Podcast 193: Let’s Practice! – Anxious Insomnia

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This week we’re presenting an exercise in practical herbalism.

In this instance we’re describing a case of anxious insomnia. We outline the situation, and then you can pause the show and come up with some ideas about how you would help this individual. Then, we share our take – not “the answers”, but some ideas about what we’d want to do, and questions we’d want to ask, to help this person.

We include these “Let’s Practice” lessons in all our courses, and they help students put their knowledge into a real-world context.

Don’t miss our sale! For the entire month of July, you can use the code TOGETHER2022 to get 20% off any of our online herbalism courses. You can use the code multiple times! It even works on our extended programs, like the Community Herbalist program. You can share it with friends & family!

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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:00:14):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:00:16):
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:00:19):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast.

Katja (00:00:23):

Ryn (00:00:23):
We’re happy to be here. Today we have a case study exercise to share with everyone, and we’re really excited about it.

Katja (00:00:31):
We are.

Ryn (00:00:32):
But before we jump into that, we just want to give a little reclaimer. And that’s where we remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalist and holistic health educators.

Katja (00:00:41):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalist in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (00:00:53):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, keep in mind that we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (00:01:09):
Everyone’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some new information to think about and some ideas to research further.

Ryn (00:01:19):
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey. And it doesn’t mean you are to blame for your current state of health. But it does mean that the final decision when you’re considering any course of action, whether that’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, that’s always your choice to make. So, like we said, today we’re going to talk about an exercise, a case study exercise that we like to do. This is something that we do with all of our students. And before we jump right into the game, let’s just explain a little bit about how it works.

Katja (00:01:56):
It’s like the rules of the game, yeah. So, at the end of all of our online courses, there is a chapter titled Let’s Practice. And in that chapter, there are pairs of videos. So, the first video describes a case that’s relevant to the course. So, like in the musculoskeletal health course for example, there’s a video describing a person with rheumatoid arthritis. And this first video in each of the pairs, the first video gives some information about the person, about what they’re experiencing, and what they would like help with. And then at the end of that video we tell our students to take some time. Write down their thoughts. Like what kinds of things come to mind for ways they could help this person? And also what kinds of questions do they have about further information that they might need from this person? And then if they want to, they can submit their thoughts to us for feedback. There’s a discussion thread that’s attached to all of these videos, and they can just type their ideas right in there. And then we reply to those every day. They don’t have to, but they can if they want feedback on it.

Ryn (00:03:03):
Yeah. And then right after that, there’s a second video. And this one has well, I don’t really want to say the answers. Because this is herbalism. And so there are always multiple ways that we could approach any health situation someone’s dealing with. And also the person that we’re working with will have their own preferences about what they’re most interested in pursuing. So, instead of saying that we have the answers, as if there could be one right answer. It’s better to describe this second video here as more of a discussion. And you’ll see what that looks like right here on this pod, because we’re going to do it together

Katja (00:03:39):
Or maybe you’ll hear what that looks like.

Ryn (00:03:41):
You’re going to hear it. Yeah. But basically, we’re going to go through our own ideas about how we would think about the problem. How we would approach that problem. What our priorities might be. And what kind of modifications we might want to make under this or that circumstance. So, for the person with the arthritis, we would be saying okay here’s this individual. They’ve had this pain. It’s been for this long. This is how it affects their life. This is the part of the problem that bothers them the most. And then we’d say all right, well here’s some things that I’d be thinking about. I’d be wanting to get this herb into play, or this kind of movement habit involved. Oh, but if they have a very damp constitution, maybe these herbs are better. And if they’re very dry, then we’d pick those ones. So, just kind of working through the thoughts about the possibilities and giving a sense of how we would orient ourselves and begin to approach this kind of thing.

Katja (00:04:33):
So, in every course there are several pairs of videos like this. Different types of case studies, covering different types of problems that are relevant to each course. So that our students can really get a feel for how to take what they’ve learned in the course and apply it to a real-life situation, in a space where they feel like they’re working with a net, right? Like they’re safe to ask a lot of questions and sort of work their way through all the different possibilities. And it’s really popular. Students really enjoy this. So, we were thinking we could share this exercise with everybody, with you. This is a game that herbalist could play anywhere. You could play any time.

Ryn (00:05:21):
Yeah. So, we wanted to share this with you right here on the pod. The case we’re going to be presenting here today is a case about a person having some anxiety issues. And this was our choice today, because we feel like this is an issue that so many people are dealing with right now. And so hopefully this will be both a fun exercise for you to test your herbal knowledge, but also maybe we’ll have some new ideas that could be helpful for you, particularly.

Katja (00:05:48):
Yeah. So, before we launch in, I just want to make a note that today is July 9th. And so our semi-annual, we are all in this together sale is on. We do this every year in July and December. So, the sale is 20% off of everything. Everything we’ve ever made, 20% off of all of it. And the code is Together2022. And that’s all one unit. I mean it’s letters and numbers, but there’s no spaces in between. Just Together2022, all together.

Ryn (00:06:25):
You can use this as much as you want. It works on everything that we offer, and there’s no limit. So, you can not get just one thing one time, but many things, many times.

Katja (00:06:34):
As many times as you want. You can share it with your friends. In fact, please do.

Ryn (00:06:38):
Please do. Tell everyone. Tell everybody. Spread it far and wide. We want people to know about herbs. This code will work for the entire month of July. So, head on over to online.commonwealthherbs.com and see all the courses we’ve got available. And remember, don’t forget to put in your code.

