Anxiety, panic, irritability, frustration, confusion, sadness. Emotional distress is a common experience and is increasingly part of regular life in our modern age. We are living a fast paced, busy and constantly “plugged in” lifestyle where many of us feel increasingly on edge, irritable, nervous and out of balance. Many of us have also experienced emotional trauma that can increase our feelings of dis-ease and discomfort.
Deep emotional distress often is helped with a multi-faceted approach using tools such as counseling, meditation, peer support, yoga, exercise and dietary changes. These are all long term tools that can be effective in reducing stress and bringing more balance. However, when someone is in the midst of feeling deeply upset and distressed, it is important to have some go-to” tools for helping to feel more calm and peaceful.
One of the best ways to help yourself through an episode of distress is to prepare a home made herbal emotional distress kit (H.E.D. Kit). Just as you can make or purchase an herbal first aid kit, you can also make yourself an herbal kit for emotional distress. Here are the top 7 things you can have in your kit.
1- Lavender essential oil: The scent of lavender is deeply relaxing and enlivening and can be helpful for anyone who is feeling “blue”, down and needs to lift their spirits. There are a number of ways to use lavender essential oil. Add 5 drops of oil to a hot bath, step in and feel the stress leave you. You can also use a diffuser that helps lightly heat up the oil and spread the smell of lavender in a room. Here’s a great article on different types of diffusers and their advantages and disadvantages.
2- Five flower Formula: Flower essences are simply minute distillations of a flower as it sits in water in sunlight. This is truly energetic medicine akin to homeopathy, without any true chemical constituents. Five flower formula is a combination of five flowers that are specifically helpful for those who feel deeply upset, panicked, in shock and even hysterical. 2-4 drops under the tongue can sometimes have a magical effect on people, helping to break a cycle of increasing distress while restoring calm.
3- Sage stick: Burning resins and plants like sage is a time honored tradition found in indigenous cultures throughout the world. Often used to clear a space of disturbed energy, for ritual purposes and for cleansing and healing people, burning sage can be a powerful tool for helping someone who is feeling deeply distressed and ungrounded. I prefer using “white sage” and generally I will just take a leaf or two and light them individually. Just a little sage smoke can help people to feel a lot more relaxed and calm.
4- Kava tincture: Kava kava (Piper methysticum) is an herb that has traditionally been used by Polynesian Islanders for its sedative and anesthetic properties. Kava root tincture is deeply relaxing and helps the body to release tension if you feel wired, edgy and tight in your muscles. Kava can especially helpful for people suffering with intermittent insomnia and with feelings of strong anxiety and panic. 1-2 droppers (30-60 drops) can be taken by adding it to a half cup of water or juice and then drinking it down quickly. (The taste is pretty nasty and will numb the lips and tongue if taken without water.) Kava is contraindicated for those who are on anti-coagulant medications, have liver problems or are taking benzodiazapenes (Xanax, Klonopin) or antipsychotics (Haldol, Risperdal).
5- Linden tea: Linden leaves and flower (Tilia europea or americana) is a deeply soothing herb that helps people who feel wired, restless, hot and irritable.). It is also a very gentle herb that can be taken by children, the elderly and those taking pharmaceutical drugs. Traditionally used for colds, the flu and respiratory complaints, it is one of the premier “nervine” herbs for bringing deep relaxation. To brew up a cup, simply add a tablespoon of linden to a cup of hot water, let it steep for ten minutes and then drink as needed.
6- Cramp bark tincture: Cramp bark root (Viburnum opulis) is one of the best things to take for nervous, wired tension in the body such as premenstrual cramping, tension headaches and muscle tightness and rigidity. 1-2 droppers full (30-60 drops) will help relax and soothe the body as well as bringing some pain relief. Avoid taking with blood thinners and for small children.
7- St. John’s Wort Oil: An 8 oz jar of St. John’s Wort oil (Hypericum perforatum) can perform miracles for those who are feeling physically drained, anxious and overwhelmed. By simply pouring a little oil into your hands and then massaging your body where there is tension or nerve pain, you will immediately feel more relaxed and calmer. If you’re lucky, you might have a friend or partner who can massage some St. John’s Wort oil into those tight spots. Everything feels better after a massage.
Having a handy “kit” of herbs nearby to soothe emotional distress can be deeply helpful for those who experience moderate anxiety, sadness, irritability, anger and frustration. Herbs are not meant to cover up ongoing suffering so attending to the deeper reason for these feelings is key. However, certain herbs can be incredibly helpful for short term help when you feel overwhelmed and in distress. Creating a H.E.D. Kit can be a great way to prepare for those times.