A nice massage. A long walk. A warm bath. A cup of hot milk. More often than not, natural stress relievers can be far more effective – and enjoyable – than their medicinal counterparts.
But in today’s fast-paced society, we often look for a “quick fix”. We have a headache, so we take an aspirin. We can’t sleep, so we take a sleeping tablet. We’re feeling stressed, anxious and depressed…well, look here, there’s a pill for that, too!
But have you ever considered the side effects of these fast cures? They can be a lot more damaging than whatever ailment you’re taking them for!
How I found the natural route
Around a year ago, I had this problem with my sinuses that I couldn’t shake. I was getting really bad headaches and there was so much pressure building up, at times it hurt to even open my eyes.
Then a friend recommended rubbing a drop of peppermint oil on my temples when I felt a twinge. And, lo and behold, the headache was gone! I started adding a drop of it into some hot water and lemon in the mornings too, which proved to be great for those blocked sinuses. Suddenly, my mornings looked a lot brighter!
It all took off from there and I became a total convert to the natural route. Now I think there’s a lot to be said for non-Western medicine; whether it’s in the form of essential oils or ‘alternative’ treatments like acupuncture and reflexology.
In fact, as I’ve since learned, there are even herbs out there that can help the conditions that so many of us suffer from anxiety, stress or an inability to sleep (if it’s the latter, you can also check out some tips from the folks at The Sleep Advisor).
And since the world would be a better place if everyone was less stressed all the time, I thought I’d share them with you!
Here we go…
My favorite herbs for dealing with stress and anxiety
So you probably know that this aromatic herb is linked to relaxation; you’ll have smelled the incense and the candles before! But did you know that it also has proven effects of reducing irritability and anxiety? The clever purple plant induces a sense of calmness and therefore, helps your frazzled mind get to sleep faster. Oh, and it smells awesome, too. Bonus.
How to use it: Sprinkle a couple of drops of the essential oil onto your pillow, add it to your night cream, diffuse it beside your bed or look for it in the form of herbal tea. You’ll also be able to find those candles and incense I mentioned earlier pretty easily!
Whatever form you use it in, lavender is one of the best herbs out there for helping you to relax. So make sure to make it your new best friend.
This famous anti-anxiety herb also has a sedative effect. This means it’s great if you suffer from insomnia or sleep deprivation as it causes drowsiness, but not so great if you take it just before giving that big presentation at work. Drool does not an impressive pitch maketh.
How to use it: Try kava-kava in a tea around 3 or 4 times per week. Note: Avoid this if you have liver problems, as recent studies have suggested that over-consumption of kava-kava may cause damage to the liver. I’d really only use it if the others on this list aren’t working for you and you need something a bit stronger.
This golden wonder of spices comes with a heap of health benefits and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Also known by its more science-y name of Curcuma longa, it’s hailed for its anti-inflammatory properties plus its high levels of antioxidants, which can improve blood flow. With better circulation comes improved heart and brain health, and a less stressed you. Good news all around.
How to use it: It’s recommended that you take half a teaspoon a day of organic turmeric – mix it in your favorite smoothie, sprinkle it into your salad dressing, add a spice kick to warm up a winter soup even more…whatever way you want to enjoy it! My favorite use of turmeric is in a ‘golden latte’. Instead of a caffeine or sugar-loaded drink in the evenings, I add 1 tsp of turmeric with 1 tsp each of cinnamon and ginger to a cup of warm almond milk. It’s a delicious, healthy and comforting prelude to bedtime!
Passionflower is another mild sedative that can help to promote sleep; however, it is less drowsiness-inducing than kava-kava, so it could be a better alternative if you need to get things done! Still, this tasty herb packs quite a punch – in fact, a study undertaken by The University of Maryland Medical Center showed that passionflower can work as well as some of the benzodiazepine medications out there (usually prescribed for treating anxiety).
How to use it: If you’ve been experiencing feelings of anxiety, irritability, agitation, and depression, try one cup of passionflower tea 2–3 times daily. Alternatively, take 20–40 drops of the liquid extract every day, mixing it with a little water or juice if you prefer.
If you’re familiar with the British classic sitcom Fawlty Towers and its highly stressed protagonist, Basil Fawlty, you may be surprised to learn that basil is, in fact, an awesome herb for reducing stress levels. With its natural immune-boosting functions and its high nutritional content, it can improve overall cognitive function faster than you can say “hey pesto”. (Sorry!)
How to use it: Add fresh basil to hot water for a refreshing tea (combine it with mint and lime for added zing). Or go all Italian and incorporate it into any tomato sauces you might whip up, from spaghetti sauce to chili con carne. Yum. And don’t worry if you can’t always find the fresh version; organic dried basil has heaps of benefits, too!
Finally, remember to eat right.
As well as the above herbs, there’s another way you can incorporate some stress-busting magic into your diet – by watching what you eat! Cut back on the sugar and caffeine, for one. And try to eat some magnesium-rich foods, like bananas or almonds, in the evening. The magnesium acts as a muscle relaxant, ridding you of tension and setting you up for a better sleep.
So next time you’re tempted to scrounge a doctor’s scrawl for whatever ails you, why not look to Mother Nature instead? There’s bound to be a herb out there that can work its magic charms; one that will cost less, taste better and leave you feeling like a healthier, happier you – without any nasty side effects.
Hi, I’m Sarah – West Coast vegan gal whose dog is (sadly!) her best friend. I also love yoga, surfing and whipping up weird and wonderful concoctions in my other best friend (my blender!)