Anxiety was one of the topics of discussion in my herbal class this weekend so it is both fresh on the mind and close to the heart. I realize that I am not the only one and that anxiety goes much deeper in becoming more and more serious for all of us in our daily lives. I felt that this was as good as time as any to dig in a little bit and talk about anxiety and some possible ways to reduce some of our stress.
Our Nervous System
It is first important to understand a little bit of how our nervous system works. Our nervous system is the point of contact or what we would call the bridge between the body and the mind. We are taking in information all the time through our senses and this information that we perceive through sight, sound, touch, smell and taste gets fed into our body to alert the brain to possible threats or times when we can relax, enjoy ourselves and have a meal. These two aspects of our nervous system are called the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems.
The sympathetic nervous system, that which we call Fight or Flight, is all about acceleration, alertness, heightened sensitivity, blood getting drawn into muscles and out of digestion. It causes the heart rate to go up, saliva to dry up, and it causes our immune function to drop. This is our body’s response to stress of any kind; it doesn’t matter if it is a wolf, a nasty email from your boss, or a scary scene in a movie. Obviously there are varying degrees of response but all are processed by the body as a threat. If this is the state we bring ourselves into over and over again (remember as a child we were told not to make a face or it would get stuck that way, this is the same basic concept) there is a narrowing of function and this heightened response can become our new baseline state. This will heavily impact our body’s immune function, digestion, cardiovascular function, sleep, as well as our overall feeling of well being.
The parasympathetic nervous system, the aspect of the nervous system we call Rest and Digest, is more loose, contemplative and it’s about revitalization and regeneration. It helps us to reach a state so we can digest food well, sleep, and feel a sense of calm and peace.
Being Bored is Healthy?
Sadly, to most people, the idea of feeling a sense of calm, getting quality sleep and not feeling stressed out all the time seems like a vacation. Believe it or not, getting bored is critically important for your health. Maybe not the kind of mind numbing boredom that most of us try to avoid but rather the concept that when we are constantly living a go go life our body never gets the opportunity to reach the parasympathetic state that is required to balance out and reset our body to be in a more harmonious and healthy condition. Some people believe that 80% of all body disease begins in the mind but we could also say that 80% of mental disorders start in the body. Having time to eat, cook, fold laundry, read a book, take a walk, do some gardening, etc. is allowing our body and and our mind to let go of the burdens around us. We carry all these pains and burdens around with us because we never take the time to get through our days and still have time to fold the laundry. The sympathetic state is very easy and we don’t have to seek that one out; we are in that state almost all the time or we might be in that half way state all the time, it doesn’t quite get expressed. It is important to have both of these aspects expressed so we can get to a state of balance between the two not just existing in the middle without ever reaching one or the other.
There is cross-talk between the body and the mind and this is something that we can influence and even train. We often see this in a body art like dance. The dancer has taken a movement and integrated it so strongly in the body that it has become instinct. A ballerina, for example, will always dance like a ballerina. This same thing is true to how we have trained our bodies to use the nervous system. Do we want to train our bodies to be in a constant state of adrenaline, ready to flee at any moment or do we want to have the state of relaxation be our starting ground?
3 Key Ways To Reduce Stress
1) Environment. Creating the environment around you that you need is one very important aspect. If you are someone that is prone to depression and you get stuck curled up on your couch then perhaps you should seek out exciting activities, vigorous exercise, or a stimulating city scape to balance you out. If you are someone that excites easily, can’t seem to get to sleep when one little thing is bothering you, and can seem to relax then perhaps learning to take meditation, doing yoga, or living out in the country working with animals might help to create the environment you need.
2) Food. As always, what we eat plays a huge role in our mental state. We are not just what we eat but what we assimilate. Take time to really look at your diet and take a peek into just how much nutrient rich foods you are consuming. Is everything you eat coming from a package? Do you know where it comes from? Does it have a lot of sugar, corn syrup, and preservatives? I realize this is something I talk about often but I can’t seem to stress enough its vital importance in the role it plays in your overall wellness.
3) Self-care. Lastly, it is not always easy to just up and move to the country on a moment’s notice, so I understand that sometimes we have to make other smaller choices to help us get to the place we need to be to make those choices that we can manage. I am including a small list of herbs that can be taken as a daily tonic to help get us back into the place of relaxation, calm and collected composure so that we can meet our busy lives with a small little fraction of sanity. They can be blended together or you can experiment with them to see if there is one that really speaks to you.
Herbal Tonic Recipe
WOOD BETONY Herbal Tonic Recipe to relieve stress and anxiety
Verbane: is for type A people; helpful for people who want to control all the details of their life but the details are getting away from them and this is causing a lot of anxiety (cooling and draining) not great straight up as tea so best to put it with other tasty things like peppermint or take as a tincture
Tulsi (also known as Holy Basil): you can’t go wrong with this herb. It is yummy in every way and it so amazing for all sorts of psychological and emotional stresses. Drink often and as much as you need.
Nettles: nutritive and supplies the body with building nutrients and restoration (brew for eigh hours overnight when you sleep and take it in the morning when it is nice and potent)
Catnip: is a mild sedative and really amazing for someone who is constantly spinning their wheels over problems and especially for that person who does this at night and can’t fall asleep!
Chamomile: is also a mild sedative that is more for the person who holds their stress in their stomach; the person who gets nervous and has to run for the toilet every 5 minutes. Put enough camomile in your tea strainer to fill it 3/4 of the way full before water is even poured. It will be nice and strong and totally different then just brewing a tea bag.
*Note* Use spearmint, peppermint, lavender, or linden to mix in to help flavor any of these great teas. You can also add rose buds to help protect the heart and allow yourself to open emotionally without feeling fear.
Our Tranquility organic tea blend has holy basil and catnip and is also strongly recommended as a fantastic all natural, delicious anti-anxiety and anti-stress agent.
Have fun and enjoy!!