Teas are often toted as a stress relieving super drink, and well that is because they are.
Do not underestimate the humble cup of tea next time you feel your stress levels boiling over or a deadline looming. Tea may seem too simple of an idea but sometimes it's the simplest things that work best to combat stress.
Why is stress the bad guy?
Stress /strɛs/noun: A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. Eg. ‘He's obviously under a lot of stress’. Stress induces reactive oxygen species (ROS) and causes alterations in brain cell architecture and cognition.
However stress isn’t always a bad thing. It can be handy for a quick burst of energy or focus, like when you’re playing a competitive sport or are about to go on a first date. It's when it’s continuous that it actually begins to change your brain. This video here explains stress and its effects really well. Our body has an amazing homeostatic thermostat that regulates any acute imbalances; it's a pretty cool system. But over time this system stops working and our body's balance is thrown out. Think of a period in your life when you went out too much or worked too much, your body copes but only for a finite time. So by 'saying no' to stress day to day we can help to reduce it's effect on our body in the long run. Time to boil the kettle?
With excessive stress comes a range of health complaints, unique to each individual. One person may break out in hives, another may have a perpetual cold even through summer and another may find their gut gains a mind of its own (quite literally) and things start to change. These are the signs we can use to identify stress and keep a track of its severity.
In particular, let's have a chat about how stress can change the gut.
You may or may not have heard of the Gut-Brain Axis before. It is this pretty awesome connection going on in our bodies that results in a two way link between our gut and our brain. I even wrote a blog on tea's that will help balance out your gut here, which will explain it all a little further. But basically, we have a whole bunch of receptors and bacteria in our gut that increase hormones like GABA and serotonin in the brain, the hormones that keep us feeling good. If your gut isn't functioning properly it is likely you are feeling pretty flat, that is the opposite of what we want.
The idea of keeping stress levels to a minimum should be sounding pretty appealing by now.
Simultaneously, our brain affects our gut. Thinking back to your last make or break business meeting or the time you had to sign the line on a contract, it can sometimes make our digestive system say "hello", make some noises and even act out of character. It's a really interesting system that also affects our immune system, integumentary (skin) system, sleep patterns and general wellbeing.
One last point before we delve into the 5 teas to tame your brain on those busy days, and this is an important one. Having a background in economics I am always geeking out my patients and talking about the wonderful theories I had learnt back in university. One such theory which applies so well in this situation is the theory of 'opportunity cost' - the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. If you are choosing a tea mid-afternoon, it is likely it will start crowding out your coffee consumption, which for many is way too high already. So in a bid to conquer stress by drinking tea you are also probably inadvertently cutting back on coffee. This is where you high five your boss who is loving your new calm and collected vibe (then inconspicuously ask for a raise).
5 Teas to kick stresses butt to the curb
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) makes it into my top five cut. It is such a powerful herb and yet so underrated. I remember the first time I had it back when I was studying, I had never felt such focus and clarity in my life. I said to myself "I am going to have this every day for the rest of my life!" Sadly that didn't happen as I just love too many other herbs. The name "ginseng" is used to refer to American, Korean or Siberian varieties but should not be confused. Both Asian and American ginseng contain ginsenosides ((Rg1, Re, Rb1, Rc and Rd), which are the substances that give ginseng its medicinal properties. But they contain different types in different amounts. Siberian ginseng is an entirely different plant with different effects. American ginseng and ginsenosides enhanced cognitive performance and mood (study here) and long-term ginsenoside administration to mice prevented memory loss or impairment. Pour one cup of hot water over one teaspoon full of the freshly crushed root, cover and let steep for 5-10 minutes, then strain. American Ginseng is a rough and raw tasting herb that definitely tastes like the root that it is. I suggest adding a tsp of honey to calm this one down. Enjoy 1-4 cups per day.
Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis) also known as one of my favourite teas is known for its volatile oils citronellal and citral a & b. Lemon balm has an antispasmodic, carminative and sedative effect. It can also be described as a nervine agent when the Gut-Brain Axis is playing up which may cause nervous stomach, stress and overwhelm. Lemon balm is a light, refreshing and minty flavoured tea which is enjoyable to most tea enthusiasts. To prepare pour 1 cup of hot, but not boiling water, over 2 teaspoons of the leaf, cover and allow to steep for 10-15 minutes. It is best drunk after meals especially after your evening meal and a teaspoon of honey can be added to enhance its flavour.
Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) is a member of the Theaceae family, and black and oolong tea are produced from the same leaves. Unlike black and oolong tea, green tea production does not involve oxidation of young tea leaves. Green tea is produced from steaming fresh leaves at high temperatures, thereby inactivating the oxidizing enzymes and leaving the polyphenol content intact. The most powerful of these antioxidants is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which helps our brains stay in a state of lowered inflammation meaning less stress on your body.
L-theanine which (in my opinion) is the star active constituents of green tea which modulates brain function and more specifically acts as a powerful anxiolytic. L-theanine significantly increases activity in the alpha frequency band which indicates that it relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness (study here). Could you ask for any more in times of stress? Everyone knows what a cup of green tea tastes like and you can usually get this one in from your favourite cafe which is a bonus when you have unexpected stress pop up. It's a highly accessible tea, it works and it tastes pretty good. To prepare pour 1 cup of hot water, but not boiling, over 2 teaspoons of the leaf, cover and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Personally I enjoy it with a dash of soy milk, try it if you are game.
Withania (withania Somnifera) oh how I do love this herb. I feel like I have a personal connection with it given how much it has helped me through times of stress. I was taught it is like a mothers hug and that is exactly what it feels like. Withania is a calming anxiolytic that when compared to the drug Lorazepam in all three standard Anxiety tests it came out equal (study here), it is also a mood stabiliser that works quite well for feeling of depletion and overwhelm. Just because we are on team withania right now I may also include that it has been shown to also increase stamina and physical endurance, so if you are heading out for a run after a long day today, this one may be for you. It tastes pretty bland but is not offensive, as a root it does take a little longer to really extract it's properties but it can be done with just your office kettle if a stove top isn't near by. Poor boiling water over 1 tsp of the dried herb, cover and allow to infuse for 10 minutes.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is indicated for not just adrenal depletion, physical stress and resting an unsettled belly, it is also going to suppress a nasty cough and runny nose. So if you are one of those people who gets stressed and then gets a cold then this one is for you. Licorice carries with it a beautifully sweet and smooth flavour and surprising to many does not taste like your typical childhood strip of licorice. To prepare pour 1 cup of boiling water of 1 tsp of licorice root and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Licorice also makes a great summer's ice tea, to make this simply allow the tea to rest until it is cool then strain, add a couple of ice cubes and serve with a squeeze of lime.
Get Your Supplies Together
When stocking up on teas, take a look at your local health food shop, bulk food shops like The Source or ask your naturopath. You can stock up on these teas in large quantities once or twice a year as they last really well stored in an air tight containers out of the light. The main thing is that they are high quality, do not skimp on this as you may ass well be paying for grass.
It's really important to have a favourite mug or tea pot on the go; this should now be a stock standard item in your home or at work. To have a beautiful and pleasant looking mug makes the tea go from being a medicine to being a meditative activity and an enjoyable part of your day. I quite like the range at T2 as they are colourful, functional and downright pretty. Drinking tea is one of the most effective practices to facilitate mindfulness. Doing it on a regular basis will bring you closer than ever to being that meditative, calm and chilled out person that you want to be. To learn more about how to become a meditative person, read my blog here.
Simply maintaining a stock of these 5 teas will make you feel more focused, less stressed and more energised day in and day out without that nasty feeling of impending doom following you around. There is no need to feel overwhelmed now you have your tea collection in place you will be the envy of the office and will be telling your stress who is boss!
Jennifer stocks a range of over 40 organic or wild crafted herbal teas in her Inner West clinic. For tea purchasing enquiries please contact Jennifer at email@example.com or place a comment below.
1. How stress affects your brain video
2. 5 Teas for beating the bloat
3. More about the Gut-Brain Axis
4. Green tea L-theanine study
5. Withania and its effects
Join Jennifer at her upcoming workshop with The Indigo Project on the 7th November:
Jennifer Ward Adv Dip Nat, Bcom Econ
Jennifer is a leading naturopath trained in herbal medicine, nutritional medicine and health coaching. Consultations available by appointment at www.jenniferwardnaturopath.com.au. For speaking engagement enquiries or to collaborate email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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