Allies in a Stress-Filled World

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog

The stress of the 21st century lifestyle can get to us all. Here are a few allies to help you relax and unwind.

— Tieraona Low Dog, M.D.

Life sometimes seems to throw a lot at us. From an unexpected illness to political uncertainty, tension and anxiety can accumulate quickly. And whether temporary or ongoing, too many stressors can eventually send us into a tailspin. When we feel overwhelmed, our minds race and soon we begin to feel the physical manifestations of stress like back pain, headaches, heartburn, digestive upset, poor sleep, and changes in appetite. Maybe our composure begins to crumble or we turn to numb-out habits or prescription medications to feel better, furthering our stress by beating ourselves up after the fact. But it’s important to remember that stress can be managed. It is not the stress itself that can be so dangerous to our health, it is our reaction to it. there’s no need to let everyday stress take us down that path. A little self-care can go a long way.


Take a Walk Amongst the Green

When we are stressed out and busy, our commitment to exercise often falls to the wayside, however, physical activity is a great way to channel those stress hormones. Track your movement, set goals, and stick with it. If possible and weather permits, exercise outside. Studies show even greater benefit when walking or biking in nature. And speaking of nature, keep green plants in your office, put nature images on your computer’s screen saver, hang landscape photos/pictures on the wall, use a full spectrum bulb for your desk light, and if possible, position your desk near a window. Research supports common sense: that surrounding yourself with images and light that represent what is present in nature will have a calming effect on your nervous system toward relaxation.


Watch the carbs!

When we are stressed, it is natural to crave sugary foods that provide quick energy. This is your fight or flight response at work. You must resist the urge to binge on cookies, donuts, candy, and sugary (and/or caffeinated) drinks. Plan ahead. Keep some trail mix or healthy food bars in your purse or backpack. Pack an apple, crackers, cheese, banana or small bag of grapes for an afternoon snack. And instead of loading up on coffee, soda or even black tea, try some of these herbal allies.


Sip Some Sweet Lemon Balm Tea

At the first sign of feeling overwhelmed I reach for lemon balm tea to help me relax. Its pleasing aroma and sweet taste are inviting, and its effects are instantly soothing, yet don’t knock me out. Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, is a member of the mint family that can reduce anxiety, relieve insomnia, and calm the stomach. This gentle herb is well supported by scientific studies and centuries of use.


Release Tension with Chamomile

The pretty little flowers of the chamomile plant also make a wonderfully relaxing tea. After a rough day or when preparing for sleep, there’s nothing better than wrapping your hands around a warm cup and taking in the floral aroma of chamomile. The University of Pennsylvania conducted several studies that found chamomile is highly effective for relieving anxiety and even had some beneficial effects on depression. Traditional Medicinals Organic Chamomile and Cup of Calm are two of my favorite ways to take chamomile. I helped formulate the Mega Food Kid’s Daily B-Centered product that contains food based B-vitamins along with lemon balm, chamomile, bacopa and L-theanine. Bacopa is an herb that has been found to help concentration and L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, is widely used as a calmative. This is a great product for both kids and adults to help manage daily stress and maintain healthy focus. Chamomile is relatively easy to grow, so if you tend your own garden, give it a try. Even if you don’t make tea, you’ll have a bunch of tiny daisy-like flowers adding a pretty touch to your garden bed.


Try Skullcap Glycerite for Nerves

When nervous before a big event and dealing with anticipatory anxiety, I turn to the powerful medicinal called skullcap. Noted for its ability to treat several nervous system conditions including from anxiety to epilepsy, this herbal remedy is wonderful for soothing a troubled mind and frayed nerves. I love to keep skullcap on hand as a glycerite – a non-alcoholic tincture that’s safe for children and recommended for those with alcohol sensitivities. While glycerites of skullcap are available in natural pharmacies, it’s easy to make your own at home. Simply fill a pint mason jar mason jar half full of dried skullcap (or chamomile or lemon balm) and then add 12 ounces of vegetable glycerine and 4 ounces distilled water. Shake the jar every day or so and after 2-4 weeks, strain out the herb. Take a couple of dropperfuls 1-3 times per day as needed. Glycerites last for about 2 years, and are quite economical, alcohol free, and taste good. Note: Purchase your bulk herbs from a reliable source. I recommend Mountain Rose Herbs..


Keep Calm and Drink Kava Kava

A drink hailing from the western Pacific, where it’s been consumed as a social beverage and medicine for centuries, kava is now becoming more popular in the US. The kavalactones in the root act as natural muscle relaxants, so this herb is especially useful for the physical tension we hold in our shoulders and backs. Two of my favorite kava products are Kava Stress Relief Tea by Yogi Teas – which has a nicely balanced flavor profile; and Taki Mai, a prepared drink that comes in several tropical flavors. Kava should not be used during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Taki Mai is great for travel or when you don’t have the luxury of making a cup of hot tea.


Lovely Lavender for Aromatherapy

Let’s not forget the power of essential oils for a relaxation help, too. My go-to is lavender. Just a slow inhalation from an open bottle of lavender oil is often all the aromatherapy I need to begin to relax, but there are many other ways to enjoy the benefits of essential oils. Essential oil diffusers are handy to add a calming scent to a whole room. Wearable diffusers like necklaces can be a handy way to bring a relaxing fragrance with you wherever you go. You can make a lavender mist by putting 12 drops of lavender essential oil in one ounce of water in a bottle with a sprayer. Mist it over your pillows and bed before crawling in for a good night’s sleep or at work for a little office chill. Note: Lavender oil is also available to be taken orally. The product Silexan has been shown in numerous clinical trials to be a safe and effective remedy for anxiety. Nature’s Way Calm Aid contains the lavender oil used in the clinical trials.


Be Prepared, Girl Scout Style

From teas to tinctures to oils, herbal allies for relaxation come in many forms. It’s best to be prepared ahead of time though, because when stress starts building the last thing you need is to add another errand to the to do list. Stock your tea cupboard and your medicine cabinet well so you can ward off tension, begin to relax, and get plenty of sleep.


At Day’s End

Every night I read a passage from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakenings. It helps quiet and center me. Then I take my journal and write a few sentences about my day, focusing on those things that were good: a loved one who sent a text or called, when the lady at the grocery store smiled at me, or my beautiful Shepherds coming to greet me with tails wagging and love on their faces. And I give thanks for this precious gift that is my life.