‘Tis the season to be jolly, though it can be a challenge to bear this in mind when trailing round the shops, delirious from the sensory overload and fluorescent lighting and sore from having your feet run over by stressed out mums with hi-tech, double-decker buggies balancing 10 shopping bags off each handle. Sometimes it’s hard to remember quite what you’re supposed to be doing, or even your own name. I have mostly managed to avoid this particular stressor by making all my presents or buying them on line but still this time of year is inevitably hectic. So it was a wise choice by Brigitte to give this month’s blog party the title of “No Time For Stress.’ Everyone’s submissions will be posted on her blog on the 20th so do make sure you take a few moments to make yourself a cup of relaxing herbal tea and peruse the pearls of wisdom that my fellow herby bloggers will undoubtedly share.
Stress can be defined as the body’s response to the demands life places on us. It can be both positive or negative as any heightened emotional state from euphoria to despair can cause stress to the body and mind. This time of year can include a lot of potential stressors, from the excitement of social gatherings and seeing relatives, to many people’s increased intake of alcohol and sugary or rich foods, to the pressure of buying presents and creating the perfect atmosphere or the increased stress placed on the immune system by cold weather and germs.
I wanted to share a few of the ways that I find plant medicine helpful in calming stress and anxiety, at any time of year, and bringing balance to the over-adrenalised jittery feeling that results when my to-do list begins to extend too far down the page.
Calming Tea Blends:
Danielle has written a list of some lovely relaxing herbs for teas in her post for the blog party which you can read here and, like her, making a nice cuppa is my default response to anything even remotely stressful. I thought I’d share some of my favourite tea blends with you here, some of which I have also made up as little extra presents for people.
Many herbs that help to relax us are considered cooling in nature. This doesn’t necessarily mean they make you feel cold but that they calm and cool body processes rather than exciting them. Still it can be useful to add some more warmth to our teas at this time of year so each of these blend contains at least one warming herb or spice to balance the cooler ones.
Lavender, Vanilla and Oatstraw – This my evening time tea of choice at the moment and my husband is also a big fan. It’s calming, comforting, restorative and helps to pacify the restless mind. I add a teaspoon each of oatstraw and lavender to the pot along with half a vanilla bean, finely chopped.
Tilia, Oatsraw, Rose and Cinnamon – A little more spicy, this tea is great at work or during a busy afternoon as the calming herbs are somewhat balanced by the warmth and revitalising action of the cinnamon.
Lemon Balm and Rosemary – A perfect balance of heart lifting herbs, I have written about this tea before… more than once me thinks!
Chamomile, Tilia and Oatsraw – A very gentle tea to aid a peaceful nights sleep. More powerful herbs can be useful if insomnia is a problem but generally these would need to be selected with the individual’s constitution in mind.
Footbaths and Massage:
I’ve been meaning to write about the magic that are footbaths since I first started this blog last winter but I thought they’d be worth a mention here for their wonderful ability to calm and ground the nervous system and promote better circulation and a good night’s sleep. Most of us are far too ‘in our heads’ at this time of year and there’s nothing like payng attention to your feet to bring you back down to earth. I particularly like a strong infusion of Tilia, lavender and chamomile in a footbath. Great for children and adults alike, you absorb the healing qualities of the herbs through the soles of the feet and also get to breathe in the wonderful, calming aromas of these volatile oil rich plants. Followed up with a foot massage of lavender or chamomile infused oil you are almost guaranteed to have forgotten your cares and enjoy a deep and restorative night’s sleep.
Tinctures are really best formulated on an individual basis as different herbs will have an affinity with different people. However I do like to make a very general Autumn/Winter Tonic with seasonal plants from my local area. This year it includes elderberry, hawthorn berry, rose hips and nettle seeds, all collected within a few meters of my garden gate. This medicine helps guard against winter stresses by nourishing my immune system, adrenals and cardiovascular system, all of which come under pressure at this time of year. The formula is also packed with antioxidants from the berries which help to protect every cell of the body. It also connects me to the land in which I live, bringing with it the subtle medicine of inter-dependence and belonging.
Flower remedies can be wonderful allies in helping us to regain our sense of centre. Again they are best chosen with an individual in mind but the following remedies from the Bach system are particularly useful in times of stress.
White Chestnut – When there is excessive mental chatter or preoccupation with certain worries that get in the way of relaxation.
Aspen – For vague, non-specific fears of unknown origin or anxiety with a sense of apprehension or foreboding.
Cherry Plum – For when you’ve reached the end of your tether and fear mental collapse or loss of control.
Elm – For normally capable people who are overwhelmed with responsibility.
Impatiens – For impatience and stress with irritability.
Mimulus – For fear of ‘known things’ such as flying, spiders (or Christmas!).
Olive – For complete exhaustion and when everything becomes an effort.
Red Chestnut – For excessive concern with the well being of others.
Rock Rose – For states of extreme fear and panic attacks.
If in doubt Rescue Remedy, a blend of 5 remedies which is now widely available, is helpful in a huge range of stress related problems.
Lovely in baths or massage oils, there is a wide range of relaxing essential oils which can help with stress such as lavender, chamomile, rose, sandalwood, frankincense, bergamot, neroli, patchouli, benzoin, geranium and mandarin. I particularly like making up a 2% blend of my favourite relaxing oils in a carrier such as sweet almond oil and adding to a 10ml rollette bottle that I carry in my bag and roll onto my temples, collar bone, neck and wrists whenever I start feeling stressed. I make a different one each time but a blend of lavender, chamomile and frankincense is a particular favourite.
Hydrolats and Floral Waters:
I love adding a good swig of lavender, neroli, rose or lemon balm hydrolat to my water and sipping throughout the day to calm and centre my nervous system. Neroli is my absolute favourite though nothing feels as decadent as rose. I have been known to have them in a shot glass when the going gets really tough.
Susun Weed style nourishing infusions are great at this time of year for adding extra vitamins and minerals to our diets and supporting our nervous systems. We use up many more nutrients in times of stress so it’s important that we replenish them regularly. I love oatstraw best for its affinity with the nerves. Look here for Susun’s instructions on how to make them.
Staying centred in yourself when the pressure is on can be a challenge. Sometimes the hardest thing can be actually taking the time out to have a relaxing foot bath, mix some calming teas or choose a flower remedy. But, as one of my teachers once said, ‘herbal medicine works, you just have to take it.’ Just as stress begets more stress, in ourselves and others, a moment’s relaxation creates the space for a deeper relaxation to occur.
Luckily for me I have a shining example in my three cats, who have made relaxation and comfort into an art form. Take a leaf out of their book and make sure you take time out this Christmas to chill!