Katja (00:06:55):

A Case Description of Waking Anxiety

Ryn (00:06:58):
Okay. So, let’s go ahead and get started with our case description. Today, we’re going to be talking about a person who is experiencing a lot of anxiety and tension and has recently been having trouble sleeping as a result of that. So, this individual is perimenopausal. They’re going through that transition period of life. And sometimes their sleep gets disrupted. And usually that looks like what we call long sleep latency. This means that it takes a long time to fall asleep. When you lay down, you know, you lay there. You’re trying to close your eyes and count the sheep and whatever. But you’re just not quite making that shift, you know? So, they have that issue, but then they also have a midnight waking situation going on. Where they tend to wake up around 3:00 AM, and then they have a lot of trouble getting back to sleep, because their brain gets engaged. That’s like you’re lying there in the bed. You wake up in the middle of the night, and you’re like okay, whatever. Maybe I’ll go pee. And then like let’s go back to sleep. But suddenly you realize that you’re thinking about an argument you had that day, or about some bills that you know you’ve got to pay soon and you’re not quite sure where the money’s going to come from, or whatever it was that’s been stressing you out through the day. Suddenly it rears its head and reasserts itself for you. And now you’re dealing with that again.

Katja (00:08:17):
So, in general for this person, it’s not like they’re not tired. They’re definitely tired. It’s just that when it’s quiet and dark, their mind gets to spinning and kind of hijacks their efforts to sleep. So, lately they’ve been having this problem a lot more, especially because they’re perimenopausal. This is a pattern that happens occasionally for them, but lately they feel like it has been almost every night. And they think that the trouble sleeping is both caused by anxiety, but also that it’s making the anxiety worse. So, this is one of those cycles that’s feeding into itself. So, they’ve been feeling so anxious and tense that they’ve been crying several times a day. And at times they say that it seems like there’s no reason to cry. They just sort of all of a sudden they’re just crying. And they feel fine, whatever. If they’re at home and that happens, it’s like maybe not the end of the world. I mean, it certainly isn’t pleasant, but they’re like oh well, whatever.

Ryn (00:09:26):
Just between me and my cat, you know?

Katja (00:09:27):
Right, exactly. Like okay, fine. But recently they say that they have cried in public for no reason – And again, that’s how they describe it as cried for no reason – several times now. And that was an indication to them that they probably need to take some kind of action about the situation. Like that was kind of a, not like a wake-up call, but kind of a… For them that was okay, I am no longer able to kind of manage this in a way that makes me feel comfortable and functional.

Ryn (00:10:01):
Yeah. All right. So, that’s what we know about this situation. And obviously if this were your friend, or a community member, or for a practicing herbalist a client of yours, well of course then you could ask some questions. And you could get more information about them, right? So, for the purposes of this exercise, you can make a note of what further information you want or that you would want. And you can just decide for yourself what the answers would be. And there’s different ways to do this. Maybe you could think of someone in your life and let them be your example. Like let’s pretend your best friend was the person saying all of this to you about their sleep issue and the anxiety in the daytime and so on. Well, you probably know that best friend pretty well. You could hopefully answer most of the follow up questions that you might want to ask. Things like what kind of food are you eating, and what kind of movement do you get in your day?

Katja (00:10:54):
And have you tried any herbs before? Are you taking any medications?

Ryn (00:10:57):
Yeah. Right. And so, you can just kind of imagine that it’s that person having this problem. If you want to challenge yourself a little bit or test out some variability, you could pick several different people that you know. And you could imagine each one of them in turn. And you would probably come up with different suggestions for each of these people, if you know them well.

Katja (00:11:23):
Yeah. Right. If Bob came to you and said all of these things, your suggestions might go in one direction. But if Susie came to you and said all of these things, you might have a different set of suggestions. And then like if Joey came and had all of these same problems, you would probably have an entirely different direction that you would go in. Based on the people’s constitutions, based on what sorts of things they would be most interested in trying. Maybe you want to give a tincture, but one of them doesn’t drink alcohol and doesn’t take tinctures. So, now you’ve got to try to make a plan for something else, whatever. So, you can kind of just pick people in your life. They don’t have to be people who have this problem. We’re just going to pretend like they have this problem. But you can use that person to be the person that you’re visualizing in your mind working with.

Ryn (00:12:20):
Yeah. So, go ahead and pause this podcast right now. And take some time to jot down your thoughts. Even if you’re a brand new herbalist, I bet there are some things you could suggest. Even if it was well, try a tincture of – I’m not going to say the name – this common relaxant herb that most people are even familiar with already. So, it could be something as simple as that, or it could be more complex. You might have a whole protocol in mind and several different steps and things you want to put into play there. But once you’ve got some ideas, then come back to the pod, hit play again. Listen to the rest of this episode, and you can hear what our ideas are and how we might approach this situation.

Katja (00:12:59):
Okay. Well, are you ready?

Ryn (00:13:02):
Did you do it? Did you pause and write down and then come back?

Katja (00:13:05):
I feel like we should sing the jeopardy song.

Ryn (00:13:07):
I know, right?

Where to Start: Sleep Hygiene

Katja (00:13:14):
Okay. Here we go. You know, this person talked a lot about sleep. I feel like they spent as much time talking about sleep as they did talking about anxiety, actually. And I think that they have a lot of awareness about how the sleep and the anxiety are tied together. So, that’s pretty exciting for me first of all, because especially when you’re experiencing anxiety, it’s not always easy to have a lot of awareness about what’s going on in your body. So, when somebody is able to make those kinds of connections, then I really want to work those connections in particular. And so definitely sleep is one of the first things that comes to my mind to focus on. And although a bunch of herbs do come to mind, of course, always I sort of start off thinking about sleep hygiene issues.

Ryn (00:14:15):
Yeah. If that’s a new phrase for you, sleep hygiene, it’s not just about brushing your teeth, although that’s nice to do before bed and other times, whatever.

Katja (00:14:25):
Hey, your teeth are your best friends. If you take care of them, they’ll take care of you.

