I believe that a major foundation of living joyously is to support our bodies during times of stress. Learning how to soothe and regulate our nervous system is crucial because chronic, unmanaged stress is a major contributor to illness and disease.
When we’re stressed out, it activates a part of the nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS is responsible for:
This stress response is supposed to be acute, meaning that we should encounter a stressor, activate the stress response, and then the stress hormones should dissipate once the stressor is removed.
Unfortunately, many of us are now living in constant states of stress which means that our SNS is often activated.
Some common contributors to chronic stress and anxiety include:
When we’re chronically stressed out, important bodily functions such as digestion, growth, reproduction, and immune function are suppressed or put on hold. If this goes on for too long, we can develop health problems since stress can lead to tumour development and suppresses our natural killer (NK) cells, making us more susceptible to infections or sickness.
That's why it’s important to do everything possible to boost resiliency and support our bodies' innate wisdom when it comes to managing stress. Taking control of our health and stress management can prevent the progression or development of various illnesses including chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, hair loss, insomnia, heart disease and eczema.
I like to approach stress management from a dietary and lifestyle perspective. There are certain lifestyle practices that I incorporate into my day-to-day routine that have tangible, proven results when it comes to lowering cortisol and reducing stress.
If you've been around here before, then you know I'm a huge fan of deep breathing exercises, especially the 4-7-8 breathing method. Slowing down and breathing deeply is a great way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system to help your body rest and relax. A few other lifestyle practices I love that can help with stress management include:
I know it can be hard to make time in a busy life for all of these activities, but even adding one or two can make a big difference to your ability to adapt to and cope with stress. To help prevent chronic health conditions and burn out caused by stress we need to take the time to soothe and nourish our nervous system. Another great way to do this is with nutrition. That’s where our herbal helpers come in!
There are two amazing classes of herbs that I love, which support a calm and balanced nervous system: adaptogens and nervine tonics. These superhero herbs are all about soothing stress and anxiety and increasing resilience so that you can feel calmer, stronger, and less burnt out. Let’s take a closer look!
What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are natural substances that are non-toxic and non-habit forming over the long term. These herbs generally help the body adapt to, and cope with, stress while normalizing other bodily processes. They often affect the endocrine system, specifically the adrenal glands, though certain herbs can act on other organs as well.
While some adaptogens may not have acute effects on a state of stress or anxiety, these herbs can provide long-term support for the body and nourish our overworked adrenal glands. Incorporating adaptogens into your routine helps increase resiliency over the long term. For the best results, try taking your adaptogens as a gentle daily tonic and combine them with nervine herbs in a soothing cup of tea!
What Are Nervines?
Nervines, also called nervine tonics in herbal medicine, are a class of herbs that have nourishing and balancing actions on the nervous system. They often contain nutrients that can help restore an overworked or overanxious nervous system. Unlike adaptogens, which can often impact hormones, nervines work almost exclusively by supporting the health of the nervous system.
Many nervine tonics have a fast-acting effect on the body, which means that you can take them when you’re experiencing symptoms of stress or anxiety and get relief relatively quickly. My favourite way to incorporate nervine tonics into my routine is in a soothing cuppa tea!
What Are Some of My Favourite Herbal Helpers for Stress and Rest?
Now that you understand more about your nervous system and how different types of herbs work to support the balancing and nourishing of your body, let’s take a look at some of my all-time favourite herbs that are delicious, nourishing, and super easy to incorporate into your daily routine.
Try some flower power with this gentle nervine tonic that has been shown to boost GABA levels in the brain to promote relaxation. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter (that means it reduces activity in the brain) allowing the nervous system to access the relaxation response easier and may help to reduce anxiety. The sedative effects of passionflower are gentler than some other herbs, like valerian, so you can consume it any time of day. With that in mind, it makes a great addition to your bedtime routine!
While this herb is technically classified as a weed, don’t throw it away! Skullcap is a nervine like passionflower and it increases GABA production in the brain to help you relax and reduce anxiety. This herbal helper may also help soothe muscle tension (a common side effect of chronic stress!) and nourish the overall nervous system.
3. Lemon Balm
I love this bright, lemony-fresh herb. It's part of the mint family and is traditionally used to reduce anxiety and boost mood. Lemon balm may also improve cognitive function, soothe the symptoms of stress, and aid in sleep. It has powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial properties from a phytonutrient called rosmarinic acid.
One of the most powerful benefits of lemon balm is helping to alleviate stress and anxiety, which can have a tremendous impact on digestive health and function. Your brain is intimately linked to your digestive system, so when you’re feeling stressed out or nervous it can cause discomfort and even nausea. This herb is a great option if you find you get tummy aches or lose your appetite due to stress.
4. Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Holy Basil, which is also known as tulsi, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine as an adaptogenic tonic and current research is validating its thousands of years of use. Taking Tulsi can help manage symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, may help improve brain function in adults, and it is a potent antioxidant. This herb can also help balance blood sugar, which is another imbalance that can trigger the release of stress hormones!
I love drinking a cup of tulsi tea every day for its amazing flavour and stress-soothing benefits.
Chamomile is classified as a nervine since it supports the nervous system, which is an important part of helping the body cope with stress. This beautiful herb has a long history of use for its calming and sleep-inducing abilities.
It's also been found to reduce anxiety and be soothing for the digestive system. Chamomile contains an antioxidant called apigenin that can bind to certain receptors in the brain that may promote the zzz's and reduce insomnia. This flower power herb can also help relax the muscles in your body, which is great for those who tend to tense their muscles when they experience stress.
Another powerful flower that falls under the nervine umbrella, lavender is traditionally used for sleep disorders . In fact, these beautiful purple flowers were stuffed in pillows and put around bed frames to help induce deep and soothing sleep. This beautiful herb has the most relaxing effect on the body thanks to the volatile oils that provide its signature scent.
It can be used as a soothing tea for nausea, anti-anxiety, pain relief, managing migraine symptoms, and to lower stress. Lavender may also help with nervousness and restlessness. Plus it smells and tastes amazing! Aromatherapy benefits of herbs are another way they soothe the body.
If you’re looking for a simple, delicious way to incorporate some of these potent herbal helpers into your life, try curling up with a tender loving cuppa of my joyous TLC tea.
This soothing blend is loaded with nervous system support from lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, and passionflower to help calm your body and your brain.
And if you want a little more potent adaptogenic support, our fan-favourite Rise & Shine tea contains Holy Basil and other stress-supporting spices like turmeric, ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon. Each sip will help reduce stress, manage inflammation, ease digestion or balance blood sugar so you can start your day joyously!