The pressure heats up. Your calendar is overloaded, tension is stirring in the family, and the boss is emailing morning, noon and night. You grab some fast food to eat in the car, pick up a few necessities at the store, grind your way through the to-do list after to-do list items until way too late in the evening and when you finally drop into bed your mind just spins and spins. Sound familiar? The typical American’s day is filled with stressors that trigger our fight or flight response over and over again, making life feel rushed and harried. No wonder we feel so out of sorts!
For many years we’ve heard about the bad things persistent stress can do to the body. An excess of the stress hormone cortisol can put your overworked heart at risk for disease. Breathing problems such as asthma are triggered and worsened in stressful situations. Headaches are a common ailment of the stressed. Obesity has a strong connection to the stressed-out go-getter life. And gastrointestinal issues are compounded when the digestive system is overworked or shuts down during stressful hours. Cumulative stress most certainly creates and exacerbates anxiety disorders and depressive symptoms. It’s far too easy for a bad mood to slip from stressed out to hopeless.
But since we know the risks, why are so many of us still not managing our stress better? The answer is most likely because we tend to look for outside fixes. Many of us turn to food and alcohol to numb us from the busy bee world we live in. We distract our eyes and ears with hours upon hours of TV to “wind down.” We pile on the pounds by turning to overly sweet and salty treats for solace. These coping mechanisms are effective in dulling our senses, but are not healthy. Do we feel refreshed and ready to take on more of what life is throwing at us after a Netflix binge and take out? Not likely.
It’s far healthier to turn inward and take a look at how we are approaching our lives. Is there room for a little meditation or movement in your day? Turn off the screens for just a few minutes and pay attention to your breathing. The connection between your mind and your breath is an excellent barometer for how you’re really feeling. Take a moment to check in and find a little perspective. Maybe something on that to-do list can wait. Do you really need to bake brownies from scratch for the kids’ game tomorrow? Or would fresh fruit be both healthier and easier on you?
You are likely to find a beautiful bounty of resilience in yourself when you strengthen your whole foundation and your approach to life with exercise, wholesome food, and meditation. Find the time to recognize what you need. You may find you simply need a little solitude or time in nature, or a warm aromatherapy bath each night to awaken the senses.
Another way to tap into the soothing power of water is using herbal teas to calm the nerves and improve sleep.. A 2012 study of chamomile showed to be highly effective at alleviating daily anxieties and even mild depression, promoting a calm outlook and relaxed mood.
Other powerful herbs found in stress preparations and on their own in tea and/or supplement form are lemon balm, valerian, California poppy, hops, milky oats, St. Johns Wort, skullcap, and ashwagandha. For everyday accumulation of stress these easy to access herbs can work wonders in addition to a healthier lifestyle. Why not replace your nightcap with a hot cup of herbal tea? The comforting ritual and these gentle but powerful herbs can go a long way toward easing you into better sleep so you can wake with more energy and go about tackling the demands of the day with a smile.
To reduce stress in the long-term, learn to become an expert at self-care. And make sure you take care of yourself before you take care of others! As a sage once said, “Do not set yourself on fire just to keep someone else warm.” Wise words!