Joan Wilen and Lydia Wilen are folk-remedy experts and home tipsters based in New York City. They have spent decades collecting “cures from the cupboard” and are authors of several books, including Secret Food Cures.
Whether it’s a work project getting to you, finally catching the eye of your crush, or an interview we’ve all felt sweaty palms, tension in our shoulders, and stomach churning of nervousness and anxiety due to stress. Natural stress remedies—even if they’re just making time to do something you enjoy—can help you manage these bouts of anxiety and get through the situation.
Sweaty palms, indigestion, a stiff neck, hyperventilating, an ulcer, a dry mouth, a tic—yes, even a canker sore—all of these conditions can be caused by nervous tension, anxiety and stress.
There are as many symptoms and outward manifestations of anxiety as there are reasons for it. Throughout this book, we generally address ourselves to the problem at hand, like sweaty palms. In this section, we address the problem that may have caused the symptoms—nervous tension and anxiety.
Psychologist Joyce Brothers, PhD, unwinds by doing heavy gardening on her farm. Sailing is a great release for former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite. Actor John Travolta pilots his own plane for relaxation.
While not all of us have a plane, a sailboat, or a farm, most of us have a kitchen, a neighborhood health food store—and the following tension-relieving remedies.
• A good first step would be to cut out caffeine. Substitute herbal teas for regular tea and coffee. If you’re a chocoholic, check out carob bars when you get a craving for chocolate. Health food stores have a big selection of carob treats that contain no caffeine. The taste and texture of some carob brands are similar to chocolate.
• Harried homeowners do not paint your kitchens yellow to cheer you up. According to the Wagner Institute for Color Research, a yellow room contributes to stress and adds to feelings of anxiety.
• Here’s a little acupressure to relieve life’s pressure. For at least five minutes a day, massage the webbed area between your thumb and index finger of your left hand. Really get in there and knead it. It may hurt. That’s all the more reason to keep at it.
Gradually, the pain will decrease, and so should the tightness in your chest and shoulders. Eventually, you should have no pain at all, and you may notice a difference in your general relaxed state of well-being
• For a burst of energy without the tension that’s usually attached to it, add 1⁄8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to a cup of warm water and drink it down.
It’s strong stuff and may take a while to get used to, but cayenne is so beneficial, it’s worth it. Once you get used to using it, you can increase the amount to 1 ⁄4 teaspoon and then to 1 ⁄2 teaspoon.
• Make two poultices out of a large, raw, grated onion. Place a poultice on each of your calves and leave them there for a half-hour. We know, it’s hard to believe that onions on your legs can eliminate nervous anxiety, but don’t knock it until you try it.
• If all of your tension is preventing you from falling asleep, try the tranquilizing effect of a hop pillow. (See “Sleep Problems” on page 161 for details.)
• Let’s talk about something some of you may already know about—Valium (brand name diazapam). Often prescribed to relieve tension, it can have side effects. But there is an alternative that is said to have no side effects. It’s called valerian root, and it’s the natural forerunner to Valium. Capsules and tablets are available at health food stores. Follow the dosage on the label.
Cut and powdered valerian root is available, but the smell is so vile, we can’t imagine anyone wanting to make their own tea with it.
• Did you know there’s a Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society? Well, there is, and it’s at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia. Results of a study conducted at the Center showed that looking at fish in a home aquarium is as beneficial as biofeedback and meditation, in terms of relaxation techniques. Yup, just sitting in front of a medium-sized fish tank—watching ordinary, nonexotic little fish —relaxed people to the point of considerably improving their blood pressure.
Get a few guppies and pull up a chair! Or go to YouTube.com and search “relaxing fish aquarium” for videos of fish in aquariums accompanied by calming music.
• Chia seeds are a calmative. Drink a cup of chia-seed tea before each meal. You can also sprinkle the seeds on salads.
• Alternate-nostril breathing is a well-known yoga technique that is used to put people in a relaxed state with a feeling of inner peace.