Ryn (00:14:32):
That’s right, Sam, thank you. So, sleep hygiene, right? It means setting up an environment that’s going to be conducive to good sleep and also being aware of habits that can either improve or be detrimental to good sleep. So, there’s a lot of different things that qualify as sleep hygiene, including things that happen in the daytime, like going outside in the middle of the day, and getting some sun exposure, and seeing the blue sky. That can really help you to sleep well later on. But a lot of it’s around the bedtime hour, you know. First of all, knowing when bedtime should be to get the number of hours of sleep you need or that you want and still get up on time. Okay. And then you figure that out, and then you go forward, or you go back an hour before then. And say all right, so if I want to be in bed lights out at 10, then at nine I’m going to dim the lights. And I’m going to wind down. And I’m going to journal. And I’m going to meditate and stretch a little bit. But I’m not going to be staring at Twitter, or watching terrible news events, or like horror movies right before bedtime. Because these agitate your body and your mind. And they stimulate you, and they keep you up. So, there’s a ton of different things that can fall into that idea. But for this person…

Katja (00:15:47):
Yeah, for this person, one of the things that I feel would be really important to talk about with regard to sleep hygiene is actually about dinner. So, when you eat your last meal of the day late in the evening, that really makes it more challenging to fall asleep. It will really exacerbate any kind of sleep latency problem, the length of time to fall asleep. But the other thing is that eating late is really strongly tied to that waking around 3:00 AM. Because this is really about hormone cycles, and insulin, and cortisol, and the interplay between those and melatonin and a bunch of other things going on in your endocrine system. And so of course there are like so many different sleep hygiene things we could suggest. But because of the specific pattern around waking and the time period of waking, I would want to talk to them about when they eat food in the evening. When they eat their last meal. And then if they have a snack or a dessert or something like that, what time is that at? And see if we can pull that earlier. See if we can make it so that they don’t eat in that last two or three hours before bedtime. And I don’t want to like… This isn’t about constricting calories or anything like that. It’s really just about the timing of when the food goes in. So, I’m not even really saying well, don’t have cake. I’m really not.

Ryn (00:17:37):
No, it’s more like have your dinner a little earlier. And try to have your cake right after your dinner.

Katja (00:17:41):
Right. At the same time. Yeah. So that we can get a period of two to three hours before bed that they are not consuming any food. I mean, tea is totally fine, but not consuming any food. Because of all the sleep hygiene things, I think this will really make an impact for them in terms of that wake cycle in the middle of the night.

Ryn (00:18:05):
Yeah. You want your body to be focusing on sleep stuff, on rest, on recovery, on healing. On what people like to call detox these days and kind of like inner maintenance situation going on. And if we’re full of food, your body has that job first. You’ve got to digest, got to process, got to put away the nutrients. Circulate all of that. And so when we have that space between last food intake and sleep, then the sleep is really a lot more restful. It’s about improving the quality of the sleep, and quite likely the quantity as well, when it’s causing these midnight wakings.

Katja (00:18:46):
And especially because this person is perimenopausal. And so we know that there are some hormone fluctuations going on that are already kind of creating issues, issues of discomfort for a person. And we know that that timing of eating there is also playing into endocrine issues. Sort of any place that we can take a little bit of pressure off endocrine function for this person, that is really going to help them. It’s going to help them be more comfortable through a lot of the aspects of perimenopause, but specifically with the sleep issue.

Bedtime Hypnotics vs. Middle of the Night Waking

Ryn (00:19:28):
Yeah, right. And because here you have a bunch of different hormones all coming in together, right? Hormones of blood sugar regulation, hormones of sleep and the process of sleep itself, of the stress response. And so yeah, trying to improve sleep parameters there is going to have effects on those other hormones as well. And so that can alter the way you experience stress in the daytime. Yeah. Let’s stick with bedtime for a moment though. When people are having trouble sleeping, we want to give them some herbs around bedtime, you know. They can really help out a lot. And we tend to prefer tinctures for bedtime herbs, because that way you’re not drinking a quart of tea right before you lay down. And then, you know, we’ll see.

Katja (00:20:11):
You know what is the funny thing though. Is that we tend to advise tinctures for bedtime herbs. But in our own home…

Ryn (00:20:21):
Oh, we’re terrible at this.

Katja (00:20:22):
We do not do it.

Ryn (00:20:23):
No, we’re like oh, it’s 10 o’clock. Let’s brew a pot of tea. Yeah. Let’s put net in there, sure. Yeah. We’re not good with this one.

Katja (00:20:32):
And I’m like I wanted to go to bed at 9:30. And it’s 9:45, and we’re making tea. And I’m like oh, just give me an entire pot of heather.

Ryn (00:20:42):
I’ll just drink that real quick and then bed.

Katja (00:20:44):
I’ll just drink that whole quart really fast, and then I’ll go to bed.

Ryn (00:20:48):
Yeah. Unfortunately, I think we’re doing pretty good at wake up, go pee, go back to sleep again.

Katja (00:20:55):
Yeah. Sometimes I get really stuck there, but lately I’m feeling really successful at the falling back asleep after waking up 67 times to pee.

Ryn (00:21:07):
Right. But for this person, when they wake up at night, then their anxious thoughts start to get at them and, and they’re having a lot of trouble getting back into sleep. So, a bedtime tincture, right? Plus bedtime tincture is also something you can have right by the bed. And if you don’t put very heavy hypnotic herbs into here, then it’s something you can even take in the middle of the night.

Katja (00:21:28):
Yeah. I wouldn’t want to put hops into this blend, because if this person took hops at like 3:00 AM. Then when they have to wake up and start their day at what time, 7, 8, 6, whatever it happens to be, the hops are still going to be in there. And they’re going to be very groggy when they wake up. So, although there would be no problem with having an herb like that to work with at bedtime, I just wouldn’t want to put it in the overall blend. So, that if they… Okay, if they took some hops, or some wild lettuce, or something really strong when they went to bed at first. But then if they woke up at three, I would want them to have that other tincture that didn’t have those hypnotics in it, so that it didn’t make them groggy in the morning.

