The Truth About Anxiety and Herbs to Help

Note: Anxiety can be a symptom of a medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism or heart disease. Please seek the advice of a trusted healthcare professional before instituting any advice given in the article or on this blog. This post addresses generalized anxiety with no medical cause. 

You know what's weird? Getting anxiety about writing a post about addressing anxiety. That shit is weird.

But it's also telling. Let me explain why.

This morning as I made breakfast and began my morning routine, I found myself restless and unable to focus, mostly because I was planning on writing a money spell post. (Don't worry. There will be a money spell, just not today!) Because I've grown accustomed to addressing anxiety as a signal and not an illness, I mentally took a step back and asked myself what the hell the problem was. After all, there's no need for nail biting fifteen minutes after rolling out of bed.

The problem was I wasn't prepared to write the spell post. I hadn't finalized the spell and therefore felt rushed and, well, anxious! But I had spent time preparing for this anxiety post, so that's what I decided to do today.

And the anxiety went away.

That's the funny thing I've learned about anxiety—it goes away when you learn to listen.

Now, before you start a scathing e-mail, everyone is different and I'm not admonishing anyone's decision on their chosen method of treatment for any maladies. Just like anything else in life, a person needs to make their own decisions regarding the best path to take for their own personal health and happiness. But the focus of this blog is to help people embrace a natural and spiritual approach to life. I can only write from my own experience, and my journey is one of spirituality and natural medicine. So if you're not looking for spiritual or herbal alternatives, you've stumbled into the wrong place. Sorry about that. Take a cup of tea before you go. It's dandelion. Great for the liver.

It took me years to realize anxiety was on my side. As is my body, a lesson that took me decades to accept and appreciate. But we're taught to go against instinct. We're taught we are powerless in our own healing.

That's complete bullshit.

You have more influence over your own health and healing than you probably realize.

I can say this from experience, from healing illnesses I was told would never heal. The body was meant to heal. It was designed by a beautiful, omnipotent energy to be healthy and strong. And regardless of what you've been told, you—more than anyone else—have the ability to attain health and happiness in your own body. This is a subject I'm deeply passionate about, but for now let's stick to anxiety. =D

Despite how debilitating anxiety can sometimes feel, anxiety is actually a powerful tool once we've learned how to listen to its message. Anxiety is the warning sign, "Do Not Enter! Danger Ahead!" But we've been told to tune it out. "Silly, mind/body/spirit! You don't know what you're doing!" And we push ourselves further and further until we have panic attacks and emotional breakdowns.

When I take the time to listen to anxiety, life is a whole lot easier. Not perfect. Not without challenge. I'm not selling you a fairy tale. Life isn't easy. This is a learning plane and we have work to do! But in learning to trust and respect my inner voice, I've found peace.

Let me ask you this—what danger is there in listening to your anxiety?

If you're struggling with anxiety, have you taken a moment to evaluate what is causing it? If you have, have you asked yourself what you can do to eliminate the cause? If you know that answer, have you taken measures to remove the cause?

Anxiety over a blog post is obviously a very small, trivial thing that I mention solely as an example of listening to the signal. But there was a time when my experience with anxiety had blossomed into a fruitful tree of stress vomiting and panic attacks caused by a job (and eventually, I learned, the whole damn career) that was causing me great distress and unhappiness. It took me years to accept the career path I had chosen, that I went to college for, that I spent more time paying off than working in, was not the right career for me. I felt like a failure. I'd abandoned my dream. I was embarrassed to admit to people I no longer worked in a field I worked so hard to become a part of.

Yet the anxiety was gone. I didn't dread waking up every day. Life wasn't simple. In fact, in some ways it had become more complicated, like money being far tighter. But I was happy. I was free from self-imposed chains. I wasted time being unhappy and made myself sick because I didn't listen. Because I was ashamed. Because I was afraid. Had I listened to my inner voice, presenting itself through anxiety, I could have been a whole lot happier a whole lot sooner.

I wrote this post because I've had so many readers reach out to me regarding anxiety journaling. (which is awesome to hear from you, so thank you!) If you haven't read it I recommend you do so now. It's a wonderful method for listening to what our inner voice is trying to communicate without overthinking or blocking ourselves with judgment.

If you're struggling with anxiety, I truly empathize with you. Anxiety can be complex, but I encourage you to explore the root cause. Because anxiety is, at its basic essence, a symptom. It's easy to get overwhelmed when learning to trust your inner voice, and even easier to get frustrated with ourselves if we have a perceived backslide. But please be patient with yourself! You deserve the time it takes to find peace. You're worthy of the work it requires to understand yourself and the messenger that is anxiety.

And until then, here's some herbs and natural approaches to help you quiet the storm. Since you need to, you know, function.

Lemon Balm
According to Brigitte Mars, who is a brilliant herbalist, lemon balm causes the "mind and heart to be merry," a quote she attributes to Avicenna, an ancient Arabic physican. 

Personally, I love lemon balm for anxiety and to help with sleep. It can even be used to control general restlessness, nervousness, heart palpitations, and nausea, all things people experience when struggling with anxiety. 

Lemon balm is safe enough for use in children but can lower thyroid function, so please exercise caution if you have hypothyroidism. 

California Poppy
I loathe flying. I'm not afraid to fall out of the sky, but I strongly dislike dealing with security and the general icky energy that exists in airports. When I have no choice but to fly, I use California poppy tincture, which is a gentle way to soothe frayed nerves, exhaustion, stress, and even headaches! And according to Mars, California poppy is non-habit forming and contains no opiates. 

