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Herbs to help you have a stress-free silly season

Does the very thought of the impending holiday season fill you with dread? If so, Paul Keogh suggests you take steps now to help prepare yourself mentally and physically for the intense time ahead.

The festive season is meant to be a time of joy and celebration, but for many of us, it’s actually quite stressful.

The causes of silly season stress can take many different forms, including the emotional intensity of family dynamics, the demands of meeting work deadlines before the end-of-year holidays kick in, and a general sense of having too many things to get done and insufficient time available to do them.

Any of those situations alone could be stressful, but if you’ve got several of them going on at once, it’s easy to see how the situation can quickly turn into an emotional pressure cooker, and leave you feeling overwhelmed and out of control.

What does silly season stress look like?

Stress affects all of us in different ways, and your personal experience may be vastly different to that of people around you.

The common thread though is that stress has the effect of making you feel that your inner resources are depleted and/or that you’re hyped up and consequently not functioning at your best.

That means that during stressful times, you might feel tired (even exhausted!), irritable, absentminded and forgetful, and generally wound up, agitated and a bit anxious.

As a result, you may also find yourself lying wide awake in bed at night thinking about all the issues that are going on or the impossibly long list of tasks that need to be done, and may even experience stress-induced digestive problems or mild palpitations.

Act now to improve your ability to handle stress later

Many of the effects of stress are accumulative, building up as a result of being under pressure for a long period of time or from a wide variety of sources simultaneously.

Building up your mental and physical ability to handle stress more effectively also takes time, so if you have a track record of finding the festive season tough to cope with, there’s no time like the present for taking action.

Sacred basil helps relieve stress symptoms

In Ayurvedic medicine, Sacred basil (also known as Tulsi), has traditionally been used to help relieve stress and enhance the physical and mental ability to cope with stressful situations.

In a double-blind, randomised clinical study involving people who were experiencing stress, taking a specific Sacred basil extract called OciBest® for six weeks was shown to reduce symptoms such as exhaustion, forgetfulness, irritability and sleeping difficulties 1.6 times more effectively than taking a placebo supplement.

Withania calms and energises

Another Ayurvedic herb, withania (also known as ashwagandha), has been used in similar ways, and is traditionally regarded as a rejuvenating tonic (or Rasayana).

Withania may be particularly beneficial if you typically react to stress by becoming wiped out with nervous exhaustion and/or agitated and restless, because it’s traditionally regarded as being simultaneously energising and calming.

Studies suggest that when taken for at least a month, withania may help to relieve fatigue, sleeplessness, forgetfulness, poor concentration and irritability.

Magnolia relieves stress-induced digestive difficulties

The bark of the magnolia tree has a long history of use as a relaxing remedy in traditional Chinese medicine, and is considered particularly beneficial when stress impacts the digestive system, causing symptoms such as nervous dyspepsia, indigestion and reflux.

Its actions are largely attributed to a compound called honokiol, which has demonstrated anti-anxiety properties and an ability to lower elevated levels of stress hormones in preclinical research studies.

Polygala quietens the mind and Heart

The traditional Chinese herb polygala has traditionally been used to quieten and calm the mind and Heart, and to help relieve symptoms that are often associated with stress, including mild anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and dream-disturbed sleep, forgetfulness, absent-mindedness and mild palpitations. It is also traditionally believed to enhance concentration, understanding and memory.

Extra steps you can take to support your stress-coping capacity

The various stressors of the silly season can be exacerbated if you’re not taking good care of yourself, so here are our top tips for doing just that over the holidays:

  • Prioritise a good night’s sleep: With so much socialising on the agenda and a super-long to do list, it can be tempting to burn the candle at both ends at this time of year. However, skimping on sleep almost always comes back to bite you later, reducing your energy levels and ability to adapt to stress, and making it difficult to concentrate
  • Choose light, healthy meals: Christmas and the festive season are the perfect excuse to treat yourself to foods you’d normally only consume occasionally or in small quantities. While that’s not a problem occasionally, over-indulging consistently between now and the New Year may leave you feeling sluggish and tired. Furthermore, a fatty or stodgy diet won’t contain as many vitamins and minerals as one based on fresh fruit and veggies, and in times of stress, your nervous system has increased requirements for key nutrients. (TIP: If you know your diet’s not likely to be the best over the Christmas season, take a multivitamin supplement, ideally an advanced formula that’s specially formulated to support your nervous system during times of stress)
  • Avoid alcohol: If you’re feeling stressed, it’s best to enjoy alcohol in small or moderate quantities, if at all. Aside from adding to the load on your liver, drinking interferes with your sleep patterns (so may make you even more tired than you already are) and inhibits your will power (which may make it even more difficult than usual to stick to your nutritious diet or refrain from losing your temper when under pressure)
  • Exercise often: Aside from its benefits for physical wellbeing, exercise helps to clear your head, reduce anxiety, and enhance your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Aim for at least half an hour of moderate activity on most days of the week, and for additional stress-busting benefits, enjoy exercising outdoors in an inspiring natural location like the beach or your local park


Paul Keogh is the founder and technical director for Global Therapeutics P/L trading as Fusion Health. Paul is a qualified naturopath and medical  herbalist with 28 years combined experience in clinical practice and the development of integrated Chinese and western herbal medicines.