Herbs! Begin to soothe the nervous system and adapt to stress, making anxiety the last reaction, rather than the first. Herbs work (especially if coupled with a bracing walk outdoors or 20 minutes of yoga), by protecting, healing, and defending the body from the ravages of stress and anxiety.
Anxious to get started? Don’t be. Be excited! Cut anxiety out right at the beginning.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis):
I don’t know about you, but my anxiety tends to settle right in my stomach. I can’t eat (or I eat emotionally). I can’t digest anything, and my stomach ends up riddled in knots.
You too? Well, then lemon balm is your answer. It calms the nervous system, soothes digestion, and lowers blood pressure. Best thing? It's so easy to take as a tea or a tincture and it works quickly. (Just be sure you’ve got some good-quality lemon balm, and not citronella — that won’t help things along very well, although you won’t be eaten by mosquitoes, for sure!).
Once you have your tincture (or make your tincture), try 10 drops three times per day. If you don’t have relief from this dose after a week or so, you can push it up to 30 drops three times per day. Lemon balm is safe, so no worries about using as much as you want.
I also love lemon balm tea — part of the mint family (as so many herbs are), it makes a marvelous, uplifting, energizing tea. Avoid dairy milk in your herbal teas, though (as well as sugar). The proteins tend to affect the absorption of the medicinal benefits. Feel free, however, to use unsweetened nondairy milks and sweeteners such as stevia (another herb, and one that will sweeten without affecting blood sugar, calorie consumption, or weight; it may take some getting used to, however).
Camomile (Matricaria recutita):
You’re probably familiar with camomile; aside from black tea, it’s the best-selling tea in the world. As a tea and an herb for calming the nervous system, camomile is a definite go-to.
Camomile works best as a tea in my experience, and since it’s so easy to find, it’s also super accessible. Depending on how long you brew your tea, camomile can be used to help you digest a meal (it becomes super bitter if you steep it for longer than 5 minutes — bitters are great for digestion) or calm the nerves (2-3 minutes, tops).
Personally? I use it for both.
I like loose-leaf herbs for tea (well, for anything, really). That way I can control the quality, strength, and source of my brew. However, prepared tea will work, too (just be sure to get good quality).
If you’re loose-leafing it, use one teaspoon per cup of water and steep, covered, for three minutes. Doctor with stevia, honey, lemon, and/or unsweetened nondairy milk. Be sure to inhale that aromatherapeutic steam with the intention to calm the body and mind as you drink.
If you’re using your brew for digestion, steep for 5-10 minutes, don’t sweeten, and drink 20 minutes before OR 30 minutes after a meal.
A note: if you have extreme ragweed allergies, go slowly with camomile — it can, on rare occasions, elicit an allergic reaction.
Holy Basil (Tulsi or Ocimum sanctum):
I am a huge, huge, massive fan of holy basil (or Tulsi, as it’s often called). As an adaptogen, it helps the body respond (or not respond, really) to stress.
Adaptogens beat stress by helping to shield and protect the nerves. You know that expression, “You’re getting on my nerves?” Or, “My nerves are shot?” Well, we say that because that’s kind of how it is: when we’re stressed or tense for long periods of our lives, our nerves become sensitive, careworn, and sparky.
In other words, it doesn’t take much to frazzle us. But bring in some holy basil? It’s like the nerves get coated in a warm, mossy, über-protective coating that shields us from stress. The beauty of this particular herb is that it can soothe anxiety and stress-response without making you drowsy during the day, but will leave you calm enough to sleep deeply at night.
Tincture and tea, tincture and tea. You know my mantra by now.
For tea, steep covered for 10 minutes. I love, love the flavor of holy basil, especially when sweetened with a bit of stevia or honey along with nondairy (unsweetened) milk. Inhale the steam as you drink for bonus aromatherapy action.
For tincture, try 10 drops 3x/day. If that isn’t doing it for you after a week, then keep bumping up your dose. You can go as high as 60 drops at a time. Just keep charting your progress, keeping track of dosage times, amounts, and responses.
I generally think of holy basil as totally safe, but a few precautions, just for the record: Avoid if you’re pregnant, nursing, or are considering becoming pregnant (holy basil might have an antifertility effect — not permanent; it just exists while you take the herb). Avoid using with children and consult a doctor if you’re hypoglycemic. Finally, just so you know, holy basil can have mild blood-thinning properties.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera):
So remember everything I said about holy basil? Ashwagandha is in that same adaptogen category. It soothes the nerves, lowers that cortisol level, and it’s an antioxidant, meaning that it protects the body from the ravaging, aging, and immune-lowering effects of stress. Wicked, right?
Since Ashwagandha is a root, it’s a little more challenging to use as a tea. You have to make something called a decoction, and simmer the roots for 10 minutes.
Since I don’t want to add more stress to my life, I prefer a tincture, or consuming it as capsules.
For capsules: 600 to 1000 mg per day. For tincture, try 10 drops three times per day. Up that if you need to, but try this along with your other teas and aromatherapies for a few weeks before upping the dose.
A note: I find that ashwagandha is too stimulating right before bed, but some people say that it helps them sleep (especially if they blend some powdered ashwagandha with warm milk — and, yes, you can use dairy for the tryptophan boost here, if you’d like). You’ll just have to see what works for you. Also: preggers? Avoid the ashwagandha as it can be an abortifacient.
As you work with any herbs, remember to keep notes — either in the workbook pages, on video, on recording, through photos, drawings, art, collage — whatever works for you.
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