Ryn (00:22:18):
Right. Yeah. And sometimes we’ll do that with people. Like all right, so here’s your relaxant nervine combo to help you wind down, to quiet down the racing thoughts in the brain, maybe some physical tension to release. Have that as a formula, and then separate from that here’s a bottle of hops or wild lettuce just by itself. When you’re first going to bed take them both. If you wake up in the middle of the night, make sure you know which bottle you’re grabbing, and let that just be the nervines there, you know?

Katja (00:22:46):
Yeah. Like let one of them be in a square bottle and the other one be a round bottle. And that way you can tell and yeah. Good job. You know, we haven’t mentioned herbs yet here, I mean other than those hypnotics. But because we’re talking so much about tinctures, I also just want to make a side note here that some people don’t like to work with tinctures or aren’t able to work with tinctures, either because alcohol doesn’t appeal to them, or because they don’t consume alcohol. And so there are a lot of herbs that we could encapsulate at this point too. So, I just want to make it clear that that is an option. And although capsules wouldn’t be as effective taken at 3:00 AM, they absolutely would be effective if we work them into their bedtime routine. So, I just want to make a note that that is absolutely a possibility.

Ryn (00:23:41):
Yeah. An electuary is an option as well. We don’t want to be taking a lot of food right before we lay down. But like a spoonful of herbed honey powder. Sorry, honey with herbal powders mixed into it.

Katja (00:23:54):
Yeah, there you go.

Ryn (00:23:55):
Yeah, that can be quite nice. And some people do find that they fall into sleep a little easier if they have just a little bit of honey right before bed.

Herbal Options with Anxious Thought Patterns & Sleep

Katja (00:24:06):
Well, okay. So, let’s think about what herbs we would want to be including here. Separate from if we went with some kind of strong hypnotic herb like hops or wild lettuce. But other herbs that are especially around dealing with that that sort of thought process that is keeping them awake. Where they’re lying there, and they’re thinking about the stuff that makes them anxious. And they’re not really able to pull their mind away from it.

Ryn (00:24:36):
Yeah. There’s sort of a trio of herbs that I always come back to for these kinds of situations. And often this is the core of a bedtime formula that I’m going to build out for somebody. So, that’s going to be skullcap. That’s the Scutellaria lateriflora, not the Baikal skullcap. And then passionflower and betony. And that one is going to be Stachys officinalis, as opposed to Pedicularis, although actually Pedicularis is pretty good in some bedtime blends, honestly.

Katja (00:25:07):
Yeah. Especially if this person was holding a lot of physical tension, which is something that they mentioned. Then the Pedicularis wouldn’t be a bad add.

Ryn (00:25:19):
For sure. But that trio though – Stachys, Passiflora, and Scutellaria lateriflora – those three are fantastic for that specific issue of the restless thoughts, the racing mind, the recurrent worries, that whole pattern of mental activity. I find this trio of herbs to be extremely helpful for calming that down, helping you to get off the mental merry-go-round, get a little distance from it. And to be not so much up in the head, but more in the whole body, right? In all of you.

Katja (00:25:53):
Yeah. I like that a lot. If this person was a person who also tended to run cold. And so they were thinking about those anxious thoughts and then getting really stuck there. Then I would be thinking about adding something warming and relaxing in. And honestly that could be as simple as ginger. Like ginger is really relaxant both physically and also mentally. And that would also just bring a little bit of movement in. And so if their constitution runs cold, but also like their emotional state runs cold. So, they get into this thought pattern. They really get stuck there, and they can’t generate enough metaphorical movement to move away from those thoughts. Then I would be thinking about ginger. I mean, ginger is generating physiological movement also. But listen, like your emotional body and your physical body are not actually separate things.

Ryn (00:26:55):
Yeah, for sure.

Katja (00:26:57):
So, I’m thinking about that. And I guess maybe if this person was the flip side. They were really hot and agitated. And so they’re thinking about things that make them anxious and they can’t stop thinking about them. Maybe they’re thinking about 16 different things that make them anxious. And they’re kind of hopping between them, but they can’t get away from that category of thought. So, that might be a more like hot kind of presentation. Then honestly the skullcap and passionflower are already fairly cooling. So, we kind of have that covered already in this blend. But we could also put in something like elderflower to kind of release some of that heat, release some of the agitation. That could be really lovely.

Ryn (00:27:51):
Yeah. Lemon balm can work that way.

Katja (00:27:54):
Oh yeah. That would be nice.

Ryn (00:27:56):
Because this person was having this issue of waking up in the middle of the night. So, we talked about how the food timing can help out with that. But there are herbs that can help out with that process as well. And for that, I’ve found a combination of mugwort with motherwort – two great worts that work great together – to be very helpful for this particular problem. And there’s another thing about mugwort in particular, where we notice that it often will improve dream recall. And I do think that these are connected largely through the consolidation of sleep into longer, more consistent blocks. And helping your body to move through the many stages of sleep. So, not only in the kind of lighter stages, but cycling down into deep phase sleep, and then back up again to the stages where we do some REM, some dreaming. That’s going to happen several times in the course of the night. And it seems to me that these two herbs improve your capacity to cycle through like that.

Katja (00:28:57):
I have experienced that myself as well. I mean, we’ve been doing this for our clients. But it was a long time ago when I was having a pattern like this. And you handed me mugwort and motherwort together. And it was something that really broke through the cycle for me. And so ever since then, I’ve been really in love with that strategy.

Ryn (00:29:20):
Cool. Well, there’s lots of other plants that could make sense in a bedtime tincture. We end up sneaking vervain into there pretty often.

Katja (00:29:28):
Especially, you know, this person is kind of losing control, and that’s what actually got them. You know, like that was the point at which they said okay, this is a problem. They were fine when it was just a sleep problem or an anxiety problem. But the time at which they became not fine anymore, like not okay with this level of discomfort, was when they were no longer able to control their presentation in the world. And so I feel like blue vervain would be really an appropriate addition for this person.

