Show me one person that isn’t under stress these days. We all seem to have financial worries, family issues, work pressure, not to mention life’s lovely curve balls that bowl you off your feet.
So why is it that some people seem to be coping with it all, while others are falling in a heap or flying off the handle at the slightest bit of pressure?
There are quite a few people out there who champion the theory that there is no such thing as stress. They quite validly make the point that there is no event or external pressure that creates stress, but instead our stress response is created by it is our perception. Stress is officially defined as a physical response to a physical pressure. As our perception is not a tangible thing and can be changed with a change in mindset, therefore there is no such thing as stress, only a perception of stress.
So all we need to do is change our mindset and stop perceiving things as stressful situations and everything will be hunky dory……..Right???? Yeah because, you know, when you are really stressed about something and your well-meaning friend says “just RELAX, stop stressing” it makes you feel a whole lot better doesn’t it?? NOT!!
There are some holes in the “There is no such thing as stress” theory.
One particular weakness in the stress/perception theory is that there is actually an inequity in stress perception. We are not all as capable of changing our perception to reduce our stress response. This is because people who have chronic stress, (a prolonged and elevated exposure to stressful events) have a consistent elevation in stress hormones, so they lack the buffer from acute situations that will cause a stress response.
You may even be born with elevated stress hormones. Researchers have found that the level of the stress hormone, cortisol is passed on from mother to baby. What they found was, that women who were highly stressed and materially-deprived, had associated higher cortisol levels and delivered babies with higher cortisol levels. When cortisol is consistently elevated, as with chronic stress, the ability to cope in stressful situations is diminished.
So in short our cortisol levels contribute to our perception of stressful situations.
So if you are suffering from chronic stress, your capacity to cope becomes diminished over time. This propels us in to a negative spiral of not coping and an over response to stressful events, things or people. Until eventually the adrenals become exhausted and burn out.
So while we CAN change our perception of stressful situations, sometimes it is actually harder to do than say. People that have suffered chronic stress have a harder time changing their perceptions because they have elevated stress hormones keeping them on edge.
That’s why I like to describe this kind of situation as adaption deficiency, because it is our capacity to cope that is impaired. We need find ways to increase our ADAPTION to stressful events. We need to nurture our adrenals to down regulate stress hormone imbalance and promote appropriate stress responses. What we don’t want, is to have elevated stress hormones coursing out unnecessarily, making us feel jittery, snappy, and cranky, upsetting our digestion, disturbing our sleep and making everyone around us walk on egg shells. And just quietly guys, if you don't want to have a gripey, cranky baby make sure you look after your lady when she is pregnant!
Cortisol imbalance is also associated with the occurrence of eczema and asthma in babies.
It is now well documented that elevated stress hormones is related to a raft of chronic illness, such as: auto-immune diseases, asthma, eczema, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, menstrual disorders, low libido, infertility and cancer, blood pressure irregularities, thyroid issues, gut issues just to name a few. So getting your stress response under control is kinda important!
As a Naturopath I love to use herbal medicine to nourish the adrenals. Why? Because they produce amazing results in my patients. The premium herbs for stress adaption are Withania, Siberian Ginseng and Rhodiola. These herbs are classed as adaptogens- meaning that they assist your body to adapt to physical and emotional stress. I will often mix these adaptogens with an adrenal restorative such as Licorice and Rhemania. Giving the hard working adrenals, a bit of love can create amazing results in healing. I like to call this my “bottom up” approach, bolstering and nourishing the adrenals rather than attempting to suppress the stress response with sedation. People describe the feeling of taking these herbs as like "a warm hug" and they start to experience sustaining energy that is nourishing and supportive.
The nutritional vacuum that is created in the body through elevated stress may require nutritional supplementation of activated B vitamins, vitamin C and zinc.
