“Stress is basically a disconnection from the earth, a forgetting of the breath. Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. Just lie down.” Natalie Goldberg
Natalie Goldberg has a point. Reconnect with nature, breathe deeply and if all else fails have a lie down, then all will be well in your world.
As our lives appear to spin faster and further away from nature, even pharmaceutical advertising reflects the shift. No longer are we urged to “take a Bex and a good lie down” when life gets too much, instead we are told to “soldier on”.
Sadly, “soldiering on” only continues to signal to your nervous system that stress you are experiencing is life or death, rather than an overscheduled diary. It’s time to return to nature and replace the pills with a cup of herbal tea and yes, a good lie down.
Three herbs for stress
As a herbalist I dispense nervines and adaptogens on a daily basis. These are herbs that help us relax and become more resilient to stress. While I’d suggest you leave the tinctures (stronger, alcohol extracts) and tablets to a practitioner to prescribe for you, herbal teas can be an effective part of your self-management of stress.
The ritual of making tea, some believe, is part of the power of herbs. Boiling the kettle, warming the pot, steeping the herbs and having to wait while the decoction brews gives the hands something to do while the mind rests. A pot of tea is not instant. It takes a few minutes to make and then time is spent waiting for the herbs to infuse and become cool enough to drink. It’s a soothing ritual that tells your nervous system to take its finger off the panic button for ten minutes.
To make chamomile tea add one heaped teaspoon of organically grown, chamomile flowers, per cup of water to your favourite teapot. Add boiling water and let it steep for 5 minutes. Tip: use a teapot rather than an open infuser as the steam distillation process gives chamomile an anti-inflammatory properties
Four ways to use chamomile tea:
1. Drink it.
2. Relax in a chamomile bath. Add a pot of strong tea to your bath
3. Add the tea to a baby’s bath. Via the skin and through steam, is the best way to administer herbs at this age.
4. Have a chamomile tea footbath.
Avena sativa, the same plant we make rolled oats from, is a great tonic for the nervous system. Oat straw tea is mild tasting and makes a calming brew.
Rolled oats are nutritive and a great tonic food to eat when you’re stressed. The nutrients are more bio-available if soaked before cooking. I can eat this easy to make porridge at any time of day!
Melissa officinalis grows easily in Melbourne, which is lucky because fresh is the only way to drink it. Dried lemon balm tastes dusty and looses its delightful citrus-y flavour. To make lemon balm tea wash a large handful of the leaves, cram them in the teapot (or coffee plunger) and steep in boiling water for 5 minutes.
Lemon balm and oat bath bag
Take a square of muslin, clean cotton hanky or the ‘foot’ of a clean stocking. Add a tablespoon of rolled oats and 6 (more or less) lemon balm leaves. Tie a knot in your herb bundle so the herbs wont fall out. Run a bath, let the bag soak in the water for a while then rub it directly on your skin. The oats are slightly soapy and the lemon balm smells wonderful. If you can’t get fresh lemon balm, lavender is a good substitute in your bath bag.
Three stress busting nutrients
Eating a healthy diet is often one of the first things to go out the window when we feel stressed. It’s only human to reach for the comfort foods, skimp on the vegetables and pick up takeaways when we are under pressure. Even if you’ve managed to stick to a healthy diet, one rich in wholegrains, fish, seeds, nuts, fruit and vegetables, when you’re stressed your body often needs more nerve nutrients than usual.
Make B your best friend
We need more B vitamins, especially B5 and B6, when we are manufacturing more adrenal hormones than usual. As the B’s work in harmony with each other, it’s best to take a B complex. Look for one with at least 50mg of B6. Remember to avoid caffeine for at least 2 hours before taking your vitamins. If you are having trouble sleeping, take your B’s in the first half of the day as they can be too stimulating at bedtime for some..
This nutrient help relax tense muscles. Magnesium can help ease a bundle of stress-related symptoms including fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety and muscle spasms. Many omnivores have a diet high in calcium but low in magnesium, so go easy on the dairy products when you are stressed or it may deplete your precious magnesium supplies even further. Aim for a supplement with about 600mg/day of magnesium phosphate, citrate or oxide.
Ascorbic acid is a versatile nutrient. Like the Bs and magnesium it’s also water soluble so our body can’t store them for long. At times of stress it’s best to top up these nutrients on a daily basis. This is a long time favourite supplement and slowly science is validating the claim that Vitamin C can modify our release of stress hormones and support the immune system (in rats at least!). Unfortunately a glass of orange juice won’t deliver anywhere near a medicinal dose. Most adults can safely have over 1,000 gm a day of calcium ascorbate or ascorbic acid.
There’s a host of remedies that can help us relax but it is like putting out spot fires while an inferno rages if we don’t look at the reasons why we are stressed. While you are trying to find a new perspective or getting help, taking natural remedies are useful but only one part of the treatment.
While you are unknotting your stress remember to make the most of nature’s pharmacy. Reconnecting with living things, soaking in the vibrant greens of the countryside, paddling in the sea or taking a book to the nearest park and lying under a shady tree are all great medicines.