Ryn (00:30:08):
Yeah. This is connected to a well-earned reputation that vervain has for being helpful when you have a sensation of like anxiety centered around control or loss of control. And you want that feeling of like I know where everything is. I know what’s going to happen. I’ve got this.

Katja (00:30:27):
I mean, honestly, who doesn’t want that feeling.

Ryn (00:30:29):
Yeah. But when it’s like if you can’t get all the way there, then you feel really terrible, and unsettled, and agitated, and so on. Then vervain can help you to be a little more comfortable with a degree of control that is achievable. Yeah.

All-Day Herbs

Katja (00:30:45):
You know, okay, so, I kind of want to go in a different direction, because everything we’ve talked about so far could really just go into one blend together, and it would be fantastic. But two other herbs are coming to mind for me, that might be really appropriate for this person. And they are ashwagandha and calamus. And so, in one sense we’re going in a really different direction flavor-wise. We’re going in a different direction, because we’ve suddenly introduced roots into the chat.

Ryn (00:31:21):
And a lot more warmth.

Katja (00:31:22):
And a lot more warmth. But I really think that they could be a very helpful blend, especially if this is a person who’s running a little on the cold side. And we could get this into them in lots of different ways. Tincture would be fine. I don’t love ashwagandha as a tincture in terms of efficacy, but it would be fine if we needed to. But we don’t have to introduce them together. We could do ashwagandha decoction through the day, especially if this person maybe wakes up and drinks coffee. That’s not helping the anxiety. And so maybe we could introduce a notCoffee kind of blend. You know, maybe it’s got reishi. Maybe it’s got chicory root, you know, like whatever. And put a bunch of ashwagandha in that. Flavor-wise, it’s going to blend in nicely. You can always put a scoop or two of decaf coffee in to really get the flavor there. But you know, if you did chicory and reishi and ashwagandha, that would be very coffee-like. And then especially if you toss a little cocoa in and now you’ve got… Or cacao, and now you’ve got a mocha kind of notCoffee blend. So, that would be a bedtime herb that wouldn’t be taken at bedtime in that particular presentation but could be really excellent. Of course, you also can take encapsulated ashwagandha as well. So, that could be a good choice if this person didn’t want to work with tinctures at all, and they also didn’t want tea before bed.

Ryn (00:33:03):
Yeah. And calamus is something you can take as a tincture, or you can get dried pieces of the root and chew on them. I find that to be very helpful for maintaining… I don’t know. Is focus the right word? Maybe. It’s less about focus in terms of drilling in on something and zooming in on it. And it’s more about releasing a type of tension that can be distracting and pulling you away from what it is you’re trying to see.

Katja (00:33:32):
It’s like the soft focus.

Ryn (00:33:35):
Yeah. You know, calamus can be helpful to get you into wide angle perception. To move you from being so stuck on one point, to being able to see the whole visual field. Or to not only hear that one irritating sound but hear everything that’s going on around you. And to kind of open up in that way.

Katja (00:33:53):
It’s very grounding. It’s an herb I think about as an assistant for meditation. It’s an herb that I think about… It has such strong effect on the vagus nerve, that anytime that anxiousness, anxiety, emotional tension/physiological tension – like those two being held together – all of those things make me think a lot about calamus. Because so much of those feelings are really wrapped up in vagus nerve function. So, anytime that we can help that to release, then that’s really good.

Ryn (00:34:40):
Yeah, absolutely. And like you were saying, this is something that might be taken in the morning or taken throughout the day. And that kind of leads us towards some other thoughts we had for this individual. Which was to get some nervines into them. Let’s get some fortification. And this would be in the way of an all-day tea, right?

Katja (00:35:01):
Yeah. Like they’re going to drink a quart or two quarts of it. Just this is what’s going to be in their water bottle for the day.

Ryn (00:35:08):
Right. So, there’s again, a lot of different directions we could go in. And it’s possible that when you were thinking about this case, you were saying all right. Well, questions I would want to ask would include what does the anxiety feel like for you, or where do you feel that in your body most strongly? Or even like what incidents or what moments are most likely to set that off? Is it like well, if I have to talk in front of a group of people at work. Or is it if I have to have a one-on-one with my boss. You know, like it can be different, and that can give you a sense of what the person’s feeling on the inside. How that feeling moves through them. And then that can help you to choose the herbs that are most appropriate. We find with nervines that, you know, you can read on the internet chamomile is good for calming you down and that kind of stuff. But it’s really worth it to experiment with a bunch of different nervines for each individual. Or if you know a bit about some energetics, and some specifics about the particular qualities of a given plant or its particular abilities, then it’s good to be a little more particular about which ones you give.

Addressing Stagnation, Normalizing Pressure, Releasing Tension, & Rehydrating

Katja (00:36:22):
And especially just thinking constitutionally here, is this person dried out and dehydrated? Or is it a person who has some stagnant fluid in them? And sometimes the physiological constitution doesn’t necessarily match their emotional state. Sometimes you see disconnects there, where maybe the person physically has a lot of stagnation, and it is cold and damp. But emotionally, especially where we’re seeing in this person anxiety patterns, emotionally there’s a bunch of heat going on. So, it’s okay to kind of look at both of them. But in the end our formula wants to kind of balance things out. So, if we’re seeing a person, like I said, who is experiencing heat in the emotions. And we think oh okay, we need to really cool this down for this person. And then we recognize ooh, yes, they have a lot of heat in the emotions. But in the physical body they tend to run really cold. Then we’ll just do some balancing out, so that we don’t chill their physiological state. We just sort of chill out the mind. And we might choose releasing herbs, like diaphoretics for example, instead of outright cooling herbs. So that we aren’t like adding a bunch of cold to the physiological cold that’s already there, for example.

Ryn (00:38:02):
Yeah. You know, tulsi comes to mind for this individual as part of their daily tea for a number of reasons. So, tulsi is a fascinating herb, because it has some immediate effects as like a nervine, and an herb that can kind of boost your mood and help you to feel calm and settled. But it has also these adaptogenic effects that take a lot more time to really fully express themselves, right? So, you can take a squirt of tulsi tincture, and you can get some feeling from it. But if you drink tulsi tea, and you do it every day for a month, then there’s a much more long lasting and deeper effect on your system from that plant.

