Stress is the body’s response to any change resulting in physical or mental tension. Stress is ubiquitous in 2020. Whether it is physical, psychological or emotional, eustress or distress, we are all impacted by stress. One way I like to de-stress is with my Calming Tea Infusion.
Prevalence of stress
Stress has been steadily on the rise over the past decade. These past couple of months have been incredibly stressful for people around the world as “normal” life came to a halt because of COVID-19. According to the American Institute of Stress, 77% of the population regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress and 73% experience psychological symptoms caused by stress (1).
Impact of stress
Carnegie Mellon University’s Sheldon Cohen and colleagues have found that chronic psychological stress impacts the body’s ability to regulate the inflammatory response, which leads to the development of disease (2). Inflammation increases the risk of a number of chronic conditions, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune conditions and cancer (3).
The stress response
Stress engages the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). In times of stress the SNS signals the adrenal glands to release hormones called adrenalin (epinephrine) and cortisol. Cortisol, often referred to as “the stress hormone” works effectively to help keep us safe from immediate threats. It increases heart rate and blood pressure, forcing the blood to pump harder and faster toward our limbs to prepare our bodies for fight or flight, to either confront or run from the immediate threat. The problem with chronic stress and ongoing activation of the sympathetic fight or flight response is the constant supply of cortisol in the bloodstream. The results of continually elevated levels of cortisol are numerous: immune cells become insensitive to cortisol’s regulatory effect; increased blood sugar levels; weight gain; digestive problems; suppressed immune system; and heart disease (4).
Rest and digest
The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is tasked with the job of undoing the work of sympathetic nervous system after a stressful situation, decreasing respiration and heart rate and increasing digestion. The PNS is also called the “rest and digest” system. One of the ways to engage the parasympathetic nervous system is with a calming tea infusion using nervines that have been recognized for centuries to help decrease and balance our stress levels. Nervines are herbs that commonly used to support the nervous system to positively impact mood, memory, cognition and sleep (5).
Calming tea infusion
There are a number of herbs that have known nervous system benefits. I chose four for my calming tea infusion that are relatively easy to purchase and have a very pleasing taste when combined.
Chamomile – Matricaria chamomilla) is a member of the daisy family. Chamomile has been used for centuries fpr calming the nervous system and reducing anxiety. One study showed that continued use of chamomile was associated with a reduction in generalized anxiety disorder and improved psychological well being (6).
Holy basil – (Ocimum tenuiflorum), a member of the mint family that is also known as tulsi, has been observed to reduce stress, anxiety and depression (7). Holy basil is an adaptogen that enhances the body’s protective functions and increases one’s resistance to physical, environmental and emotional stressors (8)
Lemon balm – (Melissa officinalis) is a member of the mint family. Consumption of lemon balm increases calmness and reduces anxiety, and is associated with improvement in mood and cognition (9).
Oatstraw – (Avena sativa) has been used to support brain health since the Middle ages, and is used to relieve stress and anxiety (10). There is a risk of cross contamination with gluten containing grains.
Calming Tea Infusion
- 2 tablespoons oatstraw
- 2 tablespoons chamomile
- 2 tablespoons holy basil
- 2 tablespoons lemon balm
- Combine herbs in a jar and store in a cool place.
- To prepare an infusion add 2 teaspoons of herbs to a tea infuser for every cup of boiling water. Let steep for 10 minutes.