Our herbalist Sarah Smith shares a beautiful personal account of anxiety and shares her favourite herbs to use in her anxiety blends. Whilst we expect to see anxiety in our fertility patients, Sarah is also increasingly being asked to focus on anxious minds by her menopausal clients, alongside the more well known symptoms such as hot sweats and brain fog.
'To me, it feels like the point at which you are about to overbalance and fall. That moment, right there, a feeling that should be a snap shot in time but that is felt constantly. It’s like carrying a twisted ball of string under your sternum, except it’s made of lead. Everything you do or feel is heavy and heightened. Your mind is stuck on a ground-hog day cyclical loop of every conversation, every look, every silence. Figuring out or at least trying to, what it all means. You end up rewriting or finishing conversations in your head, so much so, that where you end up is so far from where you started. You might as well live the rest of your life talking to yourself; as if there is another person inside you - an unwanted companion.
The flip-side of this, is that sometimes your anxious thoughts are so astute that they hit the nail on the head of truth so perfectly you feel overwhelming clarity. That is, until you remember all the times you got it wrong, so you doubt yourself and you try to ignore it. Months later you realise, you were right all along. How then do you separate these two out - which thoughts are intuition and which are an overactive imagination?
Something I have found invaluably helpful is following Byron Katie’s ‘The work’ which asks you to hold a thought you often have in your mind and ask “is it true?”, “do I know it to be true?” - I highly recommend you look her up. By feeling into this, I can at least begin to take a step back and start the separating process. Look at the facts and look at the feelings. It can be difficult - and something I am still learning how to do. I understand, how the anxiety I experience moves through me and how I move through it, so much more now than I ever did.
Anxiety of course affects different people in different ways and so the ways of managing it will vary depending on the person. If seeking the support of a herbalist or indeed, any health practitioner, I would suggest you sit with the anxiety, really feel into it, and ask: What colour is it? Does it take a shape? How does it feel? Where do you feel it? Can you compare it to anything else? What triggers it? When is it triggered? Is it constant? Low lying? Heightened?
For me I also know now which herbs are best suited to me in different situations. Anxiety isn’t the same every time you feel it, so knowing which herbs are suited to the many levels and faces anxiety has, is a really useful tool to have. So here are a few of my favourite plant allies for all different types of anxiety.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) - traditionally used to lift the spirits, it is a relaxing tonic used for anxiety, restlessness and irritability and the symptoms associated with this e.g. palpitations, digestive upset. It can be taken as a tea or a tincture, I have the spirituous water of it and I use it in a drop dose to dissipate anxious feelings.
Limefower Blossom/Linden (Tillia europea) - When describing this plant to people I like to close my eyes and say “You know how when you’re in the rainforest (bear with me) and you’re trying to settle down to go to sleep, but there’s just so much noise, you may be sleeping but the rainforest is awake. You need to remain alert in case you need to run, but you also need to rest so you have the energy to run. To carry on in the morning. Tillia lowers you, brings your energy down to a place of stillness, so you are still aware of your surroundings but you are not as affected by them.” It is a powerful sedative so go gently with it, or you may wake up after a long, unplanned sleep. Start with a small amount and see where your threshold is for it. The fowering tops are used and can be taken as a tea or as a tincture. Sometimes just going to sit under a Linden tree is enough to feel this plants presence.
Cleavers (Galium aperine) - Physically this plant is for the lymphatic and immune systems. However, drinking a tea of it or even a drop dose of the tincture could help you explore the emotional bene?ts of the plant. Elisabeth Brooke writes that this plant is “Like a calm sea at twilight, the space between night and day, dark and light. It is that warm safe place where nature seems to envelop, protect and subdue all the dramas of the daytime and yet not anticipate the mysteries of the night…..It gives a feeling of peace, tranquility and stillness which envelops the whole psyche, but it is not a sleepy peace, not a rest from exhaustion but simply the space between breaths, the inner silence which we can fail to catch in the business of everyday life.”
Oat (Avena sativa) - Deeply nourishing for the nervous system, for nervous debility and exhaustion. I feel like it smoothes over frayed and fractured edges and wraps you up in a cotton wool hug. Lush.
Vervain (Verbena of?cinalis) - Deep acting on the nervous system, this native plant takes a little longer to have an effect. For anxiety, fear, irritability, headaches and over-sensitivity. It builds up the nervous system’s strength and resilience making you less reactive to stress. For those that have experienced acute trauma or a deep profound shock to the psyche no matter when in time it occurred (Brooke, E).
Angelica (Angelica archangelica) - I use this in spirituous water or spagyric tincture form. It protects and opens the higher centres, creating space so that heightened emotions can be lowered. Soothing Herbs that comfort the soul are often quite lovely for anxious minds.
Orange Flower (Citrus aurantium) - Floral and aromatic this lovely fower helps relieve anxiety and digestive upset associated with it.
Rose (Rosa damascena) - Cooling and anti-infammatory this plant is so lovely and soothing for the heart energy, allowing for self love and self care to be introduced, I find this the best way back to myself if I am feeling anxious.
Chamomile (Matricaria rectutita) - A gentle sedative for the inner child within all of us, who just wants to feel safe, secure and nurtured. For those moments of teariness and emotional outbursts. I like to make myself and my partner this after an argument, it helps in feeling heard.
Passionfower (Passifora incarnata) - A relaxing and sedating herb used for anxiety and associated insomnia, for the nights when you are too anxious to sleep, yet too exhausted to stay awake. Take as a tincture or a tea. Grounding and a downwards, rooting, grounding action on the body to be very reassuring, it brings the heightened energy out of the head and back into the body. The roots of herbs are often used for this.
Although probably not associated with anxiety, they are herbs I would include in a prescription to complement others.
Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) - for adrenal exhaustion, when it’s all got too much and you’ve been under prolonged stress and anxiety for a very long time. This helps restore the adrenal glands so you respond to stress in a more effcient way. Pukka do a wonderful 3 Liquorice tea which is easily found in supermarkets or preferably independent health food shops!
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) - An Ayurvedic plant used for its adaptogenic properties, for that tired and wired feeling. It is strengthening and toning and helps clarify and calm the mind, preventing overthinking, promoting a more meditative state and sound and restful sleep. The powdered root is a good way to take this - adding to warm plant based milks or smoothies.
Please be in touch if you’d like to know more about these plants before you use them - there may be reasons why you cant have them, always best to check first! If you find that none of the herbs here resonate with you, please also be in touch to explain how anxiety affects you as there are so many wonderful plants out there that could be of help.'