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  • Writer's pictureCynthia Killingbeck CH, CN, FEP

6 Herbs for Stress and Anxiety


Lavender for calm and sleep

Anxiety, we all know it, we have all experienced it in some capacity. Whether you’re anxious for a work presentation, speaking in public, meeting someone new, afraid of spiders or heights, bears or the lion in the brush. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress; it is part of our fight or flight response. The fear, nervousness, or even panic is a healthy reaction to facing threatening situations. We become focused on the anticipation of future concerns and it is associated with muscle tension and avoidance behavior. No one wants to stick around when the danger to us is near, whether the source is physical or emotional.


Chronic stress can result in increasing levels of excessive fear or anxiety resulting in the hindering of normal function like panic attacks, phobias and over worrying; it can be debilitating to a happy healthy life. Chronic stress is very debilitating to our general health and our emotional wellbeing is critical to a healthy body. Have you ever been told, ‘you really need to de-stress!’ or ‘you need to find a way to reduce the stress in your life’? But they never tell you how.

 

Plant medicines called Nervines can be very helpful for healing our nerves and creating calm and space to breathe while reducing stress in many situations. Nervine is a general term for a class of herbs that affect the nervous system in any way. Herbs that are anti-anxiety or anti-depressant are what we think of first, but it also includes herbs that help restore or rebuild the normal functioning of the nervous system, herbs that stimulate or relax, herbs that are sedating or calming and even help us sleep. There are many herbs that fit into this class but here are six that I just love to work with.


Skullcap tincture when taken long-term can restore tone to an over stressed nervous system. It can help in acute situations as a tincture to relieve panic attacks by helping us relax and softens us into a calmer state. As an infusion (tea), it is excellent for promoting the calmness of sleep as well as restoring the nervous system. It is slightly bitter and cooling, works well in a formula with warming and milder tasting herbs to balance it out, like cinnamon, damiana, or any of the mints.


Chamomile is a traditional calming nervine for those in fretful, irritable, or over sensitive states. It comforts when nothing else seems to. People who benefit from chamomile are prone to tummy trouble and upset when stressed. It soothes indigestion and relieves gas and bloating while calming our nerves. Chamomile smells like honey and fills you with warmth when you drink it.


Lemon Balm is a warming nervine for restlessness, fast heartbeats, anxiety, and depression. It is calming and grounding to those constitutionally agitated who thrive on stimulation and possibly present with headache and hypertension. It is opening and moving to stuck-ness and allows flow in the body. Lemon Balm has a lovely lemon aroma and its floral addition to any tea is relaxing and pleasant.


Milky Oats tincture is helpful for nervous exhaustion and often useful for those feeling depleted and deficient from long-term states of stress, emotional exhaustion, and over work. This works over time to reduce panic states and creates a balm of calming relief. The ‘milky’ top is harvested at the perfect moment and tinctured immediately and is best for nervine qualities. As a tea the oat tops or oat straw is less supportive emotionally but is very nutritive and has a mild grassy taste. (Please note if you are sensitive to Oats, as many who are gluten sensitive are, this is not the herb for you.)


Damiana is a warming nervine helps to alleviate fatigue, anxiety, depression and is stimulating and nourishing to the libido. It is believed to do this by nourishing blood vessels and stimulating the circulation of blood flow. If we are feeling cold and depleted Damiana can produce warmth, stimulate flow releasing stagnation, and nourish our depleted nervous system. Damiana has a hint of spice to its smell and is a lovely addition to any formula.


Lavender is popularly used in aromatherapy to calm and promote relaxation and sleep. It is used internally for pain relief of mild headaches, and externally as a bath for rheumatic and neuralgic pain. As an infusion it is good for nervousness and insomnia. It is relaxing to the spirit while also stimulating to the vitality of the body and mind. Lavender helps to remove obstacles that may be constricting the vitality through easing and encouraging energetic flow.

 

Self-care practices and formulating with herbs

It is important to touch on all our human senses taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound in every self-care moment to reduce stress and bring us into balance. Soothing us with our sense of touch with comforting and pleasurable applications like baths, or lotions or oils helps us feel safe, held, and nurtured. Many emotional states are affected by scent as our brain takes in and interprets stimulus it is recorded and imprinted and thus we associate memories to smells, good and bad can be triggered by a smell, so having pleasant smelling and tasting teas for healing our emotional state is as important as the herb we choose for the state we are in. Including lovely smelling herbs in a formula can really bring the whole formula together. Pleasant tastes create moments of pleasure and encourage bliss moments. Colorful flowers in any formula adds a sense of beauty and attraction to the eye, include some natural light like candles in the room, the gentle glow is pleasing and calming. Add a little dose of music to your self-care herbal regimen and you have the perfect de-stressing situation.


Our lifestyle choices are important to our emotional states. Practicing forms of self-care is needed on a daily basis. What brings you joy? What brings you peace? What builds your inner fire? Finding our personal regimen for self-care and having support in our lives is important. Maybe it is something like helping you to find more time to incorporate meditation, or quiet time to recoup your energy. Maybe it is how to organize your day, or help you realize how important you are, and your needs are just as critical and necessary to build and fulfill as those around you. It is important to fill your cup so you can fill another’s. We can’t support those around us from an empty and depleted container. Ritual around making tea and spending time creating comfort in such a fast-paced stress filled world can be a lovely way to incorporate self-care into your day. It can also be a great way to connect with others, just as you lift your cup so it will lift you up!


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