Katja (00:38:45):
Yeah. You know, I really like tulsi as a focus of an all-day formula for this person as well. Because no matter what direction we end up going in, whatever we’re thinking about constitutionally for this person, having tulsi kind of at the center is pretty appropriate. You know, it has a moving quality to it. It has a little warmth to it, but it’s not like cayenne. You know, we’re not going to overheat somebody with it. It’s got the movement going along. But also, we’re not going to cool somebody off with it. It’s like a really nice kind of core to build around.

Ryn (00:39:28):
Yeah. You know, you, you’re talking about the diaphoretic element, and kind of like allowing heat to move in the body and then to release that as well. And I think you mentioned elderflower we often work with for those kinds of purposes. And then there’s yarrow. And this summer in particular we’ve been doing a lot with yarrow flower, separate from the leaf and the stem.

Katja (00:39:51):
Yeah. Now, if you want yarrow flower isolated that way, you kind of have to do it yourself. I don’t know of any place that sells just the flowers. So, you will have to harvest it yourself. And if yarrow is past where you are, it’s okay. You can do it next year. But yarrow is pretty easy to grow, and it’s fairly tolerant. So, if you are not like an awesome gardener, yarrow is a good place to start. It’s very adaptable.

Ryn (00:40:24):
Yeah. It can take a lot of straight sun, soil that doesn’t retain water too well. It’ll still do okay there. Yeah. So, the yarrow flowers, they do have some of that quality of opening the surface, you know, having a diaphoretic effect.

Katja (00:40:40):
Dispersive. Yeah.

Ryn (00:40:42):
Yeah. Yarrow can help to circulate blood throughout the entire body and help to kind of normalize. So, if there’s a spot of stagnation over here, and poor blood flow or permeation over there, it can kind of help to normalize that, distribute things a little more evenly. And I’m bringing that up, because I feel like that could have some connection to what this person is feeling. Where they have some anxiety. They also have times where they sort of collapse a bit. You can look at the spontaneous crying as like a sudden laxity attack in the nervous state and the emotional state. This is kind of where we’re centering.

Katja (00:41:23):
So, there’s like tension, tension, tension. Oh, I can’t hold it anymore. Bleh. Yeah. And now crying is happening. And so that requires like a rebalancing. Yarrow for me always reminds me of a science fiction movie with a spaceship. Because in every movie with a spaceship, I feel like there’s a point at which there becomes a hole in the spaceship for whatever reason. It gets shot. It gets hit by an asteroid. I don’t know, whatever. There comes a point at which there’s a hole in the spaceship, and everyone is panicking, and the oxygen is escaping. And they have to do something to batten down the hatches again, so that they can repressurize. You can imagine this scene, right? And I always think about yarrow that way and about us and our bodies as little spaceships moving through space. And when we get a hole in us, there’s like a pressure differential. There’s less pressure outside of our bodies than there is inside of our bodies. And so we bleed. Like the stuff comes out when you puncture our hull. And yarrow is just very effective at normalizing pressure. And we can talk about that physiologically, but we also can talk about that emotionally. And so that’s what we’re seeing here is this person is not able to normalize the pressure that they’re feeling emotionally or to regulate that pressure. Sometimes they’re feeling that pressure so strongly that it is like really upsetting tension. And sometimes they are just not even able to hold themselves together at all. Not just like I’m not tense anymore, but like I’m just a blob now. I don’t even have the kind of tension that I should have to hold myself together.

Ryn (00:43:25):
Right. So, yarrow is pretty fantastic in those ways. I also think about catnip. And I think about catnip here because of the aromatic elements, the relaxant effect. Especially where there’s anxiety that feels like it wants to move upward. Like it maybe starts down in your belly, and it wants to rise on you. That’s a time when we really…

Katja (00:43:46):
Until it comes out through your eyeballs as crying?

Ryn (00:43:49):
Yeah, yeah, exactly. That’s a place we find a lot of benefits with catnip for sure.

Katja (00:43:55):
You know, I’m thinking, and this will surprise probably no one. I’m also thinking about ginger and chamomile in here.

Ryn (00:44:03):
Well, it’s been five minutes, so you’re due to thinking of them.

Katja (00:44:07):
I’m really always thinking about ginger and chamomile. But in terms of like helping this person to even out the expressions of tension that they’re feeling in their body. Like providing them with some background relaxation. If you imagine yourself carrying something very heavy, or even just like doing that chair on the wall yoga pose or whatever. And so you’re like holding the tension in all your muscles to keep that position. But eventually all your muscles are starting to cramp, and you’re just like I just can’t do this anymore. But if we can relax a little bit, then you can hold whatever you need to hold of yourself together a lot longer. And so sometimes when we’re thinking about this in terms of movement, we think about not using muscles that aren’t necessary.

Ryn (00:45:14):
Yeah. Trying to peel away any unnecessary tension.

Katja (00:45:17):
Right. Like use the muscles that you need to use to get the job done. But you don’t need to also tense up your neck muscles along with it just to have extra tension.

Ryn (00:45:27):
Yeah. And that can totally throw you off, you know. If you think about trying to walk on a balance beam. If you have a lot of tension in your abs or in your neck, it’s going to make it a lot harder for you to sway.

Katja (00:45:39):
Have the fluidity to keep the balance, right.

Ryn (00:45:43):
Yeah. And even when you’re trying to do things that seem like it’s just a matter of brute strength, like to do a pull up or the one where you pull up and then end up on top of the bar. It’s amazing how much unnecessary tension anywhere can impair your ability to even accomplish that movement.

