6 Herbs & Lifestyle Tips to Reduce Stress during COVID
By Nicole Cieslak FNTP
Many of us have been stuck at home for months. Some of us lost our jobs. Some have lost loved ones. A lot have lost hope. And that is why it’s important that we take care of ourselves now more than ever to reduce our stress and anxiety, and preserve our mental health as best as we can. I will share with you six herbs and lifestyle tips to reduce stress during COVID and anytime.
These past few months have been a huge test of our patience, compassion and mental strength as the COVID pandemic continues to play out across the globe. While it’s critical and necessary to continue to practice safe protocols like mask wearing and social distancing, the isolation and change in communication patterns have taken a toll on our mental health and happiness. We are social beings. We crave human interaction and communication, and in fact, research has shown these things are vital to overall health, happiness and wellbeing.
Impact of stress on health
Stress affects nearly all aspects of our health, both physical and mental. When we experience either a real or perceived “threat” our body activates our stress response, or our “fight or flight” sympathetic response. Our central nervous system fires up our stress hormone, cortisol, to help get our adrenaline pumping. It speeds our heart rate, activates our sweat glands, releases glucose for immediate energy and prepares us for either the fight or the flight. This response system dates back to the days of our ancestors who relied on the fight or flight instincts for their survival.
In today’s modern world that isn’t the case for most of us. We are experiencing chronic and steady states of stress instead of an acute response that would normally dissipate 90 minutes after a dangerous event. And when stress is chronic it can be incredibly detrimental.
This is because when stress is always present, we cannot tap into our parasympathetic state, or our rest, digest and heal state. We develop blood sugar imbalances and insulin sensitivity, our adrenal glands go into overdrive and become fatigued, we experience insomnia, brain fog, mood swings, appetite changes, weight changes, aches and pains, nutrient depletion, and many other physical and neurological symptoms that impact our quality of life.
Not to mention, when we are stressed, our body stops non-essential functions like digestion, growth, immune system function, and arousal and reproduction because those aren’t things we need when we are fighting for our lives. As a result, we can experience low libido, a weakened immune system and a plethora of digestion issues like indigestion, gas, bloating, belching, constipation or diarrhea and stomach cramps that are pretty uncomfortable.
Herbal remedies for stress management
That’s why understanding how to better manage our stress response can go a long way for preserving our mental and physical health.
Both in my practice and in my own personal life, I tend to rely on a combination of nutritional supplements and herbal remedies plus diet and lifestyle tips to help keep the body and mind balanced.
Here are my three favorite herbs to help support a healthy stress response:
- Kalmerite — A beautiful blend of powerful herbs like passionflower, chamomile, lemon balm, catnip, california poppy and lavender that work synergistically to support normal healthy emotional balance and a healthy response to stress.
- Passionflower — An herb that is native to the Southeastern U.S. as well as Central and South America that promotes normal healthy nervous system function during times of temporary stress and promotes restful sleep. Passionflower supports certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is crucial for controlling nerve signaling, especially anxiety-inducing signals.
- Holy Basil — An adaptogenic herb that has been known to promote stress and anxiety reduction, anti-inflammation and relaxation. Also known as Tulsi, this aromatic herb counteracts the physical, biological and emotional effects of stress. It does this primarily by regulating cortisol in the body. It’s also available as a loose leaf herbal tea blend if that’s more desirable than the tinctures!
Lifestyle tips for stress management
Although those herbs have powerful calming and anti-anxiety properties, managing stress goes much deeper than what any supplement or herb can target. This is why we must also take it upon ourselves to open up our minds and bodies to practice certain stress and anxiety reducing techniques.
There are three incredibly powerful stress management tools that can be used to help retrain our brain and central nervous system to more readily adapt to stress.
Deep breathing & meditation — Studies show that meditation can significantly improve anxiety and depression in many people. Something as simple as 5 minutes a day can help get you out of your mind and to feel more grounded. There are many free guided meditation apps like Headspace or Calm, and many free videos available on YouTube to help get you started. If meditation isn’t for you, deep breathing can also work wonders for our stress and anxiety levels.
Deep breathing activates our parasympathetic or rest, digest and heal state by sending a message to our brain that we are calm and ready to relax. I really love the 4-7-8 breathing method, where you breath in for a 4 count through your nose, hold it for a 7 count and then exhale through the nose for an 8 count. Doing this 3-4 times throughout the day can help bring you back to your center if you find yourself becoming increasingly stressed or agitated.
Emotional Freedom Technique Tapping — Tapping is a type of psychological acupressure that is done by tapping certain meridian points on the face and body while saying a positive mantra alongside it. You focus on the issues you wish to work on healing, so in this instance, stress. This draws on ancient wisdom and practices from Chinese medicine rooted in the belief that there are certain areas in the body where energy flows. When that energy, or Qi, gets blocked, you experience negative emotional and physical effects. Tapping allows you to open those blockages, practice mindfulness and bring balance back to the body. You can watch a tapping tutorial here to give it a try for yourself.
- Epsom salt baths — Baths are the ultimate self care! Taking a 20-30 minute bath in the evening with epsom salts can do wonders for the body, mind and soul. Epsom salt is essentially magnesium sulfate, a mineral compound that soothes and repairs aching muscles and helps promote sleep and relaxation. Magnesium is known as nature’s muscle relaxer, but it also helps relax the mind by deleting any lost magnesium. This mineral is one of our electrolytes and it’s one of the first to go when we are chronically stressed. For an added bonus, try incorporating some calming essential oils like lavender, putting on some calming music or white noise and bringing a good book with you to unwind after a hectic day. If you really want to double up on your stress management techniques, do some deep breathing while in the bath!
I hope that with these holistic stress management strategies and herbal remedies, you’ll be more equipped to handle any stressful situation this pandemic throws your way.
Remember that prior to adding herbal supplements to your daily regimen, it’s always best to consult your doctor or practitioner to figure out the best way to incorporate these as part of your existing healing routine. Nothing in this article is intended as medical advice or diagnosis.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicole Cieslak is a functional nutritional therapy practitioner and certified personal trainer at Fit Foodist Nutrition specializing in gut health and hormone balance. Every day she strives to help people overcome chronic digestive and hormonal issues by getting to the root cause of their health imbalances. Through personalized diet, lifestyle and nutritional supplement recommendations, she empowers her clients to find freedom from suffering so they can reclaim their happiness and health. Learn more about her at thefitfoodist.com and follow her on Instagram at @fitfoodist_foundations for free health, fitness and beauty advice