Pay attention—it sounds more complex than it is.
◆ Place your right thumb against your right nostril.
◆ Place your right ring finger and right pinkie against your left nostril. (This is not an exercise for anyone with a stuffed nose.)
◆ Inhale and slowly exhale through both nostrils.
◆ Now press your right nostril closed and slowly inhale deeply through your left nostril to the count of five.
◆ While your right nostril is still closed, press your left nostril closed.
◆ Holding the air in your lungs, count to five.
◆ Open your right nostril and exhale to the count of five. Inhale through your right nostril to the count of five.
◆ Close both nostrils and count to five. Exhale through the left nostril to the count of five.
Keep repeating this pattern for—you guessed it—five minutes. Do it in the morning when you start your day and again at day’s end.
• Kombu is a type of seaweed. Kombu tea can be a potent nerve tonic. Add a three-inch strip of kombu to a quart of water and boil it for 10 minutes. Drink 1 ⁄2 cup at a time throughout the day. Kombu is available at health food stores and Asian markets.
• Do you have some clothespins hanging around? Take a handful of them and clip them to the tips of your fingers, at the start of your nails of your left hand. Keep them there for seven minutes. Then put those clothespins on the fingers of your right hand for another seven minutes. Pressure exerted on nerve endings is known to relax the entire nervous system. Do this clothespin bit first thing in the morning, and before, during or right after a particularly tense situation.
• Here’s a visualization exercise used by hypnotherapists and at many self-help seminars. Make sure you’re not going to be disturbed by telephones, pagers, cell phones, doorbells, dogs, whistling teapots, etc.
Sit in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes and…wait! Read these directions first, then close your eyes. Once your eyes are closed, put all your awareness in your toes. Concentrate on feeling as though nothing else exists but your toes. Completely relax the muscles in your toes. Slowly move up from your toes to your feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, pelvis, hips, back, stomach, chest, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, jaw, mouth, cheeks, ears, eyes, and brow. Yes, even relax the muscles of your scalp. Now that you’re relaxed, take three slow, deep breaths, then slowly open your eyes.
Most of us get nervous when we have to do any kind of public speaking. In fact, lots of professional performers get a bad case of butterflies before the curtain goes up.
Here are a couple of exercises that can make nervousness a thing of the past…
• Before “showtime,” stand squarely in front of an immovable wall. Put both your palms on the wall, elbows bent slightly. With your right foot a step in front of the left one, bend both legs at the knees and push, push, push! Be sure to tighten your abdominal muscles. This flexing of your diaphragm somehow dispels the butterflies.
One time, Lydia thought a TV studio wall was immovable and it turned out to be part of a set that was quite movable. (That’s one show to which we probably won’t be invited back.)
• A minute before “You’re on!” slowly take a deep breath. When no more air will fit into your lungs, hold it for two seconds, then let the air out very fast, in one big “whoosh.” Do this two times in a row, and you should be ready to go out there in complete control.
• When it’s time to make that all-important speech—or pop that critical question—you want to seem calm and sound confident. That’s hard to do when your mouth is dry. When this happens, do not drink cold beverages. Doing so may help your dry mouth, but it will tighten up your already-tense throat.
Also, stay away from drinks with milk or cream. They can create phlegm and more problems talking. Warm tea is your best bet.
If there are none available, gently chew on your tongue. In less than 20 seconds, you’ll manufacture all the saliva you’ll need to end your dry mouth condition.
• Mix one tablespoon of honey with 1 ⁄2 cup of warm water, and swish and gargle with the mixture for about three to five minutes. Then rinse away the sweetness with water. The levulose in honey increases the secretion of saliva, relieving dryness of the mouth and making it easier to swallow.
WARNING: Diabetics and people with honey allergies should not use honey
To find more home remedies for daily stress pick up a copy of Secret Food Cures from Bottomlineinc.com.