This is the time of year when I get swept up in the whirlwind of spring and the burgeoning market season: the days are long, the sun’s hot on my neck, the soil dries out so quickly that it seems like I’m always watering, and I find my breath sitting high and shallow in my chest. Some days it’s so choked that I make the most ridiculous facial expressions, screwing up my nose and mouth in an attempt to take deep belly breaths. I try to only do that when no one else is around because it’s a disturbing sight.
Whenever I talk about self-care–in writing or in person–I’m really talking to myself first and foremost, because I freely admit that I suck at it. The good news is that I don’t have to be perfect at it (I have the rest of my life to practice, however long or short that may be), but it is my responsibility to try to get better at it. Whenever I seem closest to the brink of physical exhaustion and breakdown, I start seeing little synchronicities pop up like red flags, warning me of impending disaster. This afternoon I was rereading a book on home-based microbusinesses and this quote stuck out: “…While being type B will just make your microbusiness fail, being type A can kill you.”
Yep. That’s me.
On April 24, 2013, I herniated my L5 disk and I was bedridden for five days with the most excruciating pain I’ve ever experienced. It became an opportunity for tremendous personal growth, but it was terrifying. And a year later, I know that in many ways I’ve slipped back into the bad habits that led to that injury. Which is also terrifying, because this is the sort of lesson that keeps cropping up–and will keep cropping up–for the rest of my life. It’s the same lesson I didn’t quite learn in February 2009, when a combination of a high-stress job, NSAIDs, vodka, and an impending layoff resulted in several weeks of painful gastritis. I’ve been told that this is just how I operate–I push myself until I suffer a breakdown–but I don’t want to simply accept that as my permanent modus operandi. I understand the problem. I just need to find some solutions that work for me and my situation.
My history of gut and musculoskeletal problems was what inspired me to spend so much time learning about nervines when I first started studying herbs. A whole class of herbs that support nervous system function and help to ease stress, tension, and digestive complaints? Sign me up!
But nervine herbs (and adaptogens, which also help the body deal with stress), can only get you so far if there are fundamental underlying imbalances–such as constant overwork–that are not addressed.
In that case, what’s a type A to do? Well, the answer’s not easy in this day and age. Once upon a time, even type As had to yield to darkness at the end of the day. Now electric lights and digital devices prolong our work hours–it’s all too easy to work into the wee hours of the night, to be addicted to checking email and facebook on our smartphones in bed, to never, ever turning it off and shutting down. Never resting. And it’s even worse when you work from home–work is. Never. Over.
Like everything else in life, developing a proper level of self-care is a long process–a practice. I’m pretty sure I’ll endure more physical breakdowns and mental burnouts over the course of my life. In the meantime, here are some tips for self-care that I’m trying to keep in mind during this busy spring season:
1. Practice conscious breathing. Inhale all the way down into the belly and exhale fully. Avoid taking shallow breaths through the mouth.
2. Nourish the body with wholesome foods, healthy fats, and wild greens (plus lots of fresh, clean water!).
3. Go to bed earlier and get more sleep. Eliminate sources of light in the bedroom.
4. Disconnect. Unplug. Take time off to do something unrelated to work or household chores.
5. Ease mental and emotional tension with pleasure medicine. Take a rosewater bath, sip a delicious herbal tea, dab a few drops of a relaxing herbal perfume on the pulse points before bed.
6. Incorporate nervines and adaptogens in tea and tincture form into the daily routine. Lemon balm, tulsi, oats, skullcap, and rose are some of my favorites.
7. Sit outdoors and simply observe the natural world for 10-15 minutes a day. Listen to birdsong, watch the bees working the vetch and clover flowers. Throw open the windows and let the breeze in.
8. Be kind to yourself. It won’t all get done, and that’s okay. Let go of unreasonable expectations. Take baby steps.
Stress Less Herbal Tea
1 part lemon balm leaf
1 part tulsi leaf and flower
1 part nettle leaf
1 part oatstraw or oat tops
1 part rose petals
This is one of my favorite teas, and my go-to blend when I’m feeling strung-out and shaky from stress. It’s a blend of nervine, adaptogenic, and nutritive herbs that’s delicious and deeply nourishing. Since it’s a gentle blend, I use 1 tbsp. of the dried herb per cup of water, cover while the tea is brewing to keep in the delicate aroma of the lemon balm and rose, and steep for anywhere from 10 minutes to overnight.
In the photo above, you might notice the addition of violet flowers (2 parts). I also added home-grown and dried lemon verbena (4 parts) for brightness of flavor. These are both optional; violet flowers typically aren’t available commercially, and bulk lemon verbena is a pale, sad shadow of this vibrant herb. I highly recommend growing and drying your own for maximum flavor!
What are your favorite ways to practice self-care?