Katja (00:46:02):
Yeah. So, that’s my thinking in bringing in the ginger and the chamomile. They’re not so relaxing. It’s not like it’s kava. You know, it’s not so relaxant that we’re just going to reduce this person to a puddle on the floor. But it’s enough relaxant that we can maybe remove part of the tension. We can remove the parts of the tension that are really just not only not necessary but are kind of impeding their ability to work through their day.

Ryn (00:46:30):
Yeah. Nice. One other herb, I would love to throw into the all-day tea, if, if it was possible would be evening primrose. And so here, we’re talking about tea. So you can, I hope, guess that I’m not talking about evening primrose seed oil. Which is pretty much all you’re going to find to buy for evening primroses. So, this is another one you’re going to need to grow or wildcraft your own. Fortunately evening primroses is pretty weedy. There’s a lot of it around. And it’s super easy to grow, even in a small pot.

Katja (00:46:56):
You kind of just have to wish for it. And then evening primrose appears.

Ryn (00:47:04):
Yeah, that works pretty good in Boston actually. But I love this plant as an herb, as a tea herb, or as a tincture. But you know, the aerial parts right, leaves, flowers. They’re wonderful. They taste good. They have really nice nervine effects, calming, relaxing, releasing. There’s a little bit of warmth. There’s a little bit of bitterness. It’s a very interesting plant. It releases tension. But like you’ve been saying, it’s not so cold or so intensely relaxant that it’s going to make you a puddle. It’s a really nice balance.

Katja (00:47:42):
So, things I would add in. If this person was very dehydrated and maybe even like depleted, that could be contributing to the anxiety and contributing to the tension. And I would want to make sure that we are helping them to hydrate. So, linden would be a really excellent choice here. And I would want to steep it much longer. Like steep it at least four hours to really get the slimaciousness of the linden in there. And another option, maybe a little less intense, would be marshmallow leaf again to bring in some hydration. It’s not going to get all the way to the sliminess that linden or marshmallow root would give you. But it still does bring in more moisture, bring in a little more softening.

Ryn (00:48:36):
I love marshmallow leaf in tea. It’s great.

Katja (00:48:38):
You’re a dry kind of dude.

Ryn (00:48:40):
Yeah. But I don’t like slime though. So, I’m way more likely to drink a lot of a tea that has a marshmallow leaf in there and is mildly moistening, as opposed to a smaller amount of a big old cup of snot, you know.

Katja (00:48:56):
Yeah, exactly. I mean, and that’s when it comes into play really about the preferences of the person that you’re working with. I could say all day long babe, you really just need so much marshmallow root cold infusion. And you’re just not going to drink it. You’re not going to do it.

Ryn (00:49:14):
Yeah. I’ve tried. I’ve done it for a while at a time. But you know, it’s…

Katja (00:49:18):
It’s not delicious for you.

Ryn (00:49:19):
It takes some work.

Katja (00:49:20):
Yeah. But if we put marshmallow leaf in, you’ll drink three times as much.

Ryn (00:49:25):
Yeah. Let’s get it.

Katja (00:49:26):
Yeah. So, sort of being able to shift around that way is important.

Daytime Rescue Herbs

Ryn (00:49:30):
Definitely. All right. So, we’ve got our person thinking about some sleep hygiene stuff. We’ve got them with a bedtime tincture. We’ve got an all-day tea to try to reign in the anxiety in the daytime. This is all going to help. It’s going to be great. But the tea and the daytime anxiety expression in particular, it might take a little while to change. And so in the meantime it would be great if we could give this person a daytime rescue tincture or some other portable, easy to take, quick format.

Katja (00:50:03):
Right. It could be electuary. You could even take and make lozenges out of this, if you were doing it with honey. And then whatever herbs we’re going to choose powdered and turn them into lozenges. That would work too, whatever.

Ryn (00:50:19):
But we do like a tincture or something that you can squirt under the tongue…

Katja (00:50:24):
An elixir.

Ryn (00:50:25):
Yeah, there you go…for this kind of rescue situation. Because short of smoking herbs, taking a tincture under the tongue is about the fastest way to get it to impact your nervous system in particular.

Katja (00:50:40):
Well, the first thing… Again, when we’re thinking about rescue, we’re thinking about all right. Well, this person either is currently crying in public, or they feel like it’s about to happen.

Ryn (00:50:53):
Right. And all of this is going to be…

Katja (00:50:55):
So, it’s really that acute.

Ryn (00:50:56):
Yeah. And it’s that feeling of I’m about to cry. I’m about to have all the feelings you have when you cry. Like feeling exposed, feeling vulnerable, feeling seen, all of that. As opposed to say someone other than this person we’re talking about today. Someone who when they feel super anxious, they close down, and they’re super cold. And they can’t make human expressions anymore. You know, like that kind of situation would call for a really different set of herbs.

Katja (00:51:21):
Right. So, all right. So, thinking about this person who’s crying or is about to cry, and they are just also mortified and trying to grab control of the situation. And the more they try, the more it is escaping them. So, like the more they try to stop crying, the more they cry, you know. So, the first things that are coming to mind here for me are like yarrow, St. John’s wort, lady’s mantle. These really protective herbs, who there is some astringency there to varying degrees among those three. But they all are like let’s give you some armor. Let’s give you some cover. Let’s give you some protection.

Ryn (00:52:12):
Hold all your pieces together.

Katja (00:52:13):
Yeah. Now St. John’s wort we would not give for somebody who was taking medications. So, if this person did have any kind of pharmaceuticals in the mix, then we wouldn’t choose St. John’s wort as a part of this rescue tincture or rescue elixir. But the yarrow and the lady’s mantle would still be a fantastic combination even without the St. John’s wort.

Ryn (00:52:35):
Yeah. Honestly, a lot of times when I would love to give St. John’s wort but can’t, yarrow is the next choice. There is a decent amount of crossover in their effects. Not only in like your liver, but also in your mental, emotional state.

Katja (00:52:50):
Yeah, absolutely.

