Updated: 18 hours ago
The holidays bring joy and cheer to most of us, but they can also bring stress and anxiety. From holiday travel to crazy relatives, parties to host, and gifts to buy, many extras can be put on your plate during the holiday season. This year, I plan on making all of the decorations for our tree. That’s my current stressor. Will I get them all done in time?? But there are a few common herbs for taming holiday stress, and with these botanical partners you can shine through the holiday season no matter how hectic it gets.
A Quick Disclaimer
Just because something is “natural” does not always mean it is safe for every person. When it comes to herbal medicine, many plants should be avoided when pregnant or nursing and some can cause extreme interactions with prescription and over-the-counter medicine.
Before using herbal preparations, always do your research, speak to a professional regarding any significant concerns, and never fail to seek medical advice when needed.
How Does Stress Work?
The body has a normal and natural stress response, which stems from the sympathetic nervous system—also called the “fight-or-flight response.” This response is managed by the Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal axis, also known as the HPA axis.
Our stress response is based on survival instincts honed at the dawn of the human race. Unfortunately, while your brain knows the difference, your body can’t distinguish between the stress of holiday travel and the stress of running from a Sabertooth tiger. Whether it’s holiday meal planning or missed connections at the airport, your body responds by releasing a cocktail of stress hormones—including cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline) in a flood to your bloodstream. Worse, your body will continue to release these hormones until it feels “safe” again. Which, in this case, means until all stress has been alleviated.
Long-term Impacts of Stress & Anxiety
In an acutely stressful situation, the cascade of hormones and physiological reactions in the body makes complete sense since they enable us to respond quickly and effectively during moments of danger. However, as I said above, these hormones keep pumping out, and their presence in the bloodstream causes several things to occur in the body:
Digestive function becomes limited
Heart rate increases, pushing blood to the muscles
Airways become dilated to increase oxygen intake
Senses of sight, smell, and sound become heightened
Glucose increases the bloodstream
In an emergency situation, all of this is designed to prepare us to react quickly, with as much strength and speed as we can muster. The HPA axis is activated to keep cortisol pumping into the bloodstream, helping the body stay revved and alert. However, when stress is sustained over long periods, the HPA axis maintains high cortisol levels in the body, resulting in a chronic state of hypervigilance that can wear your body down.
While “flight or fight” may be the required reaction to overbearing in-laws for the holidays, the herbs on this list can help us regain our calm by offering support and balance while soothing the nerves.
Herbs For Taming Holiday Stress
The best part about this list, is that most of the herbs listed here are readily available almost everywhere. If you do have trouble finding one that you are interested in trying we suggest Mountain Rose Herbs (not an affiliate link, we just like them.)
#1 - Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an adaptogen as well as a nervine. As an “adaptogen,” ashwagandha affects the systems and hormones that regulate a person’s stress response.
As a “nervine,” it specifically helps support the nervous system and regulates anxiety. It is also “immunomodulating,” making it beneficial for those who experience low energy and frequent illness stemming from overwork.
Cautions: Not recommended for those who are pregnant/breastfeeding or those with known allergies to the nightshade family.
Suggested preparations: Tea (decoction), tincture, powder, tablet or capsule
#2 - Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)
Chamomile is a well-known herb with a long history of medicinal use for calming the spirit. It’s a nervine, helping to calm the nervous system, and is well known by tea drinkers. Chances are you may even have some chamomile tea in your kitchen already. Since this lovely little flower is also known to combat insomnia, it is best drank before bed after a hectic day.
Cautions: Chamomile may interact with certain drugs, including the blood thinner warfarin and the antirejection drug cyclosporine.
Suggested preparations: Tea (decoction), tincture, bath or soak
#3 - Holy Basil or Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
Holy basil, also called tulsi, is known as a rejuvenating herb in Ayurvedic medicine—the traditional healing system in India. Holy basil has been used for more than 3,000 years in Ayurvedic medicine. It is an adaptogen, nervine, and immunomodulator with proven benefits for not only anxiety and stress but depression as well.
Cautions: Not recommended for those who are pregnant/breastfeeding.
Suggested preparations: Tea (decoction), tincture, infused oil, infused vinegar
#4 Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender is a classic relaxing and soothing herb, but its medicinal qualities are often overlooked due to its popularity. However, as a nervine, it’s one of the best herbs for aiding relaxation, reducing anxiety, battling depression, promoting deep sleep, and stabilizing mood.
Lavender essential oil (LEO) contains chemicals called terpenes. Two of these terpenes, linalool and linalyl acetate, may have a calming effect on chemical receptors in the brain.
Cautions: Excessive internal usage may cause constipation, headache, and increased appetite.
Suggested preparations: Tea (decoction), tincture, bath/soak infused oil, essential oil, sachet
#5 Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm, a member of the mint family, is a lemon-scented herb that, by nature, is uplifting, light, and playful. These are precisely the qualities we need when holiday stress begins to take over. Lemon balm is a nervine, adaptogen, and an immunomodulator.
Cautions: Not for tonic/tincture use in those experiencing hypothyroid or hypotension issues.
Suggested preparations: Tea (decoction), tincture, vinegar, essential oil
#5 Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata)
Traditional herbalists have used Passionflower prolifically for its nervine and mild sedative effects. It is believed that passionflower works by increasing levels of a chemical in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This chemical lowers the activity of certain brain cells, making you feel more relaxed.
Cautions: Not recommended for those who are pregnant/breastfeeding.
Suggested preparations: Tea (decoction), tincture, extract
#6 Rose (Rosa rubiginosa)
Rose is another often overlooked herb when it comes to stress management. However, this sweetly scented bloom is an immunomodulator, adaptogen, and nervine, with a particular impact on the heart as an organ helping to relieve emotional and physical tension.
Cautions: Avoid if allergic.
Suggested preparations: Tea (decoction), tincture, oil, honey, syrup, elixir, vinegar, flower essence, hydrosol
Other Helpful Supplements for Taming Holiday Stress
Along with the herbs listed above, other supplements that may help you to alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety include:
Essential fatty acids
High-dose sustained-release vitamin C
Managing stress with the help of botanical allies is a practice that has been used for centuries. While they may not remove any of your holiday stress, they can help your body to manage the season better. If you’re unsure where to begin, consider adding any of these herbs alone or in combination to our herbal hot chocolate recipe for a sweet way to relieve holiday stress! What is your favorite way to wind down after a stressful day of holiday prep? Tell us all about it in the comments below, and until next time,