The darkness of winter gives us a chance to rest and replenish as the days begin to grow longer and progress toward spring. In addition to nourishing the body with good foods and healing flavors, now is the time to experiment with ways to address stress, insomnia, and worry and find out what works for you to help you have a better handle on life to address your stressors year-round. There are many things we can do on a daily basis to help manage stress, anxiety and worry including use herbal therapies to help us achieve the life style changes we need.
Stress & Our Body. Physiologically, it’s important to remember that when we are stressed, many of the body’s processes get put on hold. The body’s energy is diverted away from the immune responses, making it hard to both defend against viruses and infections – even chronic disease. We stop digesting when we are under stress, reproductive hormones decrease, our glands dry up, and our respiratory response quickens. This, over-time, can have huge impacts on our immune system and quality of life.
Herbs aren’t needed for exercise! Get moving! Movement and physical activity (especially movement in the brisk, winter’s air) is something all bodies regularly need to both fight stress and build immunity: With proper hydration, movement keeps muscles and ligaments juicy and lymphatic glands moving. It helps blow off elevated cortisol from a stressful day and over time and in tandem with a healthy diet, can have a significant impact on blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Aromatic Herbals for Energy. Instead of that extra shot of espresso, go with an aromatic herbal blend. Rose, Mints, Lavender, Lemon Balm — all have aromatic oils that are uplifting and can provide a boost of energy without adding the extra stress on the system that caffeine offers. These herbs can help clear a foggy head in the middle of a workday, break up tension from stress or soothe a headache caused by dramatic changes in the weather patterns. Try adding these aromatic essential oils in a bottle for a refreshing face mist or room clearing spray to help lift the mood.
Still tired? THEN 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. 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).
Insomnia? Relaxant herbals can help you catch some Zzzzz’s. The ritual alone of bedtime tea can help you unwind at the end of a busy day. Try blending relaxant herbals like Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Spearmint, Catnip, Rose, Blue Vervain, Scullcap or Kava Kava. Hops and Valerian can also help and relax the body for sleep.
Try these as tinctures, teas or even as massage oils and balms to help the body relax and relieve the stressors of the day. Or perhaps a hot bath? Herbs can be infused into bathwater as a tea or infused into an epsom salt bath. This can be done with whole herbs or by using aromatic essential oils.
Upset tummy? Try bitters. 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. Bitter herbs are a MUST for helping stagnant digestion that is symptomatic of excess stress.
Bitter foods ~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 (variety of herbs can be used for homemade bitters, such as orange peel, cinnamon, aspen Bark, fennel, chocolate, etc).
Lemon balm or catnip does wonders for soothing an anxious stomach. Blend it with aromatic herbs like cinnamon or lavender. Chamomile also does wonders to calm nervous anxiety.
Ulcerations: 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). Reduce alcohol, sugar and refined foods. See an herbalist to formulate an herbal protocol to best help gut healing.
Can’t get out of bed? Herbs for Grief, Sadness or Depression. Herbs like tulsi basil, hawthorne, rose petals, lavender, and lemon balm can offer comfort for a sad heart. Aromatic herbs are uplifting and help clear away the dark clouds and offer some clarity and peace of mind. And of course, see a professional if your stress simply is hanging over you to the point where are are affected and family and friends can no longer help. There is a role for pharmaceuticals, and many can be used in combination with herbals – just first consult an herbalist familiar with both therapeutics.
Nourish your nervous system for the long term. Build back up your nervous system with herbs that can actually restore tone to the central nervous system used over time . These herbs include milky oats (Avena sativa), nettle, passionflower, skullcap, ashwaganda, burdock root, and American ginseng. There are others, but those are a few favorites (and toning needs to be done with lifestyle change).
Lisa Rose’s Time for Sleep Tea**
1 Part Passionflower
1 Part Catnip
1 Part Elderflower
1/2 Part Holy Basil
Steep, covered in hot water (in a french press or tea ball) for 2 minutes and then sip. Promotes restfulness, focus and soothes an anxious mind and stomach so you can sleep.
**Bulk, dry herbs are available via Mountain Rose Herbs