurotransmitters, helping to decrease stress levels and reduce anxiety.
Passionflower tea is made from the petals of the passionflower plant. Passionflower has been long been used in alternative medicine to improve sleep quality and to help ease symptoms of anxiety. Studies suggest that passionflower works by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. This results in relaxation, enhanced mood, better sleep, and pain relief.
Researchers in a recent study found that a passionflower supplement worked as well as a mainstream medication for reducing anxiety in people having dental work.
Passionflower has also been found to be a successful treatment for the symptoms of GAD with fewer side effects compared to benzodiazepines.
Ginseng is sometimes claimed to be the “holy grail” of herbs, with claims that it can cure erectile dysfunction, aid digestion, and improve anxiety, and depression. Ginseng may not be a universal “cure-all” as it claims to be, but research does support certain benefits. Drinking ginseng tea can help to reduce the feeling of fatigue that often accompanies depression and anxiety. It may also offer protective effects against high-stress levels.
This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the effects of ginger in 90 subjects with chronic fatigue. Researchers found that ginseng helped improve mood and boosted cognitive performance.
While tea is not a “cure-all” on its own, it has been shown to help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with generalized anxiety disorder and stress. It offers a natural calming effect and helps you take a moment out of the day to unwind and has also been shown to have additional benefits such as improving mood and fatigue. Drinking tea can also help boost overall health and wellbeing so you feel your best.
Tea is not a replacement for medications used to treat severe illness or cases of depression or anxiety. Teas may also interact with certain medications and other herbal supplements, so be sure to consult with a physician and healthcare team before trying teas or any supplements to treat your symptoms.
About the Author
Felicia is a Registered Dietitian and nutritionist with a Master’s in Applied Human Nutrition. She has a strong wellness background and experience of working at research centers and healthcare/private practice for 12+ years.
Felicia is passionate about helping others fight through the massive amounts of nutrition misinformation in the online world, and to navigate life and health, but most importantly, enjoying it while doing it.