In today’s fast paced, often overwhelming world, it’s too easy to get stressed out and worked up regularly. Many of us will have to deal with anxiety and depression sometimes especially during periods of upheaval like a job change or divorce. Unfortunately if you are suffering from stress or depression or anxiety, you may not know how to seek help to bust your stress, but fortunately there are natural ways to manage your anxiety that could work for you. Using calming herbs in your self care routine can lower your stress levels and improve your moods.
While you can relieve stress through yoga and other exercise, meditation, or a warm bath, adding herbs to your relaxation routine can only enhance its calming effects. With calming herbs in your self care routine, you can start to take control of your mental and emotional health on your own.
What Are Calming Herbs?
Certain herbs have very relaxing properties. These herbs have a combination of properties that help calm you down by:
- Promoting relaxation
- Helping you sleep better
- Relaxing muscle aches
- Helping manage pain
- Easing digestive woes
Herbs with relaxation benefits often have pleasing fragrant properties that appeal to our sense of smell and taste. Each herb also has a unique chemical makeup with its own individual calming benefits.
The Science Behind Calming Herbs
As mentioned above, many calming herbs appeal to the senses of smell and taste. The sense of smell often gets overlooked but it is extremely powerful and linked directly to memories and moods. The cells in the nose that are responsible for detecting smell then pass the information to the brain through the olfactory nerve. This nerve carries the scent information to the olfactory bulb in the brain and the rest of the surrounding limbic system. This area of the brain plays a large part in regulating our moods, memories, behavior, and emotions.(1)
With that information, you can see how smell is connected to our emotions. Certain smells trigger positive or negative emotions, memories, and feelings. The perfume industry monetizes this concept, which is why you see the same scents repeated in different perfumes. Those scents, like the ones in certain calming herbs, are linked to good feelings in most people.
Science has proven this neurological link between smell and emotion. A study conducted by Korean doctors was done on 2 groups of terminally ill cancer patients. Group 1 received a hand massage using a combination of aromatic oils. Group 2 got the same hand massage only with unscented oil. Only the first group that had the massage using the aromatic oils showed a reduction in pain and depression. The second group showed no real improvements. With the only difference being the use of scents, you can see the power of the sense of smell in improving mood and emotion.
Aside from the benefit of the scent and mood link, soothing herbs have another anxiety busting benefit. Often the you would use these herbs, through adding them to a warm bath or tea, or adding them to a massage oil supports relaxation in and of itself.
Studies show the benefits of hydrotherapy, or soaking in water like you would in a tub, for stress relief. They found that water therapy has many positive effects on the body. These physiological effects reduce pain and the production of cortisol, the hormone that produces stress.
Additionally, the Mayo Clinic recognizes massages as an effective way to reduce stress and anxiety, relieve pain, and treat insomnia. So like when you add these beneficial herbs to a bath, when you add them to massage oil, you can get a double benefit from the massage and the use of the herbs in the oil.
The 5 Best Herbs for Relaxation
There are many herbs out there but not all of them have stress relieving, calming properties. The following 5 herbs can all help you unwind and relax.
- Lemon Balm
- Passion Flower
- Holy Basil
Each herb has a different calming property. Let’s take a look at each herb and how it’s used.
Lavender and relaxation go hand in hand. Popular for use in soaps, detergents, and lotions, the mildly fragrant flowering herb has long been used for medicinal purposes. In fact, lavender may be a good natural substitute for some anxiety medications. A randomized study conducted showed people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder that took lavender capsules reduced their anxiety as much as other sufferers on a prescription anti anxiety medication.
