I feel like I owe so many posts to this space, that I’m behind. Lately, it’s been causing me anxiety due to the stress of not following through, so I’ve been neglecting this space. As the great Doctor once said: “NO MORE!” to clear my mind, I’ll work backwards. Today’s post will be the follow up to September’s monthly tea meet up of the Herbal Arts Collective on Natural Stress Relief.
Stress. It’s something that, in today’s society, we have to deal with every single day. Every demand on our time be it external or internal causes a bit of stress, but let’s start at the beginning: how should we define stress?
So: something important, accented, a pull or force, unbalanced forces, internal resistance to external forces, or a response to stimulus that interferes with equilibrium. Anything that impacts us, causes stress to our physical system.
There are different types of stress: Emotional stress (am I making the right decision? I am giving up x to do y, how will x feel?), Physical stress (poor posture or holding on to tension throughout the day) and Chemical stress (poor nutrition, pollution) paraphrased from here. As well as different terms to assess how long we’ve had the stress: acute, episodic and chronic.
Let’s work backwards: Chemical Stress. I bet you every one of us, depending on the definition at the time, could be diagnosed with chronic chemical stress. You can be the healthiest person, but there are still pollutants that we are exposed to everyday from the air we breathe, to particles in the air that land on our biggest membrane: our skin. All of this “stuff” then has to be filtered by our bodies, which also decide if it has to go on the attack or just let it pass. Pollution causes “a specific response by the body that disturbs the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism.” (from the stress definition above) There are however some chemicals we can control such as what foods we put into our bodies, if they were sprayed with pesticides, or even the choice in alcohol consumption. The above two links are for the Environmental Working Group’s clean 15, and the dirty dozen.
Physical stress: I bet you sat a little straighter when you read that it included poor posture before. It’s something we all have to work on as homo erectus is not standing so erectus these days. There’s a deadline coming up, and you are working feverishly to finish and you notice a headache-that is where you are holding your stress! It’s the way your body is working through it, giving you a heads up to slow down. In addition to traumas that your body still hasn’t healed from (whom wasn’t in a car accident in our younger days?!), some chronic nerve conditions could cause physical stress too: such as sensory processing disorders, fibromyalgia and arthritis. These “syndromes” (a group of symptoms) cause the body to be in a constant fight, seemingly against itself. Cortisol is constantly being produced and sent to “fight” these conditions, which then causes secondary effects such as depression, anxiety and insomnia…..the list goes on.
Emotional stress is the constant internal dialogue. Call it your conscious, Jiminy Cricket, or the evil dude on your shoulder, it’s there, and it’s detrimental to your health. We go through life constantly wondering about the past: “did I make the right decisions? Should I have done x to the that other job-would I have been happier?” I’ve been listening to a lot of inspirational people recently, and they honestly don’t seem to have this retrospective reflective dialogue. If something didn’t work, they make steps to fix it. There is no use worrying about what could have, would have, should have been because we can’t change it! All that worrying is doing is…..causing a physical reaction in the body whereby chemicals are………you get the point.
So, now that I’ve talked your ear off about what I feel stress is (feel free to comment below and add to the discussion!!!), let’s talk about how to avoid it.
- Say no.
- If you’re looking at that bottle, thinking about how you’ll loose yourself in another drop of that precious elixir of life-think about the chemical stress you’re putting your body through and say NO MORE!
- If you’re already working to deadlines, say no to adding something else to your plate. I understand what you have to turn down may be more fun than everything else you have going on! I understand this may be the “next best thing” for you-but if you can’t handle the stress of your current load, don’t add to it!
- If you’re looking at a photo of yourself from that event that people will always remember, and you can’t stand to see yourself in it due to your physical form, say no to it and do something to change it! Say NO! to processed foods and strive to pack your lunches and eat a bit cleaner (slowly, the melting icebergs didn’t cause mountains overnight!)
Now that you’re limiting the stress your body has to endure on a daily basis, I’ll touch on how to work through what you already have. There was a good article on WebMD that gave a TON of different examples such as: write about it, talk to someone (vent), do something that makes you happy, focus on the present, exercise, meditate, tai chi or yoga. All of these are natural ways to work through it, can be done by anyone anywhere, and are (mostly) free! If you find while typing that long paper that you have a crick in your neck-go outside for a quick walk! Please don’t pop a pill and trudge right along as the pain is your body’s way of saying “hey, listen to me!”. Please peruse the above article for more suggestions. One last suggestion that I’ll personally put in here is to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. If we don’t sleep enough, our bodies don’t have time to properly process the prior day, and will run “hot” the next….eventually you’ll run in a deficit and you’re opening up yourself to diseases because your body is too busy fighting off sleep!
After you have tried these natural options of stress relief, we come to the portion that you have most likely been waiting for: herbs! I have found that any of the following can be used in a number of ways to get the benefits of the plant into your body: bath with salt (I bathe in tea, doesn’t everyone?), steam inhalation, make a tea or infusion to take internally, or use a natural salve to get it onto our skins. These are listed in no particular order:
- Chamomile flowers-very sweet, soothing, wonderful for babies in a lotion, very relaxing and light enough for anyone to use.
- Green Tea: contains the amino acid L. Theanine which helps your heart to work through the stress (I don’t like the taste so I don’t use this as much personally)
- Hops-no, beer doesn’t count here as most helpful benefits have been boiled away and processed beyond what the actual plant will give you, but it is a wonderful mild tranquilizer to help you sleep.
- Valerian is used as a sedative, but smells like dirty socks. My experience with valerian is such that even just writing that word causes me to yawn. NOTE: this herb is counter indicated to some and will cause the reverse effect and keep you awake. Please take at a time when it’s safe to do so until you know how your body reacts. I tried it before school to be safe….and no amount of chai could wake me.
- Lemon Balm-general calming, focusing….HerbPharm makes this in a glyceride that I give to my son in drop doses. My adult friend says this “takes the edge off” for her.
Now that I’ve mentioned herbs, you should check with your Doctor to research any medicine counter-indications before trying anything. Purchase only from reputable dealers such as Mountain Rose Herbs or Frontier Co-Op; or go out to wild harvest with a knowledgeable guide and be certain of your identification prior to partaking anything internally. I am not a Doctor. I do not diagnose, and this information is used for educational purposes only from my personal experiences.
Lastly, there is also a lot of current research about the current state of our gut flora and its effect on our bodies in general. To me, this makes sense: if our body is too busy trying to break down the highly-processed foods we’re feeding it, it doesn’t have the resources to also fight infection and other diseases our bodies once could. I am currently reading a book on the GAPS diet called Gut and Psychology Syndrome and while a slog to read through due to using the proper terminology, I am finding it extremely interesting (purchasable through the link).
To summarize: stress has been painted as a “bad” word these days, yet everyone has it to some degree. There are MANY natural ways to deal with it and work through it even before you take something for the symptoms as our society is currently trained to do. I hope this article finds you in good health!