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Herbs, Exercise, and Anxiety

Why hello there! Bet you weren’t expecting to see little old me pop up in your emails on this splendid Friday afternoon. Or perhaps it’s months later and you’re just getting around to clearing out your junk folder where you stumbled upon this gem that certainly shouldn’t have been there the first place! Well, wherever and whenever this finds you, I’m glad you could be here for today’s ramblings.

Today’s topic, as the title suggests, is about herbs, exercise, and anxiety! As someone who has been dealing with anxiety since before I even knew what anxiety was, I am always on the hunt for natural ways to keep my mind healthy, happy, and not overthinking every decision I’ve made since developing the capacity to form memories. Since I’ve never felt my anxiety to be so detrimental that I need to turn to pharmaceuticals (which is 100% okay and works wonders for many people), I instead like to research and experiment with more natural methods of soothing my anxious brain.

This past summer I learned about the healing powers of herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine, one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems (definition from WebMD, plz don’t sue me). Ayurveda has been around for over 3000 years, which is pretty darn amazing! When I first read about stress-relieving herbs, I quickly became intrigued and ordered four different ones on Amazon because I am maybe a little too quick to jump on the bandwagon sometimes. Not that it matters, as I do not regret this (small) investment one bit! I can attest to the benefits of taking certain herbs for certain mental needs.

The holy grail of all herbs, in my unprofessional opinion, is Ashwagandha. Also known as Indian Ginseng, this herb is similar to Buckley’s in that it tastes awful but it works! For real though, this stuff is like magic. It is meant for people with anxious minds like myself who need to calm their nerves and stop overthinking absolutely everything. I’m telling you, as soon as I take this in the morning, my mind just feels lighter. Blissful, even. The only downside is, of course, the taste. I mix a teaspoon in with some hot water, lemon, and honey. It’s not awful once you sweeten it up a bit, and the benefits are well worth the not so amazing taste. If you are looking to start your day with a clear and calm mind, I highly recommend giving this a try.

Now for an herb that helps subside anxious thoughts while also supplying an energetic boost similar to the one we more commonly find in caffeine, I present to you, Maca! This wonderful powder is great mixed into a banana protein smoothie, or warmed up with your favourite nut milk, a generous sprinkle of cinnamon, and a dash of maple syrup. The taste is much better than that of Ashwagandha, since it is not so much a leafy herb as it is a root, and it has a more sweet, subtly caramel-y taste (but don’t expect it to actually taste like caramel, by any means..) I know that for me, too much caffeine leads to a bad case of the jitters and super heightened anxiety, so Maca is the perfect way to up my energy levels without disturbing my peace of mind.

Lastly, I have tried Passionflower. This one is meant to help with falling asleep, which lord knows I need, since those anxious thoughts love to creep in all at once when I finally hit the pillow and am desperately in need of a good night’s sleep. That’s where Passionflower comes in! This gem helps to calm your brain right down, get rid of those ridiculous worries clouding your thoughts, and lull you into a deep sleep. I wish I could say I love this stuff, but for some reason I have found myself with a headache the few times I’ve tried it. It could be coincidental and unrelated to the Passionflower, but it scared me off a little, even though it did make me feel sleepy and calm. It’s really too bad this one came with a negative side effect for me, since many insomniacs swear by this stuff.  While it might not be right for me, I think anyone struggling with insomnia or nighttime anxiety should try it out for themselves.

Now, before all my anti-naturopathic and overly-scientific family members (love you!) try to beat me to it, I am well aware of the possibility of the placebo effect sneaking in here. First off, I’d like to say I do honestly believe these herbs work, since I have found myself in situations that would usually send my heart racing and launch me into fight or flight mode (when neither is an option), and have been completely fine after drinking my morning Ashwagandha. On the other end, there is nothing bad about the placebo effect, anyway. This phenomenon tends to have a negative connotation when in reality, all that matters is that you are healing, whether it is by the power of your thoughts or by the power of the medicine you are consuming. The fact that our bodies are reacting well to something, anything, is a good thing. So placebo or not, these herbs are doing magical things for tons of people struggling with mental health and I think that’s just marvellous!

The last thing for me to quickly graze over since I sort of hit my word limit with the herb chat, is exercise. Don’t we all just love to exercise?! It can seem like the most daunting, unpleasant chore hanging over your day, but the impact it has on mental health is incredible. I have been regularly working out for about five years now, with the odd dry season when traveling or when life gets a little busy, and I can truly feel the difference in my mental state when I’m exercising less. It is scientifically proven (yay science! facts!) that exercising makes us happier and relieves stress with those good old endorphins being released and whatnot. Whether we understand the science behind it or not, there is no denying that it just makes you feel good. Maybe not in the moment, but as soon as you conquer a workout you feel accomplished, motivated, and happy!

Although I do also workout with the goal of staying in shape, one of the biggest reasons I try to stay consistent with exercising is because of the mental health benefits. No matter how grumpy, tired, or pessimistic I feel going into a workout, I always come out with an instantly better mood. Always. Even ask my workout buddy/cousin/roommate Claire! We’ve been doing a multitude of different workouts recently, from barre classes to spin and kickboxing, and I swear I am a whole different person on the ride home than I am on the ride there. (@Claire sorry you have to put up with my pre-workout grumps). And on top of the happiness, it significantly relieves my anxiety and clears my mind of all those pesky, uneasy thoughts. So if your moods have been in the dumps lately or you’re a little stressed out, maybe you should ask yourself when the last time that you really moved your body was. Even walking, swimming, hiking, or doing a 15 minute yoga video at home will make a world of difference!

So while I’m sure you’re all just dying to jump onto Amazon and order all those herbs, I realize that it may not appeal to everyone. If you’re not so keen on that side of things,  the one thing that everyone can do is add a little exercise into their lives! Physical health and mental health often go hand in hand, and working out is the best way to achieve a clear mind and a strong body.

And with that I shall bid you farewell. Happy weekend! Take your herbs, do your workouts, and never settle for less water than you deserve. If I had time I would go off on another tangent right now about how hydration is the spice of life, but don’t worry, I won’t bore you with that.

I’d like to end in stating that I am not actually health guru (shocker, I know) and I don’t actually know anything at all, but if you trust me then maybe we can all be high on life together thanks to the natural wonders of medicinal herbs! (Medicinal herbs sounds like I’m referring to a certain something that recently became legal in Canada, and while that is not what I am insinuating here, that herb has been known to help with anxiety, not that I would know anything about it…)

Lots of love!

~Tal, Pretend Health Guru


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