Science-Backed Ingredients That'll Calm Your Nerves + 7 Ways To Sip Them
Everyday stressors have a way of piling up if we don't keep them in check, and they can ultimately do a number on our brains and bodies. Sipping on certain types of drinks is one way to calm down when in the midst of these nerve-wracking moments.
To get you started, we've rounded up the ingredients to look out for and beverages you can turn to if you're on the hunt for a new way to calm nerves quickly.
Ingredients that help calm nerves.
If you're wondering what to look for in a calming drink, the below ingredients come science-backed and expert-recommended.
Jaclyn Tolentino, D.O., at Parsley Health does note, it's important to remember that while many "calming" beverages feature ingredients that have some research to support their usage; efficacy is ultimately dose-dependent. This means that you need to find a beverage that has enough of these ingredients to have a noticeable effect on your stress levels:
This one probably doesn't come as a major surprise, as the lavender flower is renowned for its ability to create a peaceful atmosphere. Kim Rose, RDN, CDCES, CNSC, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Florida, shares that lavender may have a soothing impact on the nervous system.
She highlights one study, in particular, that explored the relaxing effects of lavender. Researchers concluded that when inhaled as aromatherapy, this fragrant plant has a positive impact on brain wave activity, the autonomic nervous system response, and one's mood. As mbg's vice president of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, expounds, "Lavender oil consumed orally has also been clinically shown in multiple research trials1 to significantly reduce feelings of anxiousness."*
Magnesium is an abundant mineral in the human body (when regularly consumed, of course) that may play a role in stress management. Tolentino tells mindbodygreen that research has explored the relationship between low magnesium levels and high nerves. One study from 20202, for example, found that low magnesium status is associated with psychological stress.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. Emergency and integrative medicine physician Eudene Harry, M.D., notes it has been shown to have a noticeable relaxation effect in human beings due to its ability to affect brain waves.
With deep roots in Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is one of the most popular adaptogenic herbs today. (Adaptogens help increase our body's ability to return to a calm baseline following various stressors.) Harry highlights research3 that has shown that high-concentration, full-spectrum ashwagandha root extract can improve an individual's resistance to stress and thereby improve self-assessed quality of life.*
Ferira shares that, "even more recent clinical research4 of ashwagandha extract with high glycowithanolide levels (i.e., the main bioactive in the plant) demonstrates its efficacy to lower stress, enhance mood, and even modulate stress biomarkers like reducing cortisol."*
Curcumin is a major phytonutrient found in turmeric root and a powerful antioxidant for calming nerves. In fact, one study published in Psychopharmacology in 2008 notes that curcumin may promote a positive mood5 because of its ability to support healthy levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
Harry tells mbg that in one small study of 35 women, the strong smell of saffron was shown to support healthy levels of cortisol6, the body's main stress hormone. Consumed orally, larger clinical trials7 have also demonstrated saffron's ability to improve mood and outlook.
Ferira adds that, "psychosocial interactions and heart rate variability improvements have even been demonstrated in research leveraging saffron extract supplementation8."
Passionflower is an herb that's long been used to help with sleep quality9, Tolentino shares. Outside of the bedroom, the botanical has also been shown to ease nerves and soothe anxiousness10.
Lastly, Melina Jampolis, M.D., board-certified physician nutrition specialist and host of the Practically Healthy podcast, suggests hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) as an ingredient to keep in mind for easing nerves.* Clinical research shows that the phytocannabinoid can be helpful for easing stress and anxiousness11, improving resilience12, and supporting a positive mood13.*
Does alcohol help calm nerves?
While it might be tempting to grab that cocktail or glass of wine to take the edge off after a long day, it can end up quickly having the opposite effect.
"Alcohol is a nervous system depressant, but it can actually cause anxiousness and low moods rather than improve them, despite the initial perceived stress relief," says Dani Gordon, M.D., a U.K.-based double board-certified medical doctor and author of The CBD Bible.
On a microscopic level, alcohol consumption stimulates the release of the stress hormone cortisol. "Essentially, booze is able to activate the nerves and elicit a fight-or-flight response, which is the exact opposite of being calm and relaxed," explains Rose.
And while it's true that drinking alcohol before bed can make you feel sleepy, it won't give you those restorative zzz's that we all need to feel our best.