Ryn (00:52:51):
Yeah. There’s another way we can go with this too, and this could be layered on, right? So, we have those as like your sort of emotional astringent, emotional tonification.

Katja (00:53:00):
Yeah. Like the foundation of the… yeah.

Ryn (00:53:03):
One thing that we often like to do in these kinds of moments is get some rosy protection. I’m talking about the Rosaceae, the, the whole family really, but particularly the ones that express thorns. And so rose does. And we particularly like the beach rose, Rosa rugosa, when you need some thorniness. Because that one, it’s not just like the Valentine’s rose with the little cat claw, like individual thorns.

Katja (00:53:33):
I mean, which those are good.

Ryn (00:53:34):
You can like grab it in your fingers and hold it in between them, right? With beach rose, no way. The whole thing is covered in these like sharp, straight thorns instead.

Katja (00:53:45):
Like spiny…. yeah.

Ryn (00:53:48):
That rose has boundaries.

Katja (00:53:50):
Yeah. Serious, serious boundaries. And it typically grows in a pretty watery environment. And it is like no problem. I’ve got this. So yeah, I think that’s a great idea. This is also a place where I would turn to a tincture of hawthorn thorns, like the thorns themselves. You can go and just get a bunch of the thorns and tincture them. And fun fact, the tincture turns red, which I think is really cool. Not like the same kind of red that St. John’s wort oil turns, but it’s not like maraschino cherry red either. But it’s definitively… You’re like, hold on. This tincture is absolutely…right? I am not imagining this. This tincture is absolutely red. And I like that. But what we’re thinking about here about these thorns is give protection, give strength, give just a little. At this point you’ve fallen apart, and you feel like you’re completely vulnerable to the world. So, hold on a second. Let’s give you some spikes to wrap yourself up in, so that you just feel like I can start to contain myself again.

Ryn (00:55:05):
Yeah. Nice.

Katja (00:55:07):
You know who else has containment spikes is motherwort. Motherwort has these really pretty vicious thorns on its seed pods.

Ryn (00:55:21):
Yeah, it’s really just that the support structures around where the seeds are, they stiffen up as they dry. Like if they were soft and flexy, they would just be like the base of a flower, you know, whatever. But these as they dry they get super sharp and very persistent. And if you don’t know motherwort, look up some pictures of it. And you’ll just see it has this very like square, very organized structure to it. And then it has at each of the leaf joints, it has these little… That’s where the flowers come and then the seeds later. But they’re like all arranged all around in a nice, neat little row and with all of their thorns out. Like do not come over here.

Katja (00:55:59):
Yes, exactly. And kind of like you know what? You can touch any part of this plant, but not here. Absolutely not here.

Ryn (00:56:09):
But it’ll stand up straight. It will be seen. It makes these beautiful, like firework-looking flowers with pink and white and purple. So, it’s fine being in public.

Katja (00:56:20):
It just has some boundaries around some parts. And it’s like you know what? Those parts are not for you. Yeah. And I feel like… especially when we’re thinking about crying in public. And this person mentioned that if they were crying at home with their cat, they were okay with that. But crying in public was really upsetting to them. Well, yeah. That’s not for public consumption. You know, like this part is not for you. And so having motherwort in the mix that can just reinforce that, I think would be a really beautiful rescue.

Ryn (00:56:53):
Nice. All right. So, that’s the game. And you certainly may have had other ideas than the ones that we mentioned here. And like we said up front, this is not about us having the answers and checking yours to see if they were correct.

Katja (00:57:09):
Yeah, no. It is not that.

Ryn (00:57:11):
Yeah. We, we added a couple of thoughts about the person as we went by. We talked about variations in formula depending on constitution, or on the way things are expressing for them, or their more detailed descriptions of how they’re feeling. And so yeah, there’s many different ways that we could go. And certainly other things, aside from what we discussed here, that could be added as well. Not just herbs, but preparations or other holistic approaches besides, right? We didn’t even talk about well, what happens if you get a 30 minute walk every single day?

Katja (00:57:42):
Right. There’s definitely so much. And especially when we’re thinking about emotional and mental health, there are so many avenues of approach. And that’s one of the wonderful things. Because you know, especially if we’re talking about a person who is kind of really at the end of the rope, is how this person’s life is right now. It’s hard to know what things they have the energy to do, and what things are just not going to be feasible for them right now. Because that’s kind of different for every person. So, all of that is to say, if you came up with different ideas as you were working through this. And we did not mention any of your ideas. That does not mean that any of your ideas are wrong. It just means that there’s so many ways to approach this problem. So, if we had some of the same ideas then hurray! And if you had different ideas, then also hurray!

Ryn (00:58:43):
All right. So, that’s it for us today. But if you’re interested in learning more, for instance, learning more about how to support emotional and mental health situations, then you should check out our course on Neurological and Emotional Health.

Katja (00:59:01):
That is my favorite course that we’ve ever made, actually. I mean, I like most of our courses. I like all of our courses. But that is… Well, there was the one where I don’t know, my fashion sense was really off, because I had… like, whatever. But the Neurological and Emotional Health course, I, I feel like right now, I just want to go to every high school. And be like I will just give this to all of you. I feel like I just want everybody to know these things. Because it is not really very easy to hold it together right now.

Ryn (00:59:35):
So, you can find that as well as all of our courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com. And don’t forget to use the code Together2022 for the entire month of July, and you’ll get 20% off of anything you want.

Katja (00:59:49):
Actually, everything you want.

Ryn (00:59:50):
Yes. All of our courses.

Katja (00:59:52):
Together2022. Yeah. online.commonwealthherbs.com. Okay, that’s it. You’ve got it all. You know it.

Ryn (01:00:01):
That’s the one. So, thank you for being with us here, being together with us here on the Holistic Herbalism podcast today. We’ll be back next time with some more for you. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (01:00:14):
Drink some tea, y ‘all.

Ryn (01:00:15):
And keep practicing. All right, bye.

Katja (01:00:18):
Bye bye.


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