Herbal Academy just created yet another wonderful online course that I completed this month, earning me yet another little badge for my student dashboard. I’m so proud of me! This course was entitled Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management and had tons of useful information on the topic.
Stress is something we all experience at one time or another, for short periods of time (work deadlines) or longer periods of time (being a caretaker for a chronically ill loved one). This course emphasized the importance of holistic care in treating the whole body and mind and, in this case, using herbs in order to become well after being subjected to periods of stress. Can you see why I loved this class?
The course was divided into 3 units. Unit 1 presented information about how stress affects the body both physically and emotionally. Financial problems, time constraints, social interactions, cultural stressors (poverty, oppression, marginalization), natural disasters, traumatic events, excessive screen time, air, noise or light pollution, and infections are all stressors and activate that “flight or fight” survival mode. Being in a stressful “flight or fight” mode changes the rhythm of your heartbeat, inhibits proper digestion, alters breathing patterns, and raises blood sugar, none of which are conducive to a healthy body long term.
Unit 2 was full of suggestions on changing your diet in order to reduce the effects of stress on the body. (See Food as Medicine) I was surprised to see how strong the gut-brain connection really is. Adding prebiotic (whole grains such as wheat and rye, legumes, alliums like onions, garlic and leeks, bananas, asparagus, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, dandelion, burdock roots) and probiotic (yogurt and milk kefir, fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi, cultured pickles, miso and other fermented soy products like tempeh, and fermented drinks like kombucha and water kefir) foods to your diet will certainly help you reach a more balanced state of wellness. (See also Gut Health Super Bundle, Garlic Tea, and Herbal Fermentation) Making food from scratch, including bitters in your diet, ensuring proper hydration, taking the time to enjoy your meal without distractions, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar and artificial sweeteners are also great suggestions for improving gut health. The course included several printouts highlighting trace nutrients the body needs to reduce or eliminate the physical and emotional effects of stress.
In addition to dietary recommendations, lifestyle alterations can really make a difference to your health. Adding practices, like mindful breathing, yoga, and Tai Chi have been shown to reduce stress. Here, try one now.
Other things you can do to improve your health generally involve spending more time in nature and bettering your social support system. I don’t mean more friends on Facebook, but improving the quality of your relationships. I’ll talk more about these in an upcoming post on the Happiness Course I finished recently.
Unit 2 also had a good introduction to aromatherapy and essential oils as they relate to stress and self-care including a list of herbs shown to be most effective for a variety of stress-induced ailments. Lavender tops the list in several categories. The course provided recipes for several aromatherapy herbal blends to try out.
After addressing safety issues and possible drug interactions, Unit 3 outlined three types of herbs most beneficial for stress-reduction application: nervines, adaptogens, and sedatives. Nervines are herbs that influence the nervous system in some way. Chamomile and lemon balm are nervines. Adaptogens, also known as Qi tonics or Rasayana, are herbs that assist natural adaptive responses to stress. Licorice is an adaptogen. Sedatives are herbs that can sedate the central and peripheral nervous systems. Hops and valerian are sedatives. There was also a section on how to make infusions, decoctions, tinctures, and tea blends using the 17 herbs highlighted.
The more I delve into herbal lore, the more I realize how much I have yet to learn. Once upon a time, herbal remedies, medicines, and tonics were carefully preserved generation after generation. These days, it’s so easy to rely on pharmaceuticals when illness strikes and the continuity of natural healing has been lost. What I really appreciated most about this course was that using herbs for wellness wasn’t presented as a miracle cure-all, rather incorporating herbs is only one aspect of healthy living. The lifestyle that many live is not conducive to optimal wellness. Perhaps it’s time to take a moment and find balance.