Harry elaborates: "Alcohol acts on the GABA receptors (these are neurotransmitters our bodies naturally release to help us relax) and initially produces a sense of calm, but studies and experience point to the fact that alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to less refreshing sleep and frequent awakening during the night."
Moral of the story: While drinking alcohol can help ease nerves in the moment, it won't do you any favors for long-term stress management and resilience building.
7 drinks to try.
Now that we've got ingredients covered, our experts recommend these soothing sips to try the next time you need to calm your nerves and ease stress:
"Nowadays, it's easy to find caffeine-free lavender tea (in the form of tea bags or loose-leaf varieties) at your local grocery store," shares Rose.
Bring water to a boil, steep your lavender for about 10 minutes, and begin to relax as you sip and inhale the lovely aromatherapy. "In addition to the active components, the ritual of sipping a cup of warm tea can have a calming effect in and of itself," adds Jampolis.
Green tea can help soothe nerves thanks to its presence of L-theanine, and it comes recommended by a few of our experts. Read up on some of the best brands to try here.
Note that it does contain caffeine, so Jampolis says you may want to stick to drinking this one during the daytime or reach for decaf if sensitive to caffeine. And while you can certainly enjoy your tea hot, you can also opt for iced green tea as a refreshing way to cool down and de-stress in warmer months.
Another unexpected option to try once temps begin to rise is saffron lemonade. Harry notes that consuming 30 milligrams of saffron daily14 may help with stress levels. To whip up a batch of this tasty bev, she recommends adding one-fourth of a teaspoon of saffron to 4 cups of water along with freshly squeezed lemonade, honey, mint, and ice. Yum!
Next on our list of stress-busting sips is golden milk, which Harry says can be prepared in a variety of ways. "It primarily includes the herb turmeric, spices such as cinnamon and/or cardamom, and warm milk of choice," she explains. You can also buy prepackaged golden milk blends—some of which contain other stress reducers like ashwagandha.
Many Americans do not get their recommended daily intake of magnesium15 from food alone, so Jampolis says you may want to consider adding a magnesium supplement to your routine. These come in capsule form, as well as powders and liquids for sipping.
A popular addition in teas and tincture blends, Tolentino shares that beverages containing passionflower could have a calming effect. But since this purple flower is known for its sleepytime properties, you may wish to include it in a nighttime ritual.
Hemp-derived CBD tonics
Lastly, Jampolis notes that hemp-derived CBD tonics could be a worthy contender when it comes to unwinding. While research is limited, and human dosing studies demonstrate a range of doses, she recommends looking for a tonic with at least 25 milligrams of CBD. From there, you can experiment to find the amount that is right for you and your stress levels.
"Try to avoid products with too much sugar as the rise and fall in blood sugar can actually increase anxiousness," Jampolis warns.
Other tools for stress relief.
While sipping away on these beverages can certainly help promote a sense of calm, there are plenty of other stress-relieving activities out there. Here are a few more to file away for inspiration:
Supplements featuring calming plant ingredients such as lavender, ashwagandha root and leaf extract, rhodiola, full-spectrum hemp oil (preferably the organic variety), and lemon balm can be very helpful for calming nerves and easing stress.* Ferira concludes that, "mechanistically, these botanicals are like a hug for your HPA axis and thus, a genuinely useful strategy for tackling stressful feelings."*
Thankfully, most plant bioactives can be taken on a daily or as-needed basis, but it's important to always chat with your doc before trying out a new supplement and look for options that use science-backed ingredients and doses. Check out mbg's 15 top picks here.
Intentional alone time.
Spending some time with yourself is another great way to recharge and overcome nerves. In fact, studies have shown that spending time solo can contribute to personal growth and self-acceptance. Practices like journaling, meditating, and exploring the great outdoors all offer powerful benefits too.
The next time you're feeling nervous, try moving your body. Virtually any form of exercise, from swimming to kickboxing, can act as a stress reliever. Not to mention, regular exercise can also improve your overall mood, help you relax, and make it easier to sleep16.
When your nerves feel a bit more shot than usual, reaching for a relaxing drink may help reduce feelings of unease and promote relaxation. Pair one of the beverages on this list with another science-backed method for stress relief and feel your nerves melt away with each sip.
Kristin Hickey is a consultant and freelance writer living in Hoboken, NJ. She has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Queensland in Australia and received her bachelor’s degree from Fairfield University in Connecticut. She enjoys covering lifestyle, wellness, parenting and beauty topics.