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Gently Supporting Stress & Anxiety

Written by Meghan Rhodes MCPP MAPA

The world we’re living in at the moment is challenging for many of us. Everywhere we look, there’s pressure to do more, be more, achieve more. The words and images that fill our ears and screens are difficult and upsetting, making us wonder how people can possibly still be treating each other and the planet this way. It’s no wonder stress and anxiety are two of the most common conditions people suffer from. And although it’s certainly a good thing mental health is being more widely and openly discussed, it can often be treated in isolation - as if the mind, body, and spirit are separate things.

herbal tea with dried herbs and aged notebooks on a wooden table

Yet each of us is a complex constellation of organs, emotions, and consciousness all inextricably linked. This is why stress and anxiety manifest differently for different people. It’s also why, when stress and anxiety are so deeply ingrained in our lives over time, other discomforts arise that we may not immediately recognise as connected. For example:

  • ‘When stress flows, digestion doesn’t.’ - Cramping, wind, bloating, painful stomach spasms, even constipation and straining - when we’re using all our energy to hold it all together, nothing moves well in our bodies. Our digestion shuts down because we’re in a constant state of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. Our bodies think we are in extreme survival mode, and no animal in the wild sits down for a nice meal when it feels its life is in danger. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and chamomile (Matricaria recutita) can be two helpful herbs in this scenario. Lemon balm is brilliant for releasing spasms in the gut, particularly when related to stress, and helps lift the mood. Chamomile is the ultimate digestive. It’s both prebiotic and probiotic, relaxing and calming (telling the body it’s ok to digest), bitter (so it gets the digestive juices flowing), and so gentle, even infants can use it.

  • Headaches and migraines - When stress and anxiety block the healthy flow of energy in our bodies from going smoothly down and out, energy starts backing up and flowing upwards to our heads. For some people, this means frequent (or even constant) headaches and migraines. Their heads are quite literally full of messages the nervous system needs to send throughout the body, but can’t, because it’s so frazzled. This is where we need nervine herbs, which are like the best hair straightener ever for those frizzy, frayed nerves sounding warning bells of pain in your head or throughout your body. Vervain (Verbena officinalis) is a nervine par excellence that soothes and calms the nervous system, enabling messages to flow where they need to go, and can be specifically used for helping the body to get grounded and come down from all that painful head energy. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is the classic ‘migraine herb’, which can be taken when you feel a migraine coming on to help mitigate it.

  • Poor sleep - This can take the form of difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up feeling rested and refreshed. Sleeping is actually a very active state that requires quite a bit of energy, as it’s the time when our body’s worker bees busy themselves with cellular repair. If our nervous systems are run ragged operating in a constant state of alert, there won’t be much energy left for sleep and repair. And if we can’t get a good night’s sleep, we’re even more wired and tired the next day, amplifying a state of hypervigilance. Any parent of a newborn knows this feeling - it’s exhausting, self-perpetuating, and gives you that very unpleasant Jekyll/Hyde experience. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an Ayurvedic herb whose name means ‘strength of a horse’. Although some people find it too heating, many find it helps them stay asleep (especially if they tend to wake between 2-4am and have trouble getting back to sleep). It’s also an adaptogen, which is a type of herb that helps you be more resilient to all types of stress - physical, emotional, mental. Again, chamomile is brilliant in the evenings to calm, soothe, and gently help you drift off to sleep. It cools any excess heat, agitation, inflammation, and panic that may have built up during the day so you can set it aside for an evening of recovery.

A lot of times people are looking for support with stress and anxiety, but as we help bring the mind and body back into balance, we often find there are deeper concerns affecting their health they’d like support with. Sometimes stress and anxiety is the messenger and an outside perspective can be helpful to decipher its meaning. If you’re looking for some first steps you can take on your own to help navigate your stress and anxiety, chamomile is a brilliant herbal ally. You can find it in multiple remedies in The Members’ Apothecary, such as No Need to Panic Tea and Inner Calm Tincture Blend. Membership provides a wealth of benefits, including access to nearly 40 herbal medicine blends (teas, tinctures, balms and herb-infused oils), exclusive articles to learn more about how to understand and support your health naturally with herbs and offers.

As a final thought, I’d like to propose that perhaps it is time to reconsider stress and anxiety - to reframe them as messages our body is trying to communicate to us, letting us know our environment, our situation, our surroundings, our relationships are not healthy and are no longer serving us. Perhaps when stress and anxiety arise, it’s like when we’ve been running ourselves ragged and we get a full-blown cold that plonks us firmly in bed and forces us to rest. We are being told we need to take a break, take a breath, and take time to remember what we need in life to make us feel balanced, whole, and happy, and to make changes.

Perhaps stress and anxiety are not illnesses that arise in isolation, but rather the reactions of a healthy person to a very unhealthy world, showing us our mental immune systems are still functioning and there to serve us.


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