How to stay sane in the silly season:
Stress relief for the busiest time of year
So last night something made a crash sound somewhere in my house and woke me up right at that point when I’d just tumbled off the raft in my dream, in to the river of snakes, and some thing down in the depths had grabbed my foot and was pulling me down. Simultaneously a memo came from my subconscious. “You are tired and strung out. Here is what you need to take: Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Withania and a dash of Kava.”
So it turns out that this “end of the year thing” is an actual thing! We have created such a monotony with our culture of work and school in one straight line that we all collectively collapse and need a break!… and so we invented Christmas holidays, or whatever the excuse. Whatever it is- I’m down with it! I haven’t had a break since this time last year, and I don’t know about you- but I’m needing one. So… until you can be on your couch watching movies, or in a hammock with a drink in your hand- OR if you are one of the poor dears working in the many shops, restaurants or community service industries that get PUMPED about now: here are my top tips for those who can’t muster another drop of blood from the stone.
B vitamins- I’m not talking effervescent tablets that turn your pee yellow here- I’m talking good quality, therapeutic doses of the little cogs that make the wheels turn. Many good quality B vitamins on the market are now containing the “activated” forms of many of the B’s, including B6 and B9. The good thing about activated Bs is that your body can slot them right in to do their job without converting them. B vitamins become depleted when we are stressed or have been burning the candle at both ends and can contribute to anxiety and fatigue. Definitely a good place to start.
Magnesium- Often referred to as the great relaxer, magnesium is a mineral which is easily depleted if we consume caffeine, alcohol or a diet high in processed foods. It’s necessary for the production of serotonin and in other nervous system processes, as well as being important for the relaxation of muscles. This makes magnesium ideal for those of us who suffer back/neck pain or tension headaches associated with stress. It is also appropriate for those of us who have been under stress long term, as this can deplete our reserves of magnesium and make it harder for us to cope.
Herbal medicines-There are so many fantastic herbs to treat nervous system symptoms and stresses, I’ll only touch briefly on some of my most prescribed and favourite. You can take some of these in tea form, however I recommend visiting your local herbal dispensary and having a brew made up for you. To give you an idea of what you might be after, let’s briefly separate them out in to groups:
Adaptogens- This is what we call herbs which are supportive to the adrenals, which help to support the stress response, and help achieve our resting state when the body gets stuck in fight or flight mode. They will often give you a boost of energy and over time will help improve your sleep. These include: Rhodiola, Siberian ginseng, Korean ginseng, Withania, Codonopsis, Rehmannia, Schisandra. Some of these can be a bit too stimulating if you are feeling nervous or strung out, so make sure you check with your naturopath about which is the best for you.
Anti-anxiety/or gentle calmative- These are the herbs which will take the edge off, without making you want to go to sleep. I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed and I’ve got a lot on, the last thing I want to feel is tired. These can be used before bed to calm you down, but if taken during the day (in moderate doses) won’t make you feel like you need a nap: Kava, Chamomile, Verbena, Lemon balm, Passionflower, Motherwort, Oat straw, St. John’s Wort
The oil, the tea, the tincture- the very sight of Lavender restores calm. I adore this plant.
Sedative herbs- These WILL make you feel tired if you need to chill the *f out in a hurry and also if your adrenalin/cortisol pumpin’ is keeping you up at night. They can be used acutely to turn down the volume. They include the herbs mentioned above in larger doses and/or : Valerian, Zizyphus, Skullcap, California poppy, Lavender, Kava (deserves a second mention) and Mexican Valerian.
*always make sure you tell your herbalist if you are on any prescribed medication- especially anti-depressants as this may mean you need to avoid some herbs.
California Poppies grow native where I’m from on the west coast of North America. Certain times a year they transform the bushy hills into oceans of orange.
Lactium– A product based from milk protein- it increases the activity of a relaxing neuotransmitter in the brain called GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid). Many studies have shown that Lactium can help reduce the emotional experience of anxiety and panic, as well as the physical symptoms of stress like increased blood pressure and insomnia. Therapeutic doses of lactium are available in tablets or drinking powders and a typical dose is between 150-300mg. You can use it any time of the day when you need to take the edge off or as a relaxing night cap. Lactium also has the benefit of being safe with most medicines and in pregnancy/breastfeeding.
L-Theanine- This is an amino acid found exclusively in leaves of Camellia sinensis or tea. This includes green tea, black tea, bancha, and matcha teas amongst others. It suppresses the effects of the stress hormones, glucocorticoids, and enhances the more uplifting hormones serotonin, dopamine. It can also makes us sharper- helping to improve attention span, memory and concentration. But while L-theanine improves energy and gives us a lift, it also promotes quality and restful sleep. It can be taken in supplement form for a therapeutic benefit when stress levels are running high. However, most of us can use a cup of tea on a regular basis to recharge.
Exercise-More and more studies are emerging proving that people who exercise are happier and able to cope better with stress than their sedentary counterparts. In fact some studies show that exercise can be as effective as medication for some people in treating anxiety and depression. Even a brisk 10 minute walk can be of benefit and the more regular you can make your activity the more these effects will build up over time. I’m in no way a naturally sporty person- but I’ve found that a 45 minute session 3 times a week keeps me on top of things and I can really feel it when I fall out of the routine. When we are busy and stressed, it’s easy to feel like we don’t have time- but exercise should be a priority now, as the increase in energy and focus it provides actually becomes a time saver in the end.
Food and Water- Classic “busy” behaviour can be skipping meals and drinking excessive diuretics (caffeine and alcohol). Being low blood sugar and/or dehydrated can aggravate anxiety and so being mindful of these things is important to keep things on an even keel. Reduce simple sugars and carbs which tend to fluctuate our blood sugar, and instead opt for protein rich meals and snacks (think animal proteins, nuts, eggs, and good quality protein supplements). Carry a water bottle so you can keep track of how much you are drinking and make sure you are getting 1.5-2 L of fresh, plain water per day- especially if it’s hot, you’ve been exercising or taking diuretics.
We all deserve a rest after a busy year of family, work, and life commitments, but if you’re still caught in a maze and it’s all head-down-bum-up, maybe use this information to think about how you might better support yourself to be your best and enjoy your busy-ness. To find the satisfaction in being on top of your game, and if not a well oiled machine, one that is at least not squeaking and rattling in to the new year. Put a little more in and you’ll get a lot more out. Happy holidaying everyone!