Anxiety is extremely common. One in four people will experience anxiety in their lifetime, and it can be debilitating. Some people find it challenging to go to work, socialize, sleep, or just enjoy life. Although we usually think about anxiety as a mental health, or psychological, condition, it can also be experienced physically. Anxiety can manifest as muscle tension, heart palpitations, sweating, insomnia, dizziness, or shortness of breath; it can also be felt as worry, irritability, fear, nervousness, or difficulty concentrating.
Herbs are a great way to address both the physical and mental-emotional aspects of anxiety, helping to calm an overactive nervous system and restore a sense of centeredness and groundedness. They are especially powerful as part of an overall holistic approach that includes mindful meditation, cognitive behavioural therapy, yoga, and exercise. Many people use herbs because they don't share the same risk of dependence as many pharmaceutical drugs but can be equally effective, even acutely, when chosen carefully and matched to each person individually.
In addition to the medicinal benefits of the herbs themselves, the way you take herbal medicine is also therapeutic. Although you can find most herbs in capsule, tablet or tincture forms, some of the best herbs for anxiety can be taken as tea. The process of making and drinking tea is itself a wonderful opportunity to breathe and connect to the present moment. It can help separate you from a spiral of negative self-talk or fear of what could be and bring you into the here and now. The ritual of steeping and sipping can be a form of moving meditation. Plus"¦ tea is like a hug in a cup.
Here are five of my favorite anti-anxiety herbs that can be brewed as tea.
Most of us already think of lavender as a relaxing scent, in part because it is commonly stuffed into eye pillows to encourage a good night's sleep. Lavender flowers can be added to a bath or infused as a tea to help release worry and anxiety, especially when it's related to an upcoming event. It is especially useful for the kind of anxiety that comes from anticipating a stressful situation, like tests, surgery and dental work. Lavender can help to prevent post-partum depression and anxiety symptoms, and works well for situations when someone is worried that they won't be able to fall asleep. When taken regularly, lavender can help to reduce the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
Chamomile is well known as a gentle digestive and de-stressing herb. Peter Rabbit's mother wisely gave him chamomile tea after he ate too many radishes and had a traumatic run-in with Mr. McGregor in the Beatrix Potter classic tale. Chamomile is best for the kind of anxiety that results in a nervous or upset stomach. Just like in the story, it is also a great herb for kids.
3. Lemon balm
Lemon balm is a member of the mint family and is both delicious and calming. I often use it to treat anxiety, in part because it tastes so good. The lemony flavor is refreshing, and the herb is particularly effective for releasing nervous tension. Lemon balm is great for anxiety accompanied by heart palpitations, hyperactivity, and frenetic sensations.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) has traditionally been used for anxiety, insomnia and exhaustion due to a racing mind or circular thinking. The flower's concentric shapes and colors are reminiscent of a kaleidoscope or a mandala, a design that provides a clue to the plant's traditional use: it is perfectly suited for people whose thoughts feel stuck in a loop of negative self-talk or worry. It acts like a visual- or object-focused meditation in a cup. Passionflower is also helpful in easing into sleep or creating a window for entering the dream world.
Skullcap is a lesser known plant in the mint family that is also used in letting go of anxious states. Native to North America, skullcap is a little bitter but worth every sip. It is a good match for people whose anxiety manifests as restlessness combined with muscle tension. Skullcap helps to relieve anxiety held in the jaw that may result in clenching or teeth grinding. It's also specific for nervous energy that is associated with twitches at the side of the eye.
Herbs can be potent. Although many herbs are very safe, they can still have adverse effects and interact with other medications. Like all forms of medicine, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional before starting anything new. Read more about herbs for anxiety and other health conditions in Cyndi's book "The Essential Guide to Women's Herbal Medicine."