If you feel anxious and stressed, take a deep breath. Really! A sense of overwhelm, feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as nervous exhaustion are extremely common. Most of us experience them in one form or another sometimes in our lives. For some of us, however, they can become a state that we find hard to shake, if at all. It’s serious! Yet, it’s not hopeless.
If you or someone you know is struggling with this, please do take it seriously and get appropriate help without delay, especially if you or this family member, friend or acquaintance is thinking about harming themselves. Call a hotline!
On the other hand, if you’re occasionally feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, and it’s not making life impossible, then take heart because Mother Nature offers a cornucopia of options to help you reconnect with your happy place.
After acknowledging how you feel and how this is manifesting in your body, give yourself permission to make a change. You may not have full control over what’s going on around you but you do have a certain degree of control over how you respond. One of my favorites is to take time out when I feel overwhelmed or out of sorts. By stepping back for a moment, it gets easier to see the larger picture and put things a bit in perspective, then pick one or two things you can do to change the situation. If nothing else, start by focusing your mind on breathing slowly and deeply. This may take some practice but it’s incredibly powerful—and it’s free!
Feeling empowered to change things for the better is a great tool to ground yourself. You could call it “Mind Over Matter.” Coaching and psychotherapy can help you find your way.
What’s happening in your body
But let’s also take a look at the physical manifestations of stress, anxiety and depression. Clearly, this is not just “all in your head.” Your body and mind are closely connected, they’re really facets of the same human being. Your thoughts affect your nervous and endocrine (hormone) systems, and vice versa. If you find yourself in a prolonged state of vigilance, your stress hormones can become overtaxed and your body’s response to these hormones may go off the rails. A chronically activated nervous system will create tension and use up essential nutrients in your body. It will also interfere with your sleep and digestion, even impacting your friendly bacteria in the gut and elsewhere. Ongoing stress can contribute to chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, autoimmune disease and possibly even cancer.
Even so it may sound old school, I do find that spending time out in nature is one of the most potent remedies to balance my emotions. I literally feel like the stress is just falling away when I walk in a forest or along the ocean. I also try to do all I can to get enough quality sleep, even if that can be challenging when my emotions are all revved up.
Using natural therapies
Pretty much every single patient who comes to me for acupuncture treatments experiences more calmness and mental clarity when they get off the table. Bodywork can create a sense of deep relaxation and wellbeing. I do realize that we don’t all have access to these therapies on a regular basis but, if you can, try to make it part of your weekly routines.
The realm of botanical medicine, including aromatherapy and homeopathy, offers numerous treatments to relieve anxiety and depression, strengthen your nervous system, balance your stress hormones, and provide essential nutrients. Some of these medicines are safe enough for you to try on your own, others may better be used under the guidance of an experienced clinical herbalist or homeopathic practitioner to help you choose the right strategy, medicinal substances and dosages.
In naturopathic herbal medicine, we classify botanicals that home in on the nervous system according to their actions: tonics, sedatives, and stimulants. Tonics help nourish the nervous system and build resilience, sedatives are calming and relaxing, and stimulants do just that, they stimulate your nervous system’s function and can help you focus. Most of the commonly used botanicals can be used long-term or as needed. They’re generally quite mild and not habit-forming. In fact, they’re health-promoting because a healthier nervous system, in turn, promotes overall mental and physical health.
Botanicals to support your nervous system
Rosemary Gladstar, a beloved and highly respected traditional herbalist, provides the following examples for nerve tonics: ashwagandha, chamomile, lemon balm, linden flower, eleuthero, skullcap, and valerian. As sedatives the recommends California poppy, catnip, chamomile, hops, kava, lavender, lemon balm, passionflower, skullcap, St. John’s wort, and valerian. Lastly, some of her favorite stimulants include eleuthero, ginkgo, ginseng, gotu kola, holy basil, rhodiola, and rosemary. You notice that some of these plants appear in more than one category. That’s because most herbs aren’t one-trick ponies. They often offer a range of health benefits.
You may already be familiar with some of these nervines and have taken them as a tea, in capsules or even added them to a smoothy. If others are unfamiliar to you but pique your curiosity, I recommend that you pick up Rosemary’s little guide “Herbs For Stress & Anxiety” to learn more about them before you begin to experiment. You can also try the essential oils of some of these plants. Lavender is a favorite of mine and can be used as a single or in blends with other oils such as chamomile, passionflower, or rosemary. Add a couple of drops to a hot tub or diffuser, or mix with a carrier oil to use for massage. Undiluted to the skin or ingested internally, essential oils can be harsh and should be used only under professional guidance.
Lastly, if you’re curious about homeopathy and would like to try it on your own to calm your mind and emotions on occasion, the combination in Sedalia, a product made by Boiron, will give you a safe start. Homeopathic medicines are classically selected for the individual by a trained practitioner who has taken a meticulous health history and narrowed down the choices to just one or two medicines and appropriate dilutions.
I hope you are inspired to further explore some of the things I mentioned, try out how they work for you, and find ways to support your nervous system for better stress resilience and to ameliorate your mood.
© 2021 Christiane Siebert