When used as a flower essence, California poppy encourages listening to one's inner voice. Huh. Isn't that convenient?! 

If you suffer with depression, California poppy can exacerbate symptoms, so avoid this herb. Excessive use can make one feel as if they finished off the boxed wine and a half a pack of Oreos, so please use in moderation. 

Most people are familiar with this gentle herb, but it wasn't until I began studying herbal medicine that I realized it's really quite a useful little flower. A steaming mug with a little milk and honey really chills me out, so much so I use it when I'm having trouble sleeping. 

Chamomile isn't just useful for sleep and anxiety, it can also help soothe digestive distress (including irritable bowel), nightmares, ulcers, and even help combat the urge to urinate. In fact, this is a go-to of mine for UTIs. It's even useful as a compress for irritated skin, rashes, and skin infections. Really, chamomile is a fantastic herb for nearly any irritant—inside or out.

Please be advised, chamomile is not recommended for people who are reactive to ragweed and should also be avoided in high doses during pregnancy. 

Ignatia Amara
Ignatia Amara is a homeopathic formula used to treat nervousness caused by "everyday" stress, but I personally use it when I need to manage anxiety, regardless of whether or not it's mundane stress or a visit from the ol' mother-in-law. In my opinion, homeopathy is a rather gentle approach to healing, which is quite necessary for some individuals, especially those with autoimmune disharmonies. This isn't going to knock you on your butt like Xanax, but it will help take the edge off and nudge you back to a nice, calm parasympathetic state. =D

Homeopathic medicines are generally regarded as safe, but it's always prudent to exercise caution when trying a new substance, especially if you're taking other medications. Boiron is the brand I most often use. This homeopathic formula is in pellet form, which you take by holding the pellets under the tongue until dissolved. 

Rescue Remedy
Rescue Remedy is a homeopathic combination of Bach flower essences that is designed to treat stress and anxiety. I keep this product on hand, especially when traveling.  Four drops under the tongue, and you're on your way to calm-down town. It can also be added to water and sipped throughout the day, but I've never used it in that manner. 

In general, I'm a big fan of Bach flower essences, especially when treating emotional disruptions, like grief or guilt. I've found them to be extremely helpful when struggling with grief last year and highly recommend them if you're experiencing anxiety in conjunction with grief.

Random goodies that help me:

Go to the movies
Okay, I know this one sounds odd, but I've always found going to the movies to be an effortless way to dispel anxiety. Not renting, going. Between the pitch-black darkness and the loud soundtrack, I don't have the option to entertain nagging thoughts. It's my cheap version of a sensory deprivation tank. If you're sensitive to noise, this may not be the best option. Strangely, I am sensitive to noise but I'm okay in a theater. I have no explanation for that. 

Animals are my answer to everything. Sad? Hug an animal. Happy? Hug an animal. Hungry? Eat an animal.

Aww... okay, now I feel kind of sad. I'm going to hug the cat and then have a meatless salad for lunch. 

Seriously, though, who can be worried in the presence of an exuberant Labrador? Many studies have been done on the positive health effects of owning an animal, so I won't delve into that here. But if you can't adopt a furry compadre or don't want the responsibility, spend some time in nature. Feed the birds. Watch the rabbits. Just enjoy the simplicity of the furred and feathered. The fresh air and sunshine is always good for the mind and body, plus a little grounding never hurt anyone! 

Alternate nostril breathing
I felt like a fool the first time I tried alternate nostril breathing despite being alone in my house. But it works! It not only focuses your thoughts away from anxiety, but it helps balance the left-right brain, which is often exacerbating anxiety symptoms due to imbalance. Adriene, the entertaining woman featured in the link above, is an entertaining yogi who doesn't mind making a crude joke. Now that's my kind of yogi! I also recommend her Yoga For When You're Angry. I use it when annoyed, but I mostly practice it when I'm anxious. Seriously. Go try it. 

Anxiety journaling
I mentioned this earlier in the post, but it's worth repeating. I've found anxiety journaling to be a pivotal tool in clearing mind clutter and listening to my inner voice. It's easy to become so engrossed with worry that we don't even know what we want any longer. Anxiety journaling is a simple yet highly effective way to help our ego—who seemingly enjoys causing anxiety—step aside and make room for our true desires to come forward. I'm often surprised to discover the cause of anxiety isn't even what I was fretting about!

Go to water
Did you know water is symbolically linked to emotions? It's also what cleanses undesired emotions. The weightlessness we experience while swimming is quite cathartic on a subconscious level. But even if you can't get to the ocean or a pool (like yours truly), a simple shower often helps me to feel refreshed and reinvigorated, especially if you end with a cool rinse. Just do yourself a favor and allow yourself to be IN the shower. Don't think about the bills. Now isn't the time to solve world hunger. Your sole priority is soaping the armpits and lathering your hair—nothing more! ...Okay, maybe just a *little* singing to the radio! ;)

Remember, it's okay to just curl up on the couch with your favorite book or a funny movie if you're feeling overwhelmed. While you're at it, brew yourself a cup of tea. Try chamomile. I hear it's delightful! ;)

Do you use herbs to settle anxiety? What's your favorite way to quiet your mind?

Wondering where I get my knowledge? The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine by Brigitte Mars isn't just my favorite reference, it's my herbal bible! 

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NOTE: As with any recommendation found on this blog, consult your doctor or naturopath before use.