Empty sources of energy are often the go to for those under stress. Depending on your level of adrenal exhaustion you may be reaching for the coffee as soon as you wake to get you out of bed, you will be craving high carb salty and sweet snacks to keep you going through the day and at night after a full day of feeling tired you will be reaching for the wine, as you now can't seem to wind down.
All of this serves to deplete your body further of the nutrients that it needs to cope with the out put of stress hormones.
In my clinic I advise my adrenally exhausted patients to eat a nutritious whole food diet that includes a good amount of clean protein, lots of colourful vegetables and plenty of hydration.
So if you feel you need a bit of help to increase your adaption to stressful events, you may like to try some of the herbs and nutrition that I have mentioned or you may like to make an appointment to see me.
What if instead of reaching for the painkiller for your headache, you could pop outside your own back door and picking a few herbs to heal what ails you?
Here is my step by step guide to growing your own healing spiral. You can make the space as large or as small as you desire and your allocated space allows. The healing spiral that we are making here is about 2 metres or 6 foot wide including the walls. If you get creative and have a small space you can down size this project and use pots. All of the herbs for our healing spiral will grow nicely in the ground or in pots.
Let me just start by saying that we are not talking about a purist permaculture herb spiral here, although it’s similar, we don’t have any set rules, so just do what works for you!
First, plan your design. All the herbs will require plenty of sun so have the opening of your spiral facing in North in order to catch a good amount of sun. Choose a spot that has good free draining soil and gather together some course sand and some small stones or gravel (broken crockery or pots work well) to add drainage. Source some large flat rocks, recycled bricks or pavers that suit the size of your spiral, these will also become the stepping stones for your healing spiral, so if using rocks you will need to earth them in the ground to make them stable. Mark out your spiral and clear the space of any weeds and dig out any grass.
Start with the outer edges of your spiral, place the largest stones down to form the edge of your bed, back fill as you go with the gravel, sand and good free draining soil mixed with compost and or fertiliser. Make the spiral with the stones or pavers as you go, you may like to slightly raise the middle section of your spiral by building it up with more stones, bricks or pavers, and back filling with soil, make sure that you add a layer of course sand at the bottom of the middle section as it is more built up, it will need more drainage.
See how you go, as I said there’s no set rules to how it should look so just play with it until you get it the way you like it. If you are growing in pots, you can just buy a variety of matching pots from large (for the centre plants) to small (radiating out of the spiral). In that case all you need to do is arrange your pots in a spiral formation, add a layer of stones at the bottom of each pot for drainage, and fill with potting mix as you plant. Easy!
Once you are happy with the shape of your spiral garden bed it’s time for the fun part- Planting!!
The middle of your healing spiral will be the home for the taller of our healing herbs. As we move further out the spiral, the plants will be shorter growing. Make sure you leave enough space for the herbs to grow. They will need at least 30cm between each planting.
In the centre plant Rosemary. Well known for its ability to enhance memory, Rosemary is a stimulating and warming herb that awakens the senses and strengthens the cardiovascular system. Useful in depression and anxiety where there is a loss of personal power or self-identity. For mental exhaustion Rosemary will help lift brain fog and provide clarity of thought. Rosemary is a great digestive, stimulating a poor appetite and assisting in digestive function. A Rosemary bath will help to ease muscle soreness and stimulate circulation.
How to grow: You can purchase a rosemary plant or grow one from a cutting.
Parts to use: leaves
Preparation: For digestive problems and low blood pressure take 1-2 teaspoons of Rosemary leaves to 1 cup of boiling water and allow to infuse for 10 minutes. Add a teapot full of this to a bath for a stimulating Rosemary bath. Rub a few leaves to release the essential oil and inhale to enhance memory and to relieve any respiratory congestion. Make an herbal infused oil (see recipe below) and use as a stimulating muscular rub for sore muscles.
The next herb to go in is Echinacea. Echinacea, a popular immune booster in herbal medicine is great for a sore throat and swollen tonsils. You can use Echinacea for any kind of topical boils and abbesses. A few leaves applied directly to the skin can help soothe any bites or stings or hives. The tingling sensation on your tongue after taking Echinacea is a sign of its potency.
