by Gianne Rayandayan, Herbalist
With October 10 being the intersection of Indigenous People's Day and World Mental Health Day, a lot could be said for the importance of caring for one another. But before we can properly care for our communities, we need to be able to care for ourselves! Below, we discuss different ways to ground and uplift the nervous system through nutrients, lifestyle, and herbs.
When addressing mental wellness holistically, it’s helpful to start slow. Doing even really small things consistently will amount to enormous shifts over time-- gentleness, self-compassion, and patience go a long way!
Grounding the Nervous System
When we think of ‘grounding’ the nervous system, we think of:
1) fortifying the physical structure of the cells through minerals and vitamins 2) bringing our thoughts back to our bodies in present-time and 3) calming our body’s ‘fight or flight’ response.
One of the easiest ways to fortify the nervous system is with Magnesium-- a trace mineral that plays an essential role in our body’s nerve signaling and brain plasticity (6). Due to a variety of biological, agricultural, and lifestyle factors, we find many folks are deficient in Magnesium though they are eating a largely plant-based diet.
As a general rule, any form of Magnesium will benefit your nervous system. However, certain forms accomplish this task more effectively. We're thinking of Jarrow Formulas’ MagMind, which contains Magnesium L-Threonate (Magtein), specifically developed to bring Magnesium through the blood-brain barrier. One thing to note, however, is that Magnesium can be gastrically irritating. For those who have sensitive stomachs, Pure Encapsulations’ Magnesium Glycinate is a great option. If you’re looking for extra muscular tension or relief from nerve pain, we suggest Integrative Therapeutics’ Magnesium Malate.
‘Healthy fats’ also play a crucial role in brain cell structure. Eating a ‘mediterannean diet’ or any diet rich in nuts, fresh fruits, dark green veggies, and fish can offer your body a wide array of essential Omega-3 fatty Acids. Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA is an especially important neuro-protective and antioxidant agent (5). Fish is a rich source of Omega 3’s-- try adding a quality fish oil supplement like Nordic Naturals’ ProOmega.
The act of preparing and drinking tea is a wonderful way to practice mindfulness and present-time awareness while getting those much-needed nutrients into your body. A strong tea of Oatstraw (Avena sativa) and Horsetail ( Equisetum arvense) will provide you with rich, bioavailable Magnesium, Calcium, and other minerals. Combine with Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)-- an herb rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)-- for a solid neuroprotective formula.
As a final note on grounding, aromatherapy is a great tool to work with. We recommend diffusing Organic Lavender Essential Oil at your workspace for calming feelings of apprehension. For a mood-lift, pair Lavender with stimulating Rosemary Essential Oil, a combination shown to decrease depression in hospital patients (7). We also have lavender pillow spray which can be used for anxiety that peaks at bedtime or those that have trouble falling asleep.
Healthy Gut, Healthy Brain
The state of our gut health carries a large impact on how we feel, emotionally. Ever notice how slow digestion and depression (or stomach cramps and anxiety) often go hand in hand? The gut has been referred to by scientists as a ‘second brain’(1) due to its high concentration of nerve cells.
Supplementing with a balanced probiotic is always a great way to address any digestive irregularity that could be influencing your moods. Our client's go-to's are Pure Encapsulation’s Probiotic-5 and Metagenics’ UltraFlora Balance-- both high quality probiotics that we love! In tandem, consuming high-fiber foods is a way to feed ‘good’ gut bacteria and support regular bowel movements.
Not to be underestimated, Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a powerful remedy for calming the upper digestive tract while soothing irritated and ‘fiery’ emotions. I have seen many folks respond very well to Chamomile for indigestion and nervous tension alike.You will find Chamomile in formulas like our Calm Restore by Gaia. It is worth nothing that Chamomile is also one of the few herbs that works very well on its own. For this, we carry Bon Temps Chamomile Tea as a soothing after-meal digestive or nightcap. (note: to really feel the effects of herbal teas/tisanes, we suggest brewing 2-3 bags per 1 cup of hot water).
Extra Mood Boost
Herbal medicinals tend to follow a ‘doctrine of signatures’-- where the shapes and colors of plant parts indicate their specific functionality and effect on the body. These observations across many different cultures have spanned thousands of years and are becoming increasingly supported by clinical study.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is a plant that visually resembles the human brain by way of its ‘bi-lobed’ or dual-hemisphere leaf shape. Ginkgo is a known neuroprotective herb and researchers believe this is due in part to its ability to promote blood circulation in the brain (9). The leaf contains a water-soluble compound which has been clinically shown to reduce stress-induced depression(8), making our Mindful Tea by Chicken Coop another great option for daily wellness. We also carry Vibrant Mind by Natura, a client-favorite formula that features Ginkgo and other herbs to support focus and memory.
Herbs like Saffron (Crocus sativus), Magnolia (Magnolia officinalis),and Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) follow the doctrine of signatures more abstractly; their blossoms mirroring the purple, upward-moving pattern of the ‘crown’ chakra located at the top of the head (a traditionally Ayurvedic principle). We see these herbs working effectively together in our Tranquility formula by Natura. These herbs have been shown to enhance mood, boost cognitive function, and act on various neurotransmitter pathways (e.g. GABA, Serotonin, and Dopamine) respectively, all of which play large roles in the way our brains modulate our moods (11) (12).
You can also work with Passion Flower for easing mental stress and calm overactive thoughts. It works beautify in-formula and you can find it in our WishGarden’s Serious Relaxer or our own Remedy Stress-Ease Capsules. Contrary to popular connotation, Passionflower on its own does not induce drowsiness or sleep. However, when taking any herbal supplements, we recommend consulting your healthcare provider first as they may interact with certain prescription medications.
Lastly, if you are thinking of addressing mental wellness through herbs and supplements for children, it's best to start simply. Boosting minerals like Magnesium as discussed, and working with very gentle herbs like Chamomile or Nettle (or both!) in tea are both great starting points. Calm Child by Planetary Herbs blends Chamomile and Magnesium with tonifying Hawthorn, Gotu Kola, and other herbs for a beautifully soothing children’s formula.
The beauty of holistic medicine is that it can adapt to almost any lifestyle. We hope these suggestions offer you tangible places to start your wellness journey. If you’d like to dig deeper, we invite you to book an herbalist consultation or drop by in-store for a chat! Deep breaths-- we are all in this together.