The halls have been decked and gifts have been swapped, and in the midst of what can sometimes seem like holiday hell, hopefully there is a moment or two where you can catch your breath and rest.
Winter’s season, by design, is a time to turn inward, rest and reflect. It’s a time where many set New Year’s Goals and Resolutions and this is a perfect time to ask yourself, “What do you need to keep in your life in the next year to make you thrive? What doesn’t serve you that needs to go? These aren’t the easiest questions to answer, but recognizing that you ~do~ have the power to make your life work for you. And in this time of shoddy economy and global breakdown, if not now, when?
While resting in this quiet, take time and really rest and then you may hear the answers you already know.
Stress & Modern Day Bears
I daresay that stress is one of the worst contagious illnesses of our time — and it’s absolutely preventable. The impact of this stress on our bodies is the underlying cause of chronic disease and general unhappiness. The fight or flight response to stress can be likened to being chased by a bear (thanks Herbalist Howie Brownstein)– the body’s systems shut down, healing all but stops and panic dominates. And while we aren’t chased by literal bears in our day-to-day activities, our modern day bears come in all forms — email, text, phone calls, CNN streaming in the airport, the 6pm news, the piles of bills on the counter, budgets, busy schedules. And these modern day bears chase us upwards of 80 hours of our week.
Many people feel out of control, unable to manage the day-to-day pressures, especially given the current pressures of the local economy and overall state of global events. LIttle do we realize that we actually have all the power we need to make choices and repair our body’s depleted systems that have been impacted by our daily demanding routine. Part of that power is taking a moment to remember and realize the impact of our choices on our health and then making a conscious shift to a lifestyle that is more supported of our values and nourishing to our lives.
That shift does not, however, happen overnight. Peeling apart the layers can take time, struggle and dark moments. But with the courage and determination to restore quality to your world and with the help of some basic guidance of the plants in our natural world, we can heal ourselves from stress.
Revisiting the basics to handle stress
In order to stay strong in the face of stressful situations, as cliché as it may be, we need to remember to rest and to eat. If you can’t change the stress, get more rest and get more sleep to start.
A healthy body eats whole, nutrient dense foods. Of all colors and flavors. And remember: NOURISH with Healthy Fats! Omega 3’s, fatty acids. The brain and nervous system absolutely need healthy fats to function to the fullest. Choose foods that are chemical free and local to the extent that your body allows.
Get your ZZZs… SLEEP MORE! Regular sleep patterns seem to be quite a luxury nowadays, but sadly, this lack of sleep is a contributing factor to weight gain and deprives our body of the desperately needed rest and restore time so it can recover from our demanding wake time. Many studies are revealing that as a culture we are sleep deprived. Re-organizing and re-prioritizing our evening schedules is necessary to be able to accommodate about 8 hours of sleep that the average person needs to maintain a healthful body. Not all people require this amount of sleep, but many do.
How to support a regular sleep schedule? Reduce after-hours activities that include screen time. Late night computer and television use can actually disturb the REM sleep patterns later in the evening. Try to cut off screen time after 9 or 10, and certainly avoid the urge to turn the screens on if you are unable to fall asleep.
Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening. This can affect the body’s ability to fall asleep later at night. Limit alcohol consumption to dinner time. Having the proverbial nightcap may be a relaxant beverage, but regular, late-night consumption of alcohol can also disturb REM sleep patterns (not to mention, relying on alcohol or other heavy narcotic to support regular sleep can lead to longterm dependency).
AND MOVE during the day! Restlessness at night can be a sign that you aren’t moving enough during the day. The body needs to MOVE to manage cortisol levels that spike when under stress, and getting in regular exercise can significantly improve sleep habits. Exercise need not mean a gym membership — it can mean gentle walking, stretching, dancing — anything just to keep the body lithe and circulation flowing.
Get some bodywork! ACUPUNCTURE, BODYWORK & MEDITATION: For those folks who travel internationally across timezones or those working night and swing shifts, this can mean a regularly disrupted sleep pattern that can last for days on end. Consider supporting these work transitions with regular treatments of acupuncture.
Other regular bodywork treatments like massage, cranial sacral and acupressure can relax the body and help release tension that builds up because of the stress response. Additionally, adding in a mindfulness practice such as meditation or guided imagery can help break the patterns of circular thinking and can support an unloading of the day’s proverbial baggage, leaving space to rest and restore.
Starner’s go-to herbs for Peace in Chaos
Herbs are our allies to help us move toward a life of making choices that serve us to lead brighter lives. The herbs ~cannot~ be a substitute for making those choices. That is our responsibility and we all have the power to do what needs to be done — they are here to support that. Here’s my fave short list of herbs that I love to have on hand to support the nervous system as we try to manage stress in our lives.
Reduce anxiety, improve clarity with AROMATICS. Rose, Geranium, Mints, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Bee Balm, Oregano, Basil — all these herbs have aromatic oils that can be uplifting and can provide clarity in times of stress. They can be sought out as teas to sip (the ritual of making tea in and of itself is calming) or as essential oils to vaporize in a room (or cupped in your hand) or added into a carrier oil for massage (remember those foot baths!).
Bliss out your stressed state with RELAXANTS & CALMATIVES (aka Nervines) and alive anxiety, restlessness. Chamomile (also aromatic and helpful to relieve stomach upset), Lemon Balm, Raspberry leaf, Spearmint, Catnip, Rose, Blue Vervain, Passionflower, Skullcap, St. John’s Wort. All can be used as tea, or tincture, and some can be used extracted into oils for massage… Experiment a bit! For circular thinking — I like Passionflower, Wood Betony, Blue Vervain.
Help get better sleep with SEDATIVES. Hops, Kava Kava (gives me the giggles), Valerian (can sure calm spasm, quell anxiety and induce sleep in most people, and can agitate a select few– test it out first).
Build back up your nervous system with nourishing NERVINE TONICS. Herbs that can actually restore tone to the central nervous system used over time include Milky Oats (Avena Sativa), Nettle, Passionflower, Skullcap. There are others, but those are a few favorites (and toning needs to be done with lifestyle change).
What’s the correlation to stress and digestion? In times of stress, the body slows the digestive process and this can inhibit the proper uptake of core nutrients leading to a different sort of malnutrition. BITTERS are a MUST for helping stagnant digestion that is symptomatic of excess stress. BItters ~should~ be had as food and a main staple in our diets (think dandelion leaves, Romaine lettuce, fennel, Chamomile tea) but they can also be integrated into our diets as classic digestifs (such as commercial Campari or Angostura) or tinctured bitters (I hand make my own bitters with a variety of herbs such as Orange Peel, Cinnamon, Aspen Bark, Fennel, etc). If there extreme digestive deficiency and there is ulcer, etc., more must be done with diet and herbs that can support the mucosa to heal should be introduced (marshmallow, slippery elm, etc).
Remember that everyone’s path (and constitutions) are different, so herbs that work for one may not be suited for another. And the *right* herbs that are good for you now in this moment may not be the herb you need later down the road. Be open to this and if you want to talk more about what might be right for your constitution, schedule a time to talk with me about your needs.
Great Lakes Herbalist jim McDonald on Bitters
Fascinating article on our culture of pill popping for stress: New York Magazine “Listening to Xanax” (2012)