Stress can be incredibly addictive! We can get caught up in a cycle of rushing around and doing too many things at once. This happens to many of us during the holidays, and it can be difficult to let ourselves unwind and truly calm down. We can get to a place where we thrive on stress and can’t imagine moving through our day at a slower pace, or, making time to take care of ourselves. When this pattern continues over a long period of time, our body goes into a state of resistance, which contributes negatively to our health and happiness.
This state of resistance impairs many biological processes. This state is also known as the sympathetic state of the nervous system. Nature intended this state to protect us in emergency situations. It’s characterized by increased heart rate and blood pressure, decreased oxygen levels in the blood going to muscles and organs, poor circulation caused by constricted capillaries as well as decreased digestive and reproductive function, decreased mental clarity, muscle tension, headaches, poor sleep leading to depletion, exhaustion, depression and even auto-immune disease. Being overly busy and stressed has become the norm in our society, even a status symbol, and many of us suffer the consequences of this trend.
Personally, this is something I am continuingly working on. We can add some simple practices into our lives to achieve greater balance. Some excellent practices to achieve greater balance are: meditation, yoga, deep breathing, chanting, drumming, listening to music, spending time in nature, getting a full nights sleep, drinking plenty of water, and eating plenty of vegetables and healthy fats.
Another practice that has helped me tremendously in reducing stress is drinking tea.
Calming herbal teas have a wondrous effect on the body, particularly the nervous system. They are soothing, calming, warming, delicious, and bring us back into our body. Anybody who knows me will attest to the fact that I never go anywhere without a quart sized jar of tea that I drink and refill throughout the day!
Here are my top 5 choices for herbal teas that support balance and ease in the nervous system:
Peppermint (mentha piperita) has a delicious, aromatic flavor and aroma that is cooling and warming at the same time. It eases anxiety and tension, and gives us mental clarity. It is also one of the best herbs for enhancing digestion and relieving intestinal pain and cramping, as well as for clearing the sinuses.
Oatstraw (avena sativa) is very good for your skin, hair and nails. This is due to oatsraw’s essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium and silica, which rebuild the myelin sheath (the ends of the neurons that communicate with each other) and also repair connective tissue and bones. It is also a very powerful rebuilding herb for the nervous system. It has the effect of putting you in the present moment, and breaking the cycle of stress and busyness. I attribute this to its mildly sweet and rich flavor, calling us to tune in and pay attention. This is the same plant that we know as oats, just at a different stage of growth.
Lavender (lavendula angustifolia) is a member of the mint family. If you have ever smelled or tasted this plant, either fresh or dried, then you know why it’s included in this list. It brings an instant feeling of calm and well-being. The smell alone actually lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and promotes relaxation. It also treats headaches, particularly when they are caused by stress. But not only is it calming, it is rebuilding and can help bring us back from a state of exhaustion. It is also known to help with mild depression.
Lemon Balm (melissa officinalis) grows rampant in my garden in the summer and gives off a rich lemony-minty aroma if I brush my hand against it. It is also a member of the mint family and is very high in vitamins and minerals. Its flavor is delicious, refreshing and subtly tangy. It has a sedative effect, which is very useful for promoting relaxation and sleep, and can also be used in an acute situation like a panic attack. It is also very beneficial to the digestive system, and the circulatory system. Melissa is Greek for “honeybee” which reminds us that we can all stand to learn a lot from bees, with their focused, rhythmic activity, they are busy and calm at the same time. And honeybees love lemon balm!
Chamomile (matricaria recutitia) is a member of the daisy, or asteraceae family. There are many varieties, each of which is widely known for its calming and slightly sedative properties. It has a slightly sweet and flowery taste that exudes calm, and can help us maintain that calm throughout the day. Because it is so gentle and safe, it is an excellent herb for over-stimulated children and even teething babies. I always drink chamomile tea before bed because it really helps me wind down. Chamomile has too many benefits to mention here, but it should be noted that it eases discomfort in the GI tract, and enhances digestion by increasing the flow of blood to the digestive system.
There are an incredible number of herbs that can help with anxiety, sleeplessness, and stress. These are just a few that make a delicious tea in addition to their calming effects. We encourage you to look deeper into the class of herbs known as ‘nervines’ and to explore all the ways you can bring mindfulness and relaxation into your life on a daily basis. There are always going to be stressful situations in life, and there will be times when we are too busy, and we can’t change that. But if we learn how to care for ourselves at all times, we can make it through those difficult moments with more ease, and get back on track to being our awesome selves!
One can make a day of any size, and regulate the rising and setting of his own sun and the brightness of its shining. John Muir
As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life. Buddha
Thyme Herbal, Brittany Nickerson, Amherst, MA
The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal, David Hoffmann