Lavender helps reduce anxiety and stress in several ways. It promotes relaxation by:
- Reducing Cortisol– Lavender’s gentle fragrance reduces the body’s production of cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress. A team of doctors proved this reduction of serum cortisol with the use of lavender aromatherapy in the International Journal of Cardiology. (2)
- Supports Sleep– Lavender helps relieve insomnia, which can make stress worse. Folk healers often filled pillows with lavender flowers to help restless people fall sleep. Lavender aromatherapy mildly sedates the nervous system, thus improving sleep quality and your ability to fall asleep. promote relaxation, and lift mood in people suffering from sleep disorders. (3)
- Promotes Relaxation– Lavender helps you relax and unwind. Studies have proven that massage with lavender essential oil can help lower cortisol, which reduces stress. Bathing in lavender oil also helps ease tension and calm you down.
- Eases Pain- Lavender oil can help reduce chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia and migraines that can cause sufferers anxiety. Studies have also been done that show lavender is useful to decrease pain after invasive testing or minor surgeries.
How to use Lavender for Relaxation
Lavender can help you relax in a variety of ways. The most popular ways to use lavender oil to soothe your nerves and promote relaxation include:
- Inhaling– Add a few drops of lavender essential oil to a warm bath to create a soothing aromatic experience that will help calm your nerves. Try pouring lavender oil into a reed diffuser and enjoying the soothing scent in your bedroom to promote a good night’s sleep.
- Orally- Lavender is available in capsule form. Check with your doctor before taking them for proper dosage and never give them to children.
- Topically– Try buying lotions scented with lavender or making your own lavender lotion. To make your own, add a few drops of lavender oil into an unscented lotion or coconut oil. Use it as massage oil to reap extra calming benefits or as a hand lotion.
Both varieties of chamomile are extremely popular herbs in natural medicine. There are two kinds of plants both with small white flowers known as chamomile: German chamomile and Roman (also called English) chamomile. Both kinds of chamomile have been used medicinally since the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. It has been used to soothe the nerves, treat indigestion and other stomach problems, and relax sore muscles. (4)
The idea of drinking chamomile tea probably makes you think of cozy relaxation. For good reason, Margaux J. Rathbun, certified nutritional therapy practitioner tells Shape Magazine that drinking a cup of chamomile tea can help you relax because, “Chamomile tea is a gentle relaxant that acts as a nerve tonic and a sleeping aid.”
So how does chamomile work exactly? It works in a variety of ways by:
- Supports Sleep– Good sleep is essential to good mental health and a more relaxed state of being. Chamomile promotes a restful night of sleep, which is why so many drink a cup of chamomile tea before bed.
- Promotes Relaxation– The simple act of drinking a soothing cup of chamomile tea relaxes even the most stressed out person. Chamomile’s relaxant effect comes from its ability to increase mental calmness. In fact, studies have shown chamomile reduces symptoms in individuals suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
- Supports Digestion- Those of us that have digestive issues, especially those that are worsened by anxiety, can benefit from chamomile. This herb calms the stomach, easing digestive woes. Tummy troubles often can make stress and anxiety worse than it has to be.
How to use Chamomile for Relaxation
Chamomile can help you relax in a variety of ways. The most popular ways to use chamomile for ultimate relaxation include:
- Drinking: Either make a cup of chamomile tea from a prepackaged store tea or make your own by pouring a cup of boiling water over 3 heaping teaspoons of dried chamomile. Steep the brew for 10 to 15 minutes and enjoy regularly.
- Supplements: Take several capsules up to 3 times per day. Consult a doctor for the proper dosage.
- Inhalation: Add a few drops of chamomile essential oil to a warm bath to create a calming bath or add the dried flowers to the water. You can also enjoy the soothing scent in your bedroom to promote a good night’s sleep by spraying a mix of chamomile oil and water on your pillows.
This member of the mint family has been used medicinally since the Middle Ages to soothe the nerves, relieve indigestion, and remedy insomnia. These days this calming herb is grown all over the world for use in furniture polish, cosmetics, and health supplements. Natural medicine enthusiasts widely use lemon balm for relaxation. (5)
Lemon balm when used to relax works in a variety of ways by:
- Reduces Anxiety– Lemon balm can help reduce anxiety. Research supports that lemon balm may reduce anxiety symptoms including nervousness and restlessness. (6)
- Promotes Better Sleep– By helping reduce restlessness and soothe frayed nerves, lemon balm users may have an easier time falling asleep and sleeping more deeply. Better sleep is linked to better mood and mental and physical health.