How to grow: Buy Echinacea as a seedling or grow from seed. It will often re-seed by itself. Echinacea will die down over winter and re-emerge in spring.
Parts to use: Flowers and leaves (whole plant is used in herbal tinctures)
Preparation: Make a tea from the leaves and flowers. Juice a couple of leaves or add a couple to your morning smoothie. Bruise the leaves and use them as a topical application for skin conditions.
Lavender is the next plant to go in. Everyone knows about Lavender for its calming essential oil, but did you know that Lavender is also used in depression? Dorothy Hall, a great Australian herbalist describes Lavender as useful for driven people with high standards who are prone to over work and over cleanliness. Lavender can assist migraines from over work, depression with irritable bowel, insomnia, tension and irritability. Lavender is also a great antiseptic for topical wounds and scratches.
How to grow: Buy a seedling or grow from cuttings, try to source true English Lavender for the best therapeutic value.
Parts to use: flowers and leaves
Preparation: Make a tea, rub the leaves to release the essential oil to inhale, dry and make a lavender pillow, and use the bruised leaves topically on skin irritations or on the temples in the case of a headache.
Next to be planted is Calendula. Calendula’s lovely sunny flowers are a strong healer for all skin irritations and wounds. A tea made from Calendula will soothe a sore throat, as well as soothe and heal mouth ulcers. If your glands are up, Calendula will help bring them down effectively. It works wonders as an anti-inflammatory, anti-septic and anti-bacterial for the digestive system.
How to grow: Usually grown from seed, it is annual so it will die down in winter in colder climates. The seed is easily saved to be used year after year.
Parts to use: Flowers
Preparation: Use as a tea, or dry the flowers and make a Calendula infused oil (see recipe below).
Lemonbalm, as the name suggests is a lovely lemon scented herb. In folklore this herb is closely related to bees; bees love to collect nectar from the flowers and the lemon scent, which closely resembles the pheromones of the queen bee, are said to keep the bees from swarming away from the hive. Lemonbalm is fantastic to relieve stomach upset, in particular when it is related to anxiety. Lemonbalm will calm the mind and is useful for insomnia and irritability. Lemonbalm also has an amazing anti-viral activity and is specifically used against herpes virus (cold sores, chickenpox and shingles).
How to grow: Buy a seedling or transplant a piece with root intact. Lemonbalm will die down in winter and re-emerge in spring.
Parts used: leaves and stalks.
Preparation: Make a tea and drink or use it in a bath. Make an herbal infused oil (see recipe below) and use topically on herpes skin lesions. Or bruise the leaves and apply to skin.
Once you have all of your plants in, give them a good water. You will be rewarded with the benefits of the medicinal plants in your garden all year round. Enjoy!
Herbal infused oil Recipe
Harvest enough of your chosen herb to fill a small glass jar. Take account for the shrinkage that will occur during the drying process, so pick a little more than you think you will need. Allow the herb to dry for several days (depending on the weather, this could take a longer or shorter time). You will want it to be dry enough to be able to be stored away without getting mouldy.
Fill the jar to the brim with your dried herb. Cover the herb with an organic cold pressed vegetable oil such as olive oil or sunflower oil. Put the lid on the jar tightly and label it with the ingredients and the date.
Store the jar in a warm place out of direct sunlight. Shake the jar once or twice per day.
In about 6 weeks your oil will be ready, it should be of a nice colour (reflecting the colour of the herb you used) and have no fermenting odour or mould. Strain the oil through a muslin cloth and throw away the spent herb. If you have mould or fermentation you didn’t allow your herb to dry for long enough, you will need to throw it away and start again.
Store the infused oil in an airtight jar away from direct sunlight and use topically. Keeps for 1 year.
Melanie Turner, Naturopath, mother, gardener, lover of wholesome food