- Relieves Stress- Some research suggests that taking one 600 mg dose of lemon balm increases calmness when put under stress. There is more research out there suggesting that taking lemon balm for an extended period of time will have lasting stress busting results. (7)
How to use Lemon Balm for Relaxation
Lemon balm can be used in a variety of ways. The most popular ways to use lemon balm include:
- Drinking: Brew a tea of the dried lemon balm herb. Steep 1 teaspoon of lemon balm in hot water and drink several times per day.
- Supplements: Lemon balm supplements are available in capsule form. The normal recommended dosage is 300 to 500 mg of lemon balm up to 3 times per day.
- Topically: Use cream with lemon balm in it up to 3 times per day.
Discovered by Spanish explorers in Peru in the mid 1500s, passion flower has a very long history of medicinal use. In fact, Passionflower used to be available as a sleep aid and sedative. It was pulled off the market because safety needed to be further studied. However, passionflower fruit is used in popular fruit drinks like Hawaiian Punch. It is still popular today and sold online to treat anxiety and insomnia. (8)
Passionflower provides calming effects by:
- Calming the Mind– Studies have shown that passionflower can actually lower your brain activity while boosting levels of a feel good chemical called GABA. This is particularly useful for treating anxiety related disorders and the physical symptoms of anxiety.
- Promotes Better Sleep– The same mellowing effect of the increased GABA can make passion flower an effective sleep aid. Studies done have shown passion flower does boost restful sleep.
- Reduces Anxiety- Passion flower relieves in anxiety. Research has shown patients given passion flower prior to surgery don’t suffer as much pre op anxiety as those who do not take it.
How to use Passion Flower for Relaxation
Passion flower can be taken in the following ways:
- Drinking: Steep 1 teaspoon of passion flower in a cup boiling water for 10 minutes before straining. Drink 3 to 4 times per day to treat anxiety and soothe nerves or enjoy a cup an hour before bed for a more restful night of sleep.
- Tinctures and Extracts: Follow the directions on the label to create tinctures and extracts.
Holy basil isn’t the same kind of basil you’d use in pesto or the spicy basil in Thai dishes. While those kinds of basil pack big taste benefits, holy basil packs a powerful health punch. This herb native to Southeast Asia has been used for centuries to treat a variety of conditions. Not only can this herb tame tummy trouble, heal wounds, and protect your joints, but it can also provide a soothing brain boost that can help combat anxiety and promote relaxation. (9)
Holy Basil provides anxiety relief by:
- Decreases Pain– Holy basil is thought to reduce perception of pain. Pain increases the body’s stress response and adds to anxiety. It also takes away from quality of life.
- Eases Stress– Taking holy basil has been shown to relieve the physical symptoms of stress including memory problems, sexual issues, and sleeplessness.
- Reduces Anxiety and Depression- Research found that taking 500 mg of holy basil leaf extract twice daily after meals for 60 days reduces anxiety and depression.
How to use Holy Basil for Relaxation
Holy basil gives you lots of options for using it for optimal mental health. To use holy basil try:
- Bathing: Add holy basil extract to a bath for a soothing way to relieve stress and relax.
- Drink It: Drop a few holy basil leaves into a cup of boiling water. Let steep and drink for stress relieving benefits.
- Capsules: This supplement is available in several dosages. Consult with a doctor or homeopath to find the perfect dosage to take advantage of its calming effects.
Calming Herbs: The Bottom Line
Calming herbs can be a powerful addition to your self care routine. These herbs may significantly improve your mood and mental well being. However, like any other supplement, you should always consult with a professional prior to